FC Dallas is one of the two undefeated teams left in Major League Soccer after five matches, and the club is looking to continue that streak Saturday in Frisco, Texas against the Philadelphia Union.
A 1-0 win against New England last weekend provided some confidence for the squad, which drew its last two matches at home. That game also brought back the 4-4-2 formation coach Óscar Pareja used last season, when FC Dallas reached the Concacaf Champions League semifinals and got off to a strong MLS start as well.
Pareja complimented his backline on the improvements they’ve made after being revamped during the offseason following FCD’s 2017 collapse. The team currently has the fewest goals allowed in the league with three and is looking to continue that against a Philadelphia side struggling to score with three goals in five matches.
“It feels good to know that defensively we’ve had grown a lot in the start of the season, which is an assignment we wanted to accomplish this year so we can drop that average goals against,” Pareja said. “But it’s a nonstop thing. We need to keep working every weekend and reevaluate that every weekend. But definitely the game in New England gave us a lot of energy and it was a lot of good things we took out of that game so we’re building on that.”
The Union have gone with a different approach this season as coach Jim Curtin inserted Academy products into the starting XI. Auston Trusty and Matt Real have been apart of the young defensive core for the Union, along with Mark McKenzie, who came off the bench last game, and Anthony Fontana, who scored in the opening match of the season.
Pareja and FCD are known for a willingness to play Homegrowns. FC Dallas’ academy system has been touted as the best in Major League Soccer for many years, producing talents such as Kellyn Acosta and others who have flourished overseas, such as Schalke FC’s Weston McKennie.
“It’s great to have programs in America who are providing opportunities to homegrown and providing opportunities to youngsters,” Pareja said. “I think they are doing a great job in that part knowing that it’s going to be a sacrifice in some other areas. Still, there is a team who has experience players too and we respect. We’re trying to do our best to get our best form and try to beat the teams that we play against but at the same time, we respect those programs too.”
Acosta, who has been out after hernia surgery in the preseason, could make his 2018 debut Saturday. He was not part of the 18 against the Revolution, but has participated in training drills this week.
“He’s doing well,” Pareja said. “We’ll evaluate with doctors today. We still have the morning of tomorrow, and we’ll decide.”
Jacori Hayes continues to shine
One surprising part of FC Dallas’ early season has been the play of Jacori Hayes, who has shined in the absence of Acosta. Hayes was named to MLS’ Team of the week and has cemented himself in the starting XI.
He’s been asked to advanced more recently and scored his first MLS goal against New England last week.
“It definitely gives you a little bit more confidence to score the first goal, just to see it go past the keeper in the net,” Hayes said. “Going forward, hopefully, that confidence again shows tomorrow. But I’m just gonna try to do my role for the team and hopefully get the three points.”
The more attacking role for him is not about learning, but about remembering what he did in college and adjusting that to MLS. At Wake Forest, Hayes scored eight goals and notched three assists in 23 matches.
“I’ve been higher up when I was in college,” Hayes said. “But obviously, MLS is a different level. It’s remembering those skills and what’s required. It’s just mentally preparing before the game, like what could happen and what’s my role whether it’s to push up higher in the game in the build or whether it’s to drop in deep. We practice it all week so it’s kinda mentally just running through scenarios that could happen on the weekend.”
Hayes was paired up with a new partner in the midfield as Victor Ulloa got the start for the first time this MLS season. Ulloa, 26, played comfortably in the match and allowed for Hayes to get up the field, especially when Gruezo came on in the latter stages of the match.
“I play with these guys for over a year now and you kind of learn their tendencies,” Hayes said. “Victor has been awesome in my development so far and we’re always talking to each other, bouncing off ideas. I’m trying to learn from him. He’s been in the league for a long time so he is a great player to learn from in that position. He’s helped me out a lot. He’s an awesome player to play with.”
When: April 21, 7:00 PM CST
Where: Toyota Stadium (Frisco, Texas)
Broadcast: TXA 21; Radio- FCDallas.com/Radio (English), 1270AM (Spanish)