The Dallas Morning News

Stepping up

Changes could aid offense’s productivi­ty

- By JON ARNOLD

Ahead of its MLS season opener Saturday against the Colorado Rapids, the expectatio­ns for FC Dallas are par for the course. The players insist they can win the franchise’s first MLS Cup in its 26-year history, while experts expect them to fall just short of that goal.

But while the overall goal remains the same, there was a fair amount of turnover and transition during the long offseason. Seven starters from the Western Conference semifinal defeat to the Seattle Sounders will probably start against the Rapids, but with a new center back, a pair of new wingers and potentiall­y even a new formation, there’s no doubt things will look different this season.

The club bid farewell to long-time winger Michael Barrios, and he’ll be in Frisco this weekend suiting up for the opposing team. They sent their other starting winger, Fafa Picault, to the Houston Dynamo and parted ways with veteran center back Reto Ziegler.

“There was a bigger risk of not reaching our potential if we didn’t make changes,” FCD head coach Luchi Gonza

lez said this week. “Those changes are ones where I’m confident to lead and be a part of and knowing that we’ve got to lose good people and good players sometimes, but we’re going to gain good people, gain good players and gain our best potential for the future. That’s what our plan is.”

That plan involves Spanish center back José Martínez, a veteran of the top league in Spain, and Brazilian defender Bressan, who give Gonzalez the flexibilit­y to try a 3-4-3 formation with three center backs getting help from the wide players (likely Ryan Hollingshe­ad and John Nelson) in defense, but freeing those players up to also overload opposing defenders when FCD has the ball.

The team hopes to be more lethal in possession this season after a 2020 that saw FCD often playing with the ball at its feet but without the right type of ideas or ability to pull them off.

“We definitely have a lot of guys who understand what the coaching staff wants and what this club’s all about, but it was kind of a slow transition and a decent amount of turnover throughout that offseason,” goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer said. “I think it’s just credit to all parts of the club, from the coaching staff to the players we have in the locker room, the administra­tion making the transition easy off the field for the new guys to be able to get in and have things pretty smooth to be able to focus on soccer.

“Little by little, we’ve been able to integrate and create these understand­ing and systems we want to create on the field.”

Understand­ing will be critical this season, with the pandemic pushing MLS to schedule almost exclusivel­y conference games. FCD will play two Eastern Conference rivals with the majority of the time to be spent against Western Conference teams. The Rapids finished just above FCD in the table last season, and with clubs that finished lower in 2020 such as Los Angeles FC and the LA Galaxy expected to bounce back this year, it’s important to start strongly.

Fortunatel­y for FCD, the new additions feel they’re getting the help they need from teammates to adjust quickly.

“I think from the start they’ve all helped me grab onto the concepts that are a bit different here, that make the difference to help win games here and I think these first few games,” Martínez said. “I think I’m 100%, I’ve adapted, I prepared a lot for this moment, so I’m confident.”

 ?? File Photo/getty Images ?? Jose Antonio Martinez of Granada CF (right) battled for the ball during a 2020 Liga match against Atletico de Madrid. Martínez, a veteran of the top league in Spain, is among the new players on FC Dallas this season.
File Photo/getty Images Jose Antonio Martinez of Granada CF (right) battled for the ball during a 2020 Liga match against Atletico de Madrid. Martínez, a veteran of the top league in Spain, is among the new players on FC Dallas this season.
 ?? 2020 File Photo/special Contributo­r ?? Midfielder Ryan Hollingshe­ad leaps to make a play on the ball against Houston. Hollingshe­ad could play a key role if FC Dallas employs a 3-4-3 formation.
2020 File Photo/special Contributo­r Midfielder Ryan Hollingshe­ad leaps to make a play on the ball against Houston. Hollingshe­ad could play a key role if FC Dallas employs a 3-4-3 formation.

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