By: Rees Linn
As FC Dallas battled out a 2-0 victory over visiting Chivas USA during their final preseason match, the 6,000 or so onlookers at Pizza Hut Park must have been thinking how different their home team looked compared to the side that won the Western conference title in 2010. For starters, last year’s starting right back was in the opposing team’s colors – a fact that was driven home as he crushed most of Dallas’s attacking moves down the left side. Equally concerning were the absences of Dax McCarty and Atiba Harris, who were both taken in the expansion draft. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, there was no Jeff Cunningham prepared to enter the match in the super-sub role that proved so effective during the second half of the 2010 season.
But departures mean opportunities for other players, and there’s no doubt that Dallas has the capability of filling the gaps in their lineup. Jackson Goncalves has comfortably stepped into the right back role, and he’s combined well with Atiba Harris’s replacement, Marvin Chavez, on the right side. Eric Alexander looks to be finding his preseason form as he resumes the McCarty replacement role that he occupied in 2010 while the ex-Dallas man was injured, and Ruben Luna, a Mexican U-20 international, appears to be ready for a breakout season as Dallas’s first striker off the bench.
Despite the turnover in the squad, perhaps the biggest change in the Dallas lineup that fans will have noticed was where Brek Shea started the match – the lanky left midfielder was paired in the center of defense with George John. No blame could have been placed on anyone for feeling skeptical about this particular position change, but Shea quickly went about converting doubters into optimists. His size and speed made him physically imposing, and his calmness and distribution ability are on par with the best backs in the league. Considering their depth at the position, a lot of whether Shea will remain at center back will depend on whether a replacement can be found on the left side – a difficult task considering that he may have been one of the better left midfielders in the league last season. The eyes of the FC Dallas staff will inevitably turn towards Eric Avila to fill this role, but it’s unclear whether the former Generation Adidas product is ready to take on the role of a starter. Another option may be to slide Alexander onto the left side, and to give Ricardo Villar or Andrew Jacobson the starting role in the middle. Alexander would be a good possession oriented outside midfielder but may not be able to provide the ability to beat players one on one or to get in behind defenses with attacking runs.
While the left midfield is still an uncertainty for Dallas, it would have been perfectly clear against Chivas that the two workhorses of the Dallas lineup are back and hitting their strides early. Daniel Hernandez appears fit and ready to go after recovering from knee surgery, and David Ferreira looks as dangerous and creative as he did during last season’s incredible MVP run. The only issue will be whether Ferreira, playing in between two less imposing wingers on the outside will have to drift deeper into the midfield to find the ball – a problem that could cause a shortage of scoring chances. Still, with Milton Rodriguez’s ability to hold up play, he may be able to keep Ferreira involved in situations where he might otherwise not be.
With no major drop-off in talent, all of these new pieces to the puzzle should make for some interesting tinkering by Shellas Hyndman, and he seems to be off to a pretty good start – FC Dallas went on to beat Chivas 2-0 thanks to goals from Daniel Hernandez and Ruben Luna. The team also recorded its fourth straight shutout of the preseason which isn’t bad for a team that gave up the third fewest goals last season. If preseason form is any indication, Dallas may be in for another very successful season.