FRISCO, Texas — FC Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja has used a rotation of personnel in the starting XI this season, particularly across the attacking front, as he continues his ever-present quest to drive competition in training, keep opponents honest and refresh his own players' mentality.
To that end, 21-year-old Chilean Pablo Aranguiz has been among that mix for the latter half of the season. Signed as the long-term replacement for Mauro Diaz, who was transferred to a club in the Middle East in early July, Aranguiz is a game-changing player capable of that special pass or highlight moment Diaz used to provide.
In other words, he makes the kind of plays that can decide outcomes in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, regardless of if they come as a starter or a substitute.
“Pablo has the quality to glue people in the middle with the ball,” Pareja said after FCD’s Tuesday training session, “because as a playmaker that’s his natural instinct and natural job. But at the same time, he has that pass that probably just can unfold the things in the last piece of the field.”
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That final third pass is something FCD has been missing. Using Maxi Urruti as a second striker without a pure playmaking No. 10 behind he and front man Dominique Badji, Dallas has suffered at times from a disconnect to the front line, and a lack of goals in the run of play over the second half of the season. Against the Colorado Rapids in a 2-1 loss on Sunday, for example, Badji had only 21 touches.
Urruti says a starter or bench role doesn’t matter for him, Aranguiz, or any other player; the mentality needs to be the same. “Whoever plays needs to give their all and whoever comes off the bench needs to do the same. We need to stay focused on whatever the technical staff wants from us tomorrow and know that it’s a final.”
Pareja has been keen to protect Aranguiz by not playing him on the road, particularly on turf, during his nine appearances this season. Two of Aranguiz’s three starts have come at home. Based on Tuesday's training, that role is likely to continue in Wednesday night's Knockout Round game against the Portland Timbers (9:30 pm ET | UniMás, TVAS, TSN). With the short turnaround, Tuesday was the only day to implement team and tactical changes, and Aranguiz was not with the starting unit. But his coach knows that whenever he calls on Aranguiz, it will benefit the team.
“What I feel when I bring a player on the field, first is what the team needs in the moment,” Pareja said. “[Aranguiz] has that talent and that quality, and we’re optimistic that he will continue to contribute with it."