It's been a long road filled with at-home workouts, individual training sessions and Zoom calls before having to withdraw from the MLS is Back Tournament after each suffered a number of positive COVID-19 tests. A day after the tournament wrapped, Dallas and Nashville get to usher MLS into the next phase of their season, playing the league's first matches in home stadiums since LAFC and the Philadelphia Union played to a 3-3 draw at Banc of California Stadium on March 8.
Both clubs had big aspirations for 2020, as FC Dallas reloaded and were fixated on taking the next step forward under Luchi Gonzalez and Nashville were eager to make their mark over their inaugural season. Both had encouraging starts, with Dallas beating the Union and Nashville christening their inaugural MLS match with just under 60,000 fans at Nissan Stadium, as well as leading the league in expected goals against over the first two games.
They (finally) get to resume their season and continue chasing their goals. Here's where each club stands heading into their return tonight (8:30 pm ET | MLS Live on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada):
Projected XI vs. Dallas
Aiming to enter MLS competitively in year one with a solid defensive structure while acquiring long-term building blocks and retaining valuable flexibility moving forward as they evaluate the roster were among Nashville's priorities for 2020. The early signs through two weeks were solid, though yielded no points.
The effecets of the COVID-19 pandemic haven't tanked the end goals, though they didn't help either. By this time in a normal season, Nashville would have played around 23 matches. They would have had a strong data set as to what was working, what wasn't and how to take the next step forward in the transfer market. How can some of the newer players around these parts in the squad be properly evaluated after just two matches?
The club's lone goal came via Walker Zimmerman and while the attack hasn't whirred just yet, Hany Mukhtar has created six chances and Randall Leal proved dangerous in 1v1 situations, with six dribbles completed at a 67% rate. Mukhtar's chances created per 90 put him top five in the league (min. 170 minutes) and Leal in the top 10 for dribbles per 90, but two games is quite far from a representative sample size. They need more data points. That comes against Dallas, another 2019 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs team.
Another to watch: Former Mexico youth international forward Daniel Rios may be in line for his first MLS start. Can he (plus Dom Badji and Abu Danladi) prove investment is better spent elsewhere in the squad than at center forward?
As for one player they didn't need more data points for, USMNT and MLS (young) veteran center back Zimmerman signed a contract extension just before they resume play against Dallas. One of their cornerstone players will be around for the foreseeable future.
Projected XI vs. Nashville
Dallas' season started strong with a win over Philly as Homegrown midfielder Tanner Tessmann burst onto the scene with an impressive performance out of the midfield mere days after signing a Homegrown contract. He is yet another youth international making his name with the FCD first team.
FCD remain one of the deepest teams in the league, going at least two-deep, if not three-deep at each position on the depth chart. As the season continues and midweek games pop up, they won't have much problem rotating and keeping the squad fresh. They are adding a big new piece to the squad, as former Liga MX marksman Franco Jara awaits his debut with the club. Gonzalez won't be short of selection headaches, but it's a good problem to have.
Another good problem to have is interest abroad in some of those rising young stars, a key storyline to monitor as the season progresses. Will all of Reggie Cannon, Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira and others be around through the end of the 2020 season?
Regardless of who stays, goes or comes in, Dallas have eyes much further up the standings than the playoff line.
Dallas ended last year after an enthralling Round One playoff match against eventual champion Seattle Sounders where they narrowly lost 4-3 and entered this year with a few new editions, including DPs Thiago Santos and Jara (who agreed to a deal in the winter join in the summer).
FCD are also on the verge of signing Colombian No. 10 Andres Ricaurte, giving Gonzalez yet another option to choose from in the midfield. The attacker is a traditional No. 10, a creative hub with a different skillset than Pomykal or Ferreira in the position.
On top of the additions, Dallas returned the overwhelming majority of their key contributors, while those rising talents advanced another year in their development. They're ready to take the next step.