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More Questions Than Answers

One of our Austin-based members, Mark, is offering his time to give some thought provoking reading material on all things FC Dallas. Enjoy!

Preseason is over, and unfortunately, so is our Champions League run. MLS is back though, and it started with a tie against a good Real Salt Lake team. What does this say about our starting lineup this year?

Before Acosta suffered injuries (out for 6 to 8 weeks) as well as Nedyalkov (unsure when he’ll return), our starting eleven and our formation looked like they were going to be this:

In both legs against Tauro FC, Ulloa was in for the injured Acosta. Then Jacori Hayes had a great game when he replaced Ulloa in the team for the RSL game. This is where things started getting contentious with the starting eleven: Who should have replaced Acosta all along? And should a player have been moved from another position?

After the first - and second - leg performances of the partnership between Ulloa and Gruezo, things got even more contentious. Neither player moved the ball forward like Acosta would have, and both players got in the way of each other. That forced Diaz to track back and pick up the ball from Dallas’ half. If you have a play-maker trying to make plays from a deep-line position, they’re not going to be effective. The scenario also caused compression to our defense, forcing long balls and interceptions.

After Ulloa was taken off in the second leg, Diaz was moved into the midfield, and Gruezo played as a midfield sweeper, making more tackles and more interceptions. We don’t need two defensive midfielders, especially when Diaz is plenty capable of playing in a center midfielder role. Instead, Hayes or Pomykal should play alongside Diaz as a center midfielder. Hayes gives us more energy and Pomykal gives us more creativity; but regardless, either of them would give us much more alongside Gruezo than Ulloa does, as shown in this configuration on the right.

Going back to Nedyalkov’s absence, there are additional issues for the lineup and formation. Neither Figueroa nor Hollingshead are straight replacements; Figueroa has too many miles on the legs to play the type of left back Oscar wants, and Hollingshead is not a natural defensive player. That is probably why Oscar went with three at the back, like so:

Before the second leg started, the above isn’t how the formation was set up, but as the game proceeded, that is how the team looked. There’s a reason Ulloa was taken off in the 35th minute, and it’s not a surprise the sub was for Mosquera. As you can see in the first possible lineup I outline below, Mosquera moves into the left winger position opposite Barrios, giving the team more balance rather than relying too much on Barrios.

We know Papi favors 4-2-3-1 and the new 3-5-2 but let's consider alternatives.

Three further possible lineups and formations for the start of the season:


If we’re going to play three at the back, this is how I would set up the formation. It’s how the formation looked after Ulloa was taken off. It’s best to sacrifice the extra defensive midfielder if you’re going to play three center backs. This was especially apparent in the second leg, as we relied too much on the right side. The extra responsibility brought out the best in Gruezo, too.


It’s possible that Gruezo will be partnered with Hayes or Ulloa again as two defensive midfielders. This formation would be very attacking, but with that comes extra reliance on Gruezo to protect the back four. It also makes the left back and right back more defensive. This also a look that Pareja used during preseason.


Colman scored in CCL. Yes, I know… shocking! And he did get a brief run against RSL, but that poses an important question: How does Colman fit into a starting eleven? I don’t think you take out Urruti; both Urruti and Colman provide different but equally important strengths. Urruti gives you speed and Colman gives you power. Together, they provide a classic two-striker system, the 4-4-2 of yesteryear. We’ve done 4-4-2 in the past, but it’s never been Oscar’s MO to play two out-and-out strikers; however, I would like him to experiment with this lineup. There’s a simplicity to it that has the potential to help new players like Ziegler and Cannon understand their roles. And it’s the most used lineup in football for a reason.

Preliminary Conclusions

Injuries coupled with fluctuating player form have created more questions than answers this preseason. As a result, we need changes along these lines:

Midfield: As previously mentioned, if we’re going to play three at the back, adjustments should be made in the midfield. This might just mean more playing time with Gruezo and Ulloa, but in my opinion, we should give Hayes or Pomykal a chance. Once Acosta is fit, he will be partnered with Gruezo.

Defense: Cannon is a youngster, and although he made a few mistakes in the CCL, overall, he was impressive and looked the part, and had a better showing against RSL. His position is nailed down for now, but Oscar will replace him if he makes too many mistakes. As for possible replacements, it would have to be Hollingshead, which is not ideal considering he’s currently in for the injured Nedyalkov. Cannon is going to have to learn quickly, and in a recent interview, he talked about adjusting to the 3-5-2.

“It’s a hard adjustment going from four to five, but I think we’re doing really well so far. In the second half you could tell we were starting to attack and really getting forward. We got our feet on the ground and started going, but it took a little while to adjust to all the pressure. We’ll get used to it and we’ve just got to get better from here.”

It’ll be exciting to see Cannon grow with the team.

Zeigler will have to adjust from four to three at the back as well, as he comments.

“I think both systems are good. It’s a different tactic, but what’s important is the attitude you have on the field and the mentality you have. It’s not an excuse, I don’t know what is better for us. When we play our game like we did today, I think we can do a lot of good things in the league. I don’t think we have to look for excuses with the system.”

Zeigler is an experienced player, but if he doesn’t meet expectations, Reaves and Cano are waiting in the wings.

Goalkeeper: Maurer is a veteran of NASL and waited a long time for his first MLS start in the season opener. Gonzalez will have to be completely on his game this year if he wants to get the starting job back when he returns from injury.

Manager: In Oscar’s quotes after the Tauro game, he took full responsibility for their performances. Of course he is right to do so, but in any similar situation, there’s going to be learning curves for players like Cannon, Gonzalez, and Mosquera, which will result in some poor performances. One major suggestion, which many people in the #PlayYourKids camp share, is to bring on Hayes or Pomykal instead of Tesho or Lamah as subs. There’s an understandable risk with not playing veterans, but as they said in Shogun Assassin, “You gotta take a chance, if you wanna take a bath.”

Fans: This season is going to be a big test for the club; there’s going to be good, bad, and average performances with mixed results. I will take this time to remind FC Dallas fans that a huge part of the joy of sports comes from the inevitable unpredictability, and we are supporting a young club with a young squad and manager. Growing pains are part of our culture; we can’t buy the league like Toronto, Atlanta, NYCFC, LA Galaxy, or LAFC. We will find success by developing our young talent, and the key to developing that talent is patience. So stay positive, support the club, and watch the talent grow!

Busca la forma,

Marcus Aurelius Wrightus

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