At 4-0-1, FC Dallas is the hottest team in MLS. Last year’s Rapids lead by Oscar Pareja did not have a stretch that strong. They still became a threatening team that made the MLS Cup Playoffs and earned a 1-1-1 regular season record against Sounders FC. Seattle did end Pareja’s 2013 hopes with a two-nil win in Knockout Round of the playoffs.
The third-year coach is using some of the tactics he built in Colorado and carrying them to Dallas, but there may be even more talent in Dallas than there was at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Mauro Diaz is the central playmaker – Where the Rapids exploded through 2013 Rookie of the Year Dillon Powers, FC Dallas uses Young DP Mauro Diaz to drive the attack. At just 23 years old, Diaz has started the 2014 campaign strong, earning the March Player of the Month honors. His previous professional experience includes several years with River Plate. He does not have the athleticism of Powers, but uses strong dribbling and crafty passing to unlock the offense. Just five games into the year he already has two goals and three assists to help his club remain unbeaten.
Patience in the back – Both Colorado last year and this year’s Dallas teams are generally older in defense. Both sides do use one youngster in the back four. For Dallas that is U.S. U-20 defender Kellyn Acosta. For the most part, Pareja’s system is a bit patient along the line. They absorb opposition attacks and play along the line to gain space. Then, when they see the open run from their attack they burst out into quick threats on goal.
Long balls to spring attack – Three of the four regular starting attacking players in Dallas’ 4-2-3-1 are players that demonstrate strong on-ball skills. In order to get them the ball, Pareja leans on the long ball. Dallas is sixth in the league in percentage of long balls played. They will also use throughballs to bypass the midfield. Colorado used that technique to most effect against Seattle on October 6th.
There are some differences in the level of talent. In Denver the team’s attack had Rookie of the Year Powers and University of Mobile Rookie of the Year finalist Deshorn Brown. Dallas is different. Pareja joined the club late in the offseason, starting his new job on January 10th. He joined a team that is the poster child for exactly how to use the Young Designated Player rule.
They first signed Fabian Castillo through that method. Castillo is no longer a Young DP, but the space they have available is filled with Diaz and two other young South Americans. Colombian Andres Escobar is just 22 years old. On loan from Dynamo Kiev, Escobar is primarily a sub in the attack. Uruguayan David Texeira also signed at 22 years old. The forward already earned a start and three sub appearances. He’d previously played in the Netherlands.
No longer is this the Hyndman Dallas side that leans heavy on college players. The roster includes solid scouting of Latin American talent and Academy talents like Acosta. Pareja’s stamp is already clear through a change in tactics that melds typical American and Latin systems.
Seattle Sounders FC takes on Dallas at 5:30 p.m. PT on Saturday. The match is on JOEtv (channel 10/22), KIRO Radio 97.3 FM and in Spanish on THIS-TV (KOMO2) and ESPN Deportes 1490 AM. Sounders FC is undefeated on the road in 2014.