Practice Observations: February 16 – Florida-bound ahead of the new season

It’s been a cold couple of weeks since either Buzz or I checked into practice between the freezing cold, driving rain, and our actual paying jobs. This rare Sunday practice had none of that, and I have the practice field tan (the right side of your face only) as a result.

The team is practicing through the weekend before flying out to Florida on Tuesday for the last phase of the preseason. Given that it was a rare full weekend, the work was more on concepts we see in Luchi-ball, and really nothing that we have to be too vague about.

News and Notes

Reto Ziegler was dressed but in sneakers and watching. He’s just being held out as a precaution but will be in Florida and ready to go. His center back partner Matt Hedges is back in full training after missing the San Antonio game.

Bryan Acosta is a couple of weeks away from working with the ball. He visited the team yesterday, and Luchi will give an update further down.

Paxton Pomykal is back in cleats! As he came out I said it was nice to see him back in a pair of boots. He turned, smiled, and said it was nice to be back in boots. This whole ordeal has clearly worn on him, even when he can’t train he’s been kicking a ball around. He did some light ball work with Thomas Roberts and Ricardo Pepi on another field.

Newly signed Derek Waldeck was the only North Texas SC player at practice with the first team – The USL team had a rest day scheduled for today.

Tanner Tessmann was a key part of training rather than the usual thing that happens with academy players, where they’re on the sideline until they’re needed. Luchi mentioned that Tessmann has earned his opportunities as they discuss a potential professional future. He was in the full first team get-up which isn’t typical for academy players – take that as you will.

Manuel Ferriol hadn’t been seen in a while so I asked about that. Luchi Gonzalez mentioned that his visa situation had taken him back to Spain for now, but that the team is in contact with him and his agent. It’s good to see that the team are looking to continue evaluating him.

Practice Observations

FCD Head Coach Luchi Gonzalez was all about playing out from the back and build-up play today. Nothing overly tactical or secret, so we might be able to give you a better look at the structure of a session than we can during the season.

While the outfield players got warmed up Drew Keeshan had the goalkeepers working on the initial pass from a goal kick. With the latest FIFA laws removing the requirement for the ball to travel outside the penalty area, we’ve seen FC Dallas as one of the teams to put their center backs in the box and give the keeper an extra outlet.

Jesse Gonzalez heads the ball during a Rondo at the opening practice of the 2020 FC Dallas preseason (Dan Crooke)

In this drill, one of the three keepers is in goal and the other two are the center backs at the sides of the box. Three coaches play the roles of pressing attackers. Two mini-goals are set up further up the field as targets for a longer ball that should be where a target player would run to. The aim is to keep possession in the box and eventually play a long ball to the goals when options from the center backs eventually dry up.

Jesse Gonzalez’s feet are getting even better and you can see a real maturity to him in practices.

After that, it was two simple drills of the same nature. Peter Luccin took a group of left-sided players and worked on specifically playing out from the back, wide, and back inside to the midfield before reaching the forwards. Mikey Varas took the right-sided players and worked on the final third play. Like the keeper drill before, there was pressure to replicate working against a high press. They switched sides after.

Interestingly Derek Waldeck featured in both sets, perhaps as a way of integrating a lefty into the the right-sided group. Johnny Nelson continued doing work in the midfield areas.

Finally, they combined each of the drills into a half-field exercise where play was built from the goalkeeper through the team against a second eleven in a high block. Everything was one or two touches.

The entire session just built on general principles of Luchi-ball and worked up to a more game-like scenario rather than specifics that will take place on a regular training session. The emphasis was on clean passing and quick control to maximize your options, similar to what we’ve seen in scrimmages thus far.

Catching up with Luchi Gonzalez

How are the players getting on ahead of the Florida trip?
We’re taking a big group again. There will be some young players on the roster. We still got some guys that won’t travel that are nursing things – Brandon Servania, [Bryan] Acosta. I think Reto is going to be fine for the trip.

We’ve been picking up a lot of little knocks that are not easy to manage but it’s part of it. Why not deal with it now in preseason than be surprised by it in the regular season.

How is Acosta doing?
He’s another three or four weeks away, he’s just starting to walk now. He’ll probably be jogging a few days. He won’t be able to do any type of movement with the ball for like another two weeks, so it’s not easy. He feels good, he feels great. He came by yesterday, but he needs to follow the timeline.

What can we expect to see in the penultimate week of preseason?
We’re gonna be in Tampa. The games we play will be kind of spread out between Tampa, Saint Petersburg, Bradenton, all in the same general area.

The game against Inter Miami (Wed, Feb 19) will be simulated for us as a regular game. Our preparation for it will be like a regular game. Same as with Philly (Sat, Feb 22) so these are two very important last scrimmages against MLS opponents.

I’m really happy with our preseason schedule this year because it was harder. It’s more demanding, there’s even some travel challenges that were not easy.

It was great to see Paxton in cleats again.
It is, yeah. Last week we’re in Chula Vista at the end of the camp. We were hoping to come back and play against Austin, and he had a strain in his abdominal wall which has nothing to do with the hernia.

It’s in the same general area, but it’s completely different things. It happens when you’re coming back from surgery, you’re overcompensating, you can injure other things. So he’s warming up with the team tomorrow. We’re hoping by the end of the week he’s fully cleared with the team.

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