FRISCO, Texas – FC Dallas cling onto the final spot in the Western Conference for the Audi Cup 2019 MLS Playoffs field, all ahead of Sunday’s home matchup (6 pm ET | Full TV & streaming info) against New York City FC.
In a transition year after Oscar Pareja left to coach Liga MX side Club Tijuana, there’s no guarantee postseason soccer is in store for first-year head coach Luchi Gonzalez. But does a successful season hinge on a postseason run?
"Every club is going to have their own definition of success, and we're a club with a model that is focused on development and growth, and the community," Gonzalez said. " … That doesn't take away the fact that we're hungry, we're hungry to win a championship."
Coming into 2019, expectations on FC Dallas varied, especially as the focus shifted to youngsters – both proven and unproven. The key would be adapting to Luchiball, a possession-based style in a 4-3-3 formation that promised a high tempo and ran the risk of wilting in the Texas heat.
That varied from Pareja’s 4-2-3-1 and counterattacking style, where the system and tactics rarely changed. But Gonzalez is content to cycle between midfield shapes and rotate players to suit the individual opponent. The added flexibility has helped prevent consecutive defeats in the last four months, and even cushioned the loss of midfielder Carlos Gruezo upon his return to the Bundesliga in July.
"I don't believe in either stream, not changing ever or always changing," explained Gonzalez when asked whether a consistent lineup is a help or hindrance. "I believe a balance is important, and I feel that we've been balanced in our modification based on players available, our style and our tactics going into the game."
The big storyline this year at Toyota Stadium has been the youth. There’s Paxton Pomykal's emergence as a U.S. men’s national team prospect, and there’s also Edwin Cerrillo's rise to to battling Brandon Servania for a starting spot in midfield. Or even Jesus Ferreira's transition into a No. 10 role – just like his father, former MVP David Ferreira, played for Dallas at the start of the decade. Amid all that, it’s easy to forget that right back Reggie Cannon is 21 and goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez is 24. They seem like experienced veterans in comparison to 16-year-old striker Ricardo Pepi.
The youngsters continue to be complemented by a veteran core in their peak, such as center back Matt Hedges, outside back Ryan Hollingshead and winger Michael Barrios. That all makes FCD president Dan Hunt’s dream of winning MLS Cup with a Homegrown XI a bit far off, but there are also some inherent challenges.
These young players become in-demand, or at least glanced at, across the world market with each passing transfer window. Keeping them together is a tough ask, as is the balancing act in building for the future and getting results now.
"We want to win a championship for our community, our fans, and create a history of fighting for trophies in our model," said Gonzalez. "Over time that's going to evolve, because if we sell a Paxton [Pomykal] then, potentially, we generate revenue that will allow us to keep investing in areas of the club, to keep growing our academy and facilities, or investment in another player to help us compete at the highest levels.
"We're learning a lot, I'm learning, our club's learning but we're all in this together,” Gonzalez continued. “I meet almost every day with my president, Dan Hunt, I connect every week with Clark Hunt. We're in this together and growing together."