2018 CCL - Santiago Mosquera - FC Dallas - Tauro FC - Champions League
Courtesy of CONCACAF

After Champions League debut, here's what FC Dallas need for strong 2018

In February 2017, FC Dallas swaggered into the the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stage with the weight of expectations on them, and came within an agonizing loss of reaching the final. 

What a difference a year makes.

Of course, any team that is in the CCL knockouts has ambitions to make a deep run and in the case of MLS teams, to win the whole thing for the first time ever. And FC Dallas are coming into this year's version of the competition expecting big things, as they should.

But while there have been parallels so far between last year's CCL and Wednesday's Round of 16 first-leg loss against Tauro FC –  notably, FCD goalkeepers making a costly mistake when their series was on a razor's edge – the difference this year is that FC Dallas are no longer the "MLS favorites" for the CCL prize, as last year's treble winners Toronto FC have taken that mantle.

Coming off a surprisingly disappointing 2017 that saw them miss the playoffs, this is an FC Dallas that still seems to be finding itself. What do Dallas need to do to get back on top? Here are three key factors that can make them contenders in CCL...and in MLS this season.

Can Super Mauro return to his best?

Mauro Diaz in action for FC Dallas | USA Today Images

It can be argued that much of FC Dallas' struggles last year came from that Mauro Diaz Achilles injury in the fall of 2016. He was back on the field last summer, but severe Achilles injuries are always known to take a toll on soccer players and rounding back into pre-injury shape is typically a challenge.

But can FCD's Argentine playmaker truly get back to his best? Based on how stuck their attack can get at times, they really need him to pull the strings in attack in order to be fearsome in CCL and beyond.

Will Mosquera be a difference maker?

You may remember last season, FC Dallas' big attacking signing, Cristian Colman, scored a goal on his debut in CCL. There wasn't much more where that came from in his debut campaign in Texas. He scored just twice in 26 regular season appearances.

Colman is still on the team and has a chance to come good this year, but there's more competition for starting minutes, with another new attacking import, in Santiago Mosquera. The Colombian got the start on Wednesday against Tauro, and had possibly the best chance of the game for Dallas, but couldn't seal the deal.

Dallas still have a good shot to turn around the CCL series against Tauro, but for sustained CCL success and a strong MLS season, they'll need Mosquera to hit the ground running, and contribute regularly in 2018.

Who's the next Kellyn Acosta?

Reggie Cannon in 2017 U.S. Open Cup | USA Today Images

Despite his club's struggles in 2017, Kellyn Acosta is still the FC Dallas academy success story, earning consistent call-ups with the US national team. And after a trying season in which no Homegrown players emerged as new, must-start options in 2017, the talk from FC Dallas management has been about getting back to playing the kids.

The good news is that the academy product many believe will emerge in 2017, right back Reggie Cannon, started and played a solid 90 for FC Dallas against Tauro on Wednesday. If he can take that position and make it his own, he could follow in the footsteps of Acosta, Jesse Gonzalez and Victor Ulloa and become a mainstay for a Dallas side that could use his contributions to return to contender status.

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