FRISCO, Texas – As Mauro Diaz completed a transfer to United Arab Emirates-based side Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai FC this week, FC Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja was left to contemplate the next steps for a team that has largely been built around the Argentine playmaker over the past five years.
When he took the helm in 2014, Pareja inherited a team with a far greener Diaz linking the attack in the mold of David Ferreira in his 2010 MLS MVP season with FCD, and Pareja himself in years past. While the team have relied heavily on the 4-2-3-1 formation to cater to Diaz, his injury troubles have helped Dallas prepare for this moment.
With the 27-year-old absent for the start of 2017 as he recovered from a ruptured achilles tendon, Dallas fielded a 4-4-2 consistently until Diaz returned to the lineup last June.
"It's one of those things that isn't just going to happen overnight, it's not one of those things we'll adjust to immediately," explained striker Tesho Akindele after Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Atlanta United. "Mauro had injuries, which meant we've had experience playing without him, and I feel we have the talent, we have the athleticism, to still be a good team and make stuff happen."
This year Pareja has experimented further, with FC Dallas trying out a 3-5-2 in preseason and more recently a 4-3-3. Diaz has not had a prolific scoring record, with his last goal from open play coming back in July 2016, but his “Little Unicorn” moniker was earned through magical playmaking skills. Diaz is still tied for second in the league with eight assists, though five of those came in Dallas' two 3-2 wins over the LA Galaxy in May.
FCD will need to find a linking player to fill those duties. Homegrown Paxton Pomykal is being groomed to grow into the role, and winter signing Santiago Mosquera is also available to play as a No. 10 in addition to either wing.
The answer may lie outside of Frisco and what is currently at Pareja's disposal, however. As the Diaz rumors swirled last week, FCD technical director Fernando Clavijo told 3rd Degree's Buzz Carrick that the club will peruse the transfer market this summer, and a replacement for Diaz could feature in Dallas' plans, in addition to a striker and the likely capture of Brazilian left back Marquinos Pedroso.
"If Mauro is not here then we have to look, without a doubt," said Clavijo at the time.