Once upon a time there was a “Play Your Kids” movement. FC Dallas was the main benefactor of the meme-ification of soccer organizational strategy. They did in fact play their kids and a few dozen writers and podcasters got very excited. The fans got about $12 off their season tickets when those kids were sold to much better teams — teams that try to win.
And then the Seattle Sounders played their kids and the meme was tired and the Seattle Sounders didn’t really get that attention from the few dozen podcasters and bloggers, because the Sounders were winning, and that’s not really the point of the meme. Seattle fans did not get a discount on their tickets. They just got to watch an MLS Cup at home with 70,000 fans.
In many tales these two teams meeting would have some moralistic significance, but in the MLS fairy tale this is just the first contest between the two orgs in 2021. The Wednesday night match (7 PM PT, JOEtv/Prime Video) features a tired, exhausted, injured, slumping Seattle side and an FC Dallas team with a single road win on the season. The kids you’re familiar with aren’t there, for either team. The porridge is simultaneously too hot and too cold; it will only be just right when several Sounders return from injury and absence.
For Big D Soccer, Drew answers Three Questions.
SaH: What’s the key to the FC Dallas teenage right back pipeline? Justin Che is the latest to step up; he’ll be sold soon?
BDS: It does seem like FC Dallas has unlocked some magic code at right back these last couple of years, huh? Reggie Cannon and Bryan Reynolds secured some large transfers for the club. I think what is unique about how FCD is producing these talents is how they’re finding guys that are extremely athletic and are putting them in positions that suit that sort of athleticism the most. Reynolds was an attacking player that got converted into a right back over time and it was pretty obvious early on that it was the right move for him professionally as he struggled to break through a logjam at the attacking positions he played at as a youth.
In all reality, Che is likely that next guy in what is now a growing list of Homegrown players that will be and can be sold abroad. The interesting thing about Che is that he is really a centerback that got thrown into a right back position out of necessity for Luchi Gonzalez. I have a firm belief that the day he is sold it will be due to his athleticism and ability to play multiple positions in the defense. It really will come down to when he is ready to go and which foreign club snatches him up (he does hold a German passport, which should help speed up things).
SaH: Play The Kids gets all the attention for Dallas, but who is the veteran that is the key to success?
BDS: In previous years you could easily point to someone like Matt Hedges as that key veteran. Since he just returned from a lengthy injury, it really falls down on two guys for me: goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer and utility guy Ryan Hollingshead. Both have been equally important to the club over the years and even more so in a year like this one where the team has struggled. Maurer may not be the flashiest or most athletic keeper in MLS but he has the right intangibles that you want in goal to be successful in MLS. It also helps that he is multilingual and can comfortably communicate with anyone on the team. Hollingshead, on the other hand, is the guy you just want to go to battle with. He can play anywhere on the field and has a wild knack for just finding himself in the right spots that help the team succeed more times than not.
SaH: Does Luchi Gonzalez approach road games differently? Or are the struggles away from Dallas related to something else?
BDS: We’ve been wondering this sort of thing for two and a half years now. FC Dallas has only managed five regular-season road wins (with one being this past weekend in KC) under Luchi. At times it appears that he overthinks his lineup selections on the road or tries to get too cute with his tactics depending on who he is playing. In some cases, there are just teams out there in the league that give FC Dallas fits (like San Jose or Colorado). I think finally getting a result away from home this past week was something he needed as well as the club. That burden is off their chest now and I do think we’ll see a FCD group that is a tad more relaxed and maybe now that travel is a little easier (they can leave a day early now, whereas in 2020 they couldn’t due to COVID restrictions).
If they are able to play a little more relaxed like we saw in KC and allow their Homegrown attack lead the way, we could see more positive results pile up away from home.
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