Preseason preparation ramps up with intrasquad scrimmage

FC Dallas’ preparation for the 2020 MLS season stepped up at the end of week one with a full-field scrimmage on Saturday morning. Two thirty minute halves took up the majority of a session that presented the MLS SuperDraft picks with their best opportunity to date to impress Luchi Gonzalez.

After the scrimmage the draft picks and North Texas guys played 7v7 with a couple of the fringe players. Lots of pass and move, perfect Luchi-ball conditions.

Lineups & Tactics

Well you know the tactics already, Luchi-ball all the way!

There was a strong emphasis put on build-up play in the back seven, as well as high pressing, so the bulk of the hour was spent on the edge of either area. There was no sign of Dante Sealy. Fafa Picault had taken a knock in the week and spent the session working with a trainer. Paxton Pomykal and Zdenek Ondrasek weren’t in cleats and just watching – Luchi gave us the update on Pomykal‘s struggle with scar tissue following a hernia repair while Kobra was just a precaution. There were a few North Texas invitees. The Rodriguez brothers, Imanol Almaguer, and new signing Philip Ponder all took part. NTX captain Brecc Evans poked his head in briefly but was in street clothes.

The gray team lined up in the typical 4-3-3. Jimmy Maurer in goal, Callum Montgomery and Matt Hedges at the back flanked by Ryan Hollingshead and new Homegrown Eddie Munjoma.

Edwin Cerrillo and Bryan Acosta played a strong double pivot. That may be an indicator of how Acosta will play alongside Thiago Santos. Arturo Rodriguez gets the nod as the free eight/ten. ARod dropped back enough in rotation to label it as Bobby Warshaw’s triple pivot.

Ema Twumasi and Francis Atuahene took to the wings, switching over in the second half, with Ricardo Pepi up top.

Bryan Acosta felt some tightness and came out for Imanol Almaguer in a straight swap. Nkosi Burgess replaced Cerrillo which resulted in the rare event of Matt Hedges playing as a defensive midfielder. Luchi will explain that later on but don’t expect to see Hedges step into the midfield in a real game.

The orange team, in this rather equal affair, went with Jesse Gonzalez anchoring a back five with Reto Ziegler and Bressan ahead. Number two on the depth chart at both full back spots, Johnny Nelson and Bryan Reynolds, finished off the back line.

Third rounder, Derek Waldeck as the holding mid with second round pick, Manuel Ferriol playing a little deeper than his usual role in college since Thomas Roberts plays as more of a true ten. The Colombian pair of Santiago Mosquera and Michael Barrios do the things they do. Cal Jennings is your number nine.

Fourth round SuperDraft pick Anders Engebretsen came in for Nelson at the half, with the Norwegian winger moving to central midfield while Waldeck slotted in at left back (which is a secondary position of his). One enforced change happened just a minute or two after. Michael Barrios pulled up holding his knee late in the first half, and felt another twinge. David Rodriguez was called in as a direct replacement which became more like a false wing.

Thoughts & Observations

Starting with the scrimmage, just one goal as the orange team won. Callum Montgomery had the ball on the byline as the grays looked to build out. Cal Jennings cut off the passing angle to the left back and forced Montgomery back to Jimmy Maurer. The ball was a little ahead of where Maurer anticipated and he managed to get an awkward touch as Santiago Mosquera closed down to cover Jennings’ spot. Easy tap-in for the Colombian.

We saw FC Dallas begin 2019 with a similar high press which faded out in the first few months of the season as teams worked to stifle the press. An encouraging sign is the desire to improve and adapt rather than settle for a set style. One nice thing Luchi appears to be working in is a direct route from the midfield to the wingers, Bryan Acosta played a few long diagonal balls. Gonzalez later explained that the team are looking to add more mid-length and long balls in with the short passing style, and Acosta was the primary in that scrimmage for the simple fact he can do it better than the full backs.

We know the first team players, so I’d like to focus more on the MLS SuperDraft picks and how they fared in their first full-field 11-a-side setting. As a bonus there are a few thoughts from Luchi highlighted in red.

Manuel Ferriol is arguably in the lead as the most complete draft pick. He had a couple of wobbly moments, smashing a simple 10-yard pass out for a throw and giving away a couple of silly free kicks for a high boot and getting his feet tangled up. He looked closest to an MLS standard on both sides of the ball in part of the double pivot. The 7v7 gave the Spaniard a chance to get into some real pass-and-move attack where he excelled. He cannoned a shot off the crossbar in the smaller game after sizing up a couple of similar strikes in the full-sided scrimmage.

“I think Manu shows high technical and tactical proficiency… His talent is quick thinking and good technique.”

I really liked the defensive aspect of Cal Jennings‘ game. The goal was effectively created by his pressing. His timing was a little off to begin with, with Gonzalez taking a moment to talk through that issue, but got a lot better as the scrimmage continued. One habit that is becoming more apparent is that he’s really one-footed which leads to predictable turns that MLS-level defenders are going to read after the first ten minutes of the game. He plays off the shoulder of the last defender well, and broke Ryan Hollingshead’s ankles with a nice turn.

“Then you have Cal Jennings who has had a great college career. He’s got very good athletic tools, can turn on a dime, can get unmarked and just has a really good instinct in and around the goal. Now he’s playing against bigger stronger faster back lines, bigger stronger faster goalkeepers, smarter players, so he’s got to not just use his physical tools and his mentality to to be effective. He’s got to learn about timing and spacing and in combo, and synchronize moving one in one out. So he has to improve some things tactically as well.”

Buzz and I both mentioned Nkosi Burgess as struggling a little in the first two sessions on last week’s podcast. His 30 minute runout was definitely one of the more positive moments for him. A lot of what we’ve seen of Burgess was on display – a raw athlete working to become a more rounded player. Case in point was a moment where Burgess found himself well out of position close to the halfway line and right touchline with Santiago Mosquera running down. Burgess stood his ground more than attempting a tackle, Mosquera popped the ball past to run on to it. Burgess was able to out-pace one of the faster players in the team. He’s a first-year Walker Zimmerman for me, incredible athlete but unpredictable. He also had a really nice flick and breakout beating two players to create a play out of the back line.

“Nkosi’s an athlete, physical tools, coordination, good technique. Tactically needs to improve in some of the our ways but he certainly has ingredients to potentially play in this league one day.”

Derek Waldeck is kind of the contrast. He displays a good footballing brain that his feet can’t always keep up with. Particularly a great eye for a pass with the occasional execution issue. Being comfortable at left back is a huge string to his bow, and left-footers are always going to be sought after commodities. Another one who shone in the 7v7 as a player’s mental process is really tested on a minuscule pitch. I would like to see him retained with North Texas SC to see the physical side of his game developed further.

“You have Derek who’s a little more utility player holding mid, eight, can play left back. Just a very solid player, technical, lefty, and lefties are valuable so that’s very interesting player.”

Anders Engebretsen really slipped by in both games, I didn’t notice a whole lot from him either way aside from a nice finish in the 7v7 game. It’s worth pointing out that he played as an attacker at St. Mary’s so it’s a steep learning curve to move back to the midfield and try to win a contract. Luchi points out that Engebretsen is good in big spaces, so the aim of these drills really wasn’t in his wheelhouse as the backs build out and the forwards close them down. Engebretsen looked a fairly distant fourth as we get closer to the initial cuts which could come as soon as Thursday, when the team leaves for California.

“Anders is a player who’s pretty good in big spaces. He likes to take people on and calm in front of all again tactically needs, you know to keep learning but I had some some interesting flashes today.”

The Homegrown who otherwise would have been a first round pick, Eddie Munjoma, looked solid defensively. He threw in some nice tackles and pressured the winger well with some overlap ahead of Barrios. Like any first year pro, he’s got to work out the timing on when to stay in cover and when to go support a winger. He got caught out a couple of times charging forward after hesitating. Not a lot different to Reggie Cannon in his first few months. Again as Cannon did, he will also have to work on the underlap, going inside of Barrios.

Gonzalez did reveal after practice that Wednesday’s planned scrimmage against NTX Rayados will now be a full 90-minute scrimmage against OKC Energy at 4pm on Field 1, followed by a 50-minute scrimmage with NTX Rayados on Field 4 at 6pm. One last tidbit from the FCD coach was that Thiago Santos should be arriving this week after being granted his P-1A visa.

Catching up with Luchi Gonzalez

How has week one gone?
“We did two things this week, adjusting from last season, introduced more verticality and other concepts that we think are gonna be important for us to win. Winning is the first priority, so more verticality and more combinations. Recognizing when to be vertical but trying to break lines get in behind going forward. We set some set piece fundamentals, width defensively and offensively, and then some pressing, high pressing. The goal that came from the orange team was a high pressing moment. That’s a good moment to show there’s a reward for that effort. Then the team that got caught on the press in the build ‘Hey, how can you improve?’ but we need to we need to suffer one way or the other to learn.

“The second is keeping the foundation of possession. We are possession club possession. If a player doesn’t like to have the ball, or want to dominate the ball, this is not the club. We’re going we’re going to push even harder to be the standard in that way because that’s how we believe in winning is doing it like that.”

There were a few walking wounded today, do you have an update on those players?
“I took out Acosta, he’s little sore. These are normal things and if everything we have right now is normal. With Kobra a little knock, it’s gonna be fine in a few days. Mikey is a precaution. He’s a little sore, the MCL is going to be fine. The same with Fafa, so whether they’re back Monday or Tuesday or even by the end of next week, I just know they’re gonna be on track. There’s nothing serious going on, so we’ll be smart about our players and if I gotta play against Vancouver in a week with with a bunch of draft players, then so be it. That’s gonna be tough but that’s opportunity, next next man ready to step up and help this club.”

Matt Hedges stepping into the midfield was a novel moment.
“We called him Busquets today! It was the exercise, just get him in the midfield have him be in traffic and stimulate him in that way. We think there’s growth in that, obviously we see him as a center back but it allows guys to get on the field in positions that we need to analyze like Nkosi.”

With Callum and Nkosi still bringing their passing game up to scratch, it looked like Hedges dropped back to help lead them.
“That’s intentional, we wanted to have Matt there to help guide them and at the same time get a stimulus in a different position and see how Callum and Nkosi react to that.”

What are you seeing from the new players so far?
“I see tools that the need polishing obviously. Commitment, effort, athletic tools, coordination, I see very interesting pieces. We’re going to discuss decisions. First team, NTSC, those kind of things and approach what we think is gonna be best for the season, for the club and for the future, because maybe there’s pieces there that this season they’re not ready to make a big impact but in the year or two they can be very important players and protagonists. We’re gonna keep smelling it and and challenging them. This was a good exercise today. This is probably one of the best days to analyze them because we’re playing a normal game and then they get to play in a 7v7 game, which is a reflection of the normal game in the smaller space.”

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