With no end to the MLS stoppage in sight, Coach Luchi Gonzalez and his staff keep the focus small

It hasn’t even been two weeks yet, but already the stoppage in MLS play seems endless for fans and players.  The season shutdown has officially been extended to May 10th, but for the FC Dallas players and staff, it’s hard for them to know when it will end. 

Luchi Gonzalez coaches FC Dallas on the road at Real Salt Lake in 2019. (FC Dallas Communications)

The MLS team training moratorium has also extended by MLS until April 3rd. The FCD coaches themselves don’t know how much lead time for training they might get before a restart.

“I have no idea what the time frame will be,” Coach Luchi Gonzalez responded when asked about the lead up to a restart via conference call.  “I don’t know if we’ll have two weeks or one. But everyone in the world is on the same time frame.”

The FC Dallas staff has been implementing a fitness program for the players to do at home using video. Coach Gonzalez says that their program is now stepping up to include the mental side of the game to help the team keep their cohesion and team tactical shape.

“That’s one of our main concerns as a staff.  We’ve been testing Zoom, we like it a lot. And we’re going to be implementing it next week. We created a three-week mental cycle of technical, tactical, and physical. But that’s as far as we want to plan for now because we don’t know what’s next.”

The first tactical sessions will be broken down by position with four groups initially: goalkeepers, backs, midfielders, and front line.  Concepts such as building from the back, block defending, line breaking, and the high press will be discussed among many others.

Some players who fill multiple roles – Coach Gonzalez mentioned Paxton Pomykal and Jesus Ferreira by name – might end up doing double sessions.  (Hey, that sounds like school!)

And if the shutdown continues the tactical sessions might be broken down further into smaller groups like outside backs, center channel players, high strikers, or wingers… just to name a few.

That mental side of players’ fitness seems to be a large concern for the Los Toros coach as he’s in constant contact with his players.  “We’ve got some young guys who live in an apartment by themselves, like Ema Twuamsi, and on the other end we’ve got guys like Jimmy Mauer who is at home with four kids.“

Regardless of when the stoppage ends, there’s going to be an immense amount of fixture congestion even with many international events canceling.  With MLS focused on playing all 34 games, teams could see back to back weeks with midweek games for the rest of the season.  That heavy schedule means greater reliance on squad depth and rotation that FCD’s young coach hasn’t really shown he’s willing to do. Yet.

“This is something I felt last year,” Gonzalez said. “We were going to have it this year anyway with the Olympics and all the national team camps.  So we were prepared for that this year and now we’re going to have to do it no matter what. I’ll have to be very aware of player’s legs, the miles on them, and their mental health and state of mind.”  

FC Dallas has the luxury (problem?) of having a large number of players involved in national teams. Gonzalez said releasing players for any callups that do come will be considered individually on a case by case basis with an emphasis on qualifiers and championships over friendlies.

One possible scenario for the end of the suspension of play – if an unlikely one because of the MLS reliance on gate over TV revenue – could see MLS play games without fans in attendance.  Coach Gonzalez doesn’t seem thrilled with that idea.

“That would be tough, we love our fans. It would be disappointing if we couldn’t play in front of our fans and family,” said Gonzalez. 

“But as much as we would miss them we would have to play for them anyway.  We have to give them everything whether they are in the stands or not.”

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