FC Dallas faced its first opposition of the preseason with a 90-minute scrimmage against OKC Energy. After taking on the USL Championship side, the fringe and youth players played out a 50-minute scrimmage against US Open Cup giant-killers, NTX Rayados.
There was a mix up with the initial game initially being closed to media, but not, so I watched both games but don’t want to go into a ton of detail. Essentially, some tactical concepts were being trialed that the coaching staff did not want streamed for other teams to be able to scout from. As such, we’ll focus on the performances and the surface level of the tactics.
On the surface, FC Dallas tried out a 3-5-2. The formation itself is something Buzz mentioned earlier in the week. With the formation, the devil is in the detail as far as build-out play, how the midfield sets up, the shape it collapses to, how far wing backs push, and so on. Well, you’ll have to wait and see on that!
First Half vs. OKC Energy
No fancy graphic, we’ll rely on FC Dallas’ Garrett Melcer:
Jesse Gonzalez starts in goal. A different look to the back as Callum Montgomery and Nkosi Burgess flank Matt Hedges. Luchi later confirmed that Bressan and Reto Ziegler both had some minor hip flexor issues. No Brecc Evans either as he is being loaned to Austin Bold.
Ryan Hollingshead started at right wingback opposite Johnny Nelson, with Bryan Acosta and Edwin Cerrilo in the middle of the park with Santiago Mosquera ahead.
Zdenek Ondrasek and Michael Barrios finish off the lineup upfront.
Bryan Reynolds was held out with some tightness in his quad.
Second Half vs. OKC
Jimmy Maurer takes over the gloves with Burgess and Montgomery staying out. The Canadian moved to the right and Burgess moved central to allow Derek Waldeck to play on the left side. Eddie Munjoma went to left wing back with Ema Twumasi on the right.
Manu Ferriol, Imanol Almaguer, and Thomas Roberts in the center of midfield. Fafa Picault and Ricardo Pepi up top.
Thoughts on FCD 3-2 OKC
Early days with a few players missing in a couple of new tactical shifts. That’s essentially the story of OKC’s goals. Both were curling efforts from outside the box after players had slipped around the back three. The windchill was also in the region of 35°F so the keepers weren’t as mobile as you’d see in other conditions, or in a real game.
Neither Callum Montgomery or Nkosi Burgess are historically the best passers – at least at the level required for Luchi-ball – but one thing that stuck out for me was that both were solid in their distribution. Perhaps it was coaching, or simply having extra outlets at the back, but both played smarter balls than I’ve seen previously. Burgess stood out, he was more measured in his positioning and decision making. I’d highlighted an attempt on Santiago Mosquera from Saturday’s scrimmage, this was night and day. Montgomery had a solid moment as his pressure in attacking a corner really forced the own goal for Dallas’ third goal.
Speaking of Mosquera, he’s quietly having a solid preseason from the sessions I’ve been to. He scored from the top of the box early on and linked up really well with Barrios despite neither being in their primary role. He’s responding well to the challenge that’s been laid down in signing Fafa Picault.
Fafa Picault looked really lively. A lot of high pressure and quick runs between lines, fairly similar to watching Jesus Ferreira. His knee was taped up but you’d need good luck keeping everything loose in that cold, so it will have been precautionary. I’m looking forward to the first time he steps out on the wing for FCD as it should restore the balance with Barrios that hasn’t been there since 2016.
Johnny Nelson looked at home in the wing back role. He’s a more defensive player who won’t abandon his responsibilities at the back, but his growth in the attack since this time last year has been staggering. It’s going to be an interesting year for the 2019 draft pick, because North Texas SC would be a waste for him, so first-team prospects are everything.
At this point, we can see a clear gap emerging between Ema Twumasi and Francis Atuahene, but Twumasi looked limited in both the timing and execution of both his runs and passes. That said, if I was from close to the equator playing in a scrimmage that’s 40°F colder than my country ever gets, I’d find my movement impaired too.
One thing with Ricardo Pepi last year was his physicality. He could do with a little more muscle. He was aggressive in his heading and closing down, really making a physical impact. It was also a welcome sight to see Pepi alongside another forward. He got lost occasionally as the lone striker for North Texas, having Picault allowed Pepi to do more off-ball work.
Pepi’s play really followed on from how Kobra started. Ondrasek crashed the box, got physical, made defenders uncomfortable. Really all the things we know him for. The Czech scored crashing in on a goalmouth scramble. He’s got a big few months ahead to prove he wasn’t just a flash in the pan at home before Franco Jara gets into town.
Thomas Roberts‘ passing is like buttah! I was convinced anyway, but watching him play a little deeper, his future is at the number eight where he can dictate a game.
Starting XI vs. NTX Rayados
Here’s where it gets fun because there were a lot of academy players given some time and was really impossible to keep up with.
More of a North Texas SC flair as Kyle Zobeck gets the start in goal in the usual 4-2-3-1.
Eddie Munjoma switches to right back with Imanol Almaguer moving to left back. Justin Che and Philip Ponder had both subbed into the backline in a previous game and started.
Derek Waleck moved to a more familiar starting six, with Manuel Ferriol at eight, and David Rodriguez as the free eight. Anders Engebretsen starts at his more natural left wing position, after some time as a central midfielder on Saturday, opposite Arturo Rodriguez. Cal Jennings as the lone striker.
Erik Centeno, Tanner Tessman, and Nico Carrera came in as the game progressed, but the second half resembled a Dallas Cup game with mass-changes from the U-19s and U-17s who recently returned from Mexico.
Thoughts on FCD 3-0 NTX
Starting with the goals. Cal Jennings could have had five. He was fouled for the first, with Arturo Rodriguez scoring the resulting penalty. Jennings had two goals called off, one for offside, and another for a foul as he wrestled to the ground for possession of the ball. Incidentally, his first goal came from the deck as he slid in for a low Erik Centeno cross at the edge of the six-yard box. The final goal was the result of a nice run from the First Round Pick. A ball came through, Jennings followed it in close to the byline. With Anders Engebretsen rushing in from the left, Jennings curved a run back to around the penalty spot – which the NTX backline failed to pick up – to leave Engebretsen to chip a cross over the keeper for Jennings to head in unmarked from the back post.
As the scoreline suggests, Jennings played well. His passing was intelligent, checking wide to time his runs. He played off the shoulder of the last defender and was eager to get in the box. The downside to that is he gave the linesman’s arm a workout. Jennings has bags of confidence, and with FC Dallas’ limited options upfront, he’s not wrong to talk about helping the team as if the contract is already there. If he’s not among the game-day squad, he’s a good candidate to win the golden boot in USL League One.
Every time I see Arturo and David Rodriguez play together, all I can ever think is ‘that’s not fair.’ The brothers have such great chemistry on the ball, and against Rayados they looked like they were a predator toying with its prey. With Brecc Evans going out on loan to a USL-C team, it may be worth Arturo following suit in his progression.
Manu Ferriol has had a rollercoaster week. He was arguably the leading performer among the draft picks on Saturday, and I’d put him dead last today. He looked lost, even against NTPSA players. Being an international is a disadvantage with the roster rules for both MLS and USL League One. That level of inconsistency is difficult to overcome. Injuries in the team present a big opportunity as FCD doesn’t have the numbers to cut players who aren’t already – or likely to be – under contract.
Derek Waldeck was quiet, although playing center back isn’t something he’s had to do before. He looked more assured in midfield in the second game. Waldeck is a project in getting his physical side to match his football intelligence, and it may be a longer-term project than Luchi is looking for as you’ll see further down.
I saw more from Anders Engebretsen than any other time I’ve seen him play. Back out on the wing was definitely his comfort zone, with some good combinations and runs to the by-line. They moved him back to full back late on and he didn’t look out of place. I’m not a coach or scout, but I don’t see enough potential let alone a place in this system.
Eddie Munjoma had an off day. He got caught out of position in both games and didn’t look particularly threatening going forward. Erik Centeno really outshined him at right back in the second game.
A few of the U-17s and U-19s got some time but I really enjoyed watching Justin Che play. At 16 he looked comfortable in the latter stages against OKC with Philip Ponder and they showed no ill-effect from the tactical shift from a back three to a back four.
Catching up with Luchi
On the tactical shift in the first game with OKC:
“We tried some things in terms of information and some tactics that I think help us be more unpredictable and fluid. I thought the boys responded really well to it. There were some really interesting highs, and some lows that are normal in a pre-season game that we need to fix.”
Did anyone stand out for you tonight?
“It was good to see Callum [Montgomery] and Nkosi [Burgess] in the first game step in with Reto [Ziegler] and Bressan nursing some fatigue in their hip flexor, we didn’t want to risk there it was good to see. It was good to see Cal Jennings in this last game. He had really interesting movements to hurt back lines and get on the end of things. He’s certainly a reference in the box with good mobility. Kobra’s got a year now with the team and I can see him understanding and being really connected to the team with his energy, and his press, and his transitions, and his movement. It was good to see Fafa [Picault] come back from a little injury last week and get minutes. He’s gonna be really important for us his energy, his gamesmanship, he’s gonna help this his club and his family.”
Are the decisions looming between FC Dallas, North Texas SC, and players exploring other opportunities?
“I would say the priority is what player do we think can make an impact immediately with the first team, and then after that what player with our second team can be a first-team player. We’re not just gonna sign a player to a second-team that we just think can help the second team without first-team projection, there has to be a development plan for the for that player, especially we’re gonna invest in him and them and us. Those are kind of the criteria things that we try to keep in mind.”