FRISCO, Tx. — Luchi Gonzalez has coached FC Dallas for 23 games and there’s plenty he likes thus far.
Maybe the biggest positive is the 26 goals FCD has allowed, tied for third-fewest in MLS.
Gonzalez chalks that stinginess up to a strong back four anchored by the veteran center back combination of co-captains Matt Hedges, a 2019 MLS-All Star, and Reto Ziegler. His possession-dominant style of play has played a role, too.
“Defense is an interesting concept because defending is blocking, tackling and not allowing penetration near your goal,” Gonzalez said after training Tuesday morning. “But it’s also having the ball, keeping it and not allowing the opponent to have opportunities to attack the goal.”
Left back Ryan Hollingshead is another key member of that back line and the versatile sixth-year veteran has noticed a positive shift in team defense in Gonzalez’s system.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on being a really good defensive team,” Hollingshead said. “We’re not like these other clubs that pay $6 million to bring in some good strikers that are going to score 30 goals. Honestly, a lot of our games that we win are 1-0, 2-1, really close games. It’s very rare that we put four or five goals on a team. Because of that, our defense has a high calling to be really solid. I feel like we’ve stepped into that.”
Hollingshead, who also played under FCD’s two previous coaches, Oscar Pareja and Schellas Hyndman, said Gonzalez’s new possession-dominated methodology has been a welcome change.
“That really helps us defend because we just out-possess teams. We’re defending a lot less of the game than we used to,” Hollingshead said. “I remember in years past defending for 80 minutes, just defending and withstanding attacks. We were good at it, but that’s not really what we’re doing this year. We’re still keeping those clean sheets, but we’re doing it with having the ball rather than absorbing all of the pressure.”
However, another area has been a pleasant surprise for Gonzalez.
“Our locker room — high-level human beings from different cultures, different backgrounds, languages, different past experiences, different ages,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve had flight delays, we’ve had ups and downs, but we’re always there for each other and getting each other’s back. They’re not pointing fingers, making excuses."
“There’s like a brotherhood, a family feel, on the field and off the field that I think he’s brought to this club that has just been necessary and needed,” Hollingshead said. “Guys love fighting for each other because they feel like it’s their brother they’re fighting for.”
Of course, like any coach, Gonzalez has areas where he still wants to see improvement, like the 31 goals the team has scored to date. That's in the bottom third for the 2019 MLS season.
He feels FCD (9-8-6) is sending enough balls into the opposing box, but isn’t consistently doing enough with that service.
“We have frequency around the box, but that has to turn into opportunities,” Gonzalez said. “I’m proud of that, that we have frequency in the box. Now the next step is to turn that frequency into goal celebrations, which is the best part of the game.”