FRISCO, Texas — The month of May has been difficult for FC Dallas. With key players out due to injuries and international call-ups, it’s part of the challenge of being in Major League Soccer.
While teams across the world are off in the summer months, MLS teams are not. International competitions take place in June and July, forcing many MLS teams to be without players midseason. For Dallas, a team that emphasizes youth development, many of its young and upcoming players are called up to youth national teams. This weekend, the team will be without Pablo Aránguiz, adding to the list of Paxton Pomykal, Edwin Cerrillo, and Brandon Servania, who are at the U-20 World Cup.
However, coach Luchi Gonzalez has embraced this challenge, attempting to test his squad going into its match against the Seattle Sounders Saturday night at 7 p.m. CT.
“It’s certainly a learning process,” Gonzalez told Pro Soccer USA. “I want to win as bad as any of our players and any of our fans, but it’s been a great environment led by our ownership and technical leaders in [director of soccer operations] Marco [Ferruzi] and [technical director] André [Zanotta] that this is a process. In this tough moment, whether because of results or because of missing players, it’s only going to help us really test our depth and give guys opportunities and make us stronger in the long run. The long run for us is this season. It’s not next season or two years from now, I’m not going to talk about two years. But at the same time, we’re approaching Seattle with a lot of excitement.”
Even with this tough run of six games without a win, the MLS season is forgiving. Seattle knows all about this; after a dismal start to its 2016 season, which resulted in the firing of then-coach Sigi Schmidt, the team went on a run, fueled by Nicolás Lodeiro and ending with the 2016 MLS Cup victory.
It’s not a model that Dallas wants to emulate, but it has been on the mind of Gonzalez during the run.
“I think in theory, those things happen but not because they’re planned,” Gonzalez said. “I really don’t. I don’t think Seattle is like, ‘We’re going to start slow and end strong.’ Honestly, I kinda thought about this, I don’t think there’s too much to say about it. I think the day-to-day is important.”
Gonzalez wants his team’s performances to match with its result. He conceded that the team has struggled, even in wins, to put on the performance of Gonzalez’s standard. Sometimes, the performance in a loss was more quality than the points received.
Part of this process involves giving players greater roles on the team. Homegrown Bryan Reynolds Jr., a converted fullback from a forward, has been relishing the opportunities to play with the first team. He has made two appearances, both brief cameos in the 1-1 draw against Los Angeles FC and the 2-1 loss against the Vancouver Whitecaps. It’s players such as Reynolds who take advantage of the opportunities given to them, looking to make their debuts and cast some competition for Gonzalez.
“It’s a good feeling to come in and actually change the game a little bit,” Reynolds told Pro Soccer USA. “I got my first assist last game, but we still didn’t get the win. Not happy about the result but happy with my performance. I feel like the more I play, the better I’ll be, and I’ll produce once I get more minutes.”
For Gonzalez, the chances created by the international call-ups allow for players to take the next step. While this is a rough patch for the team, individual development is key for the teams that want longer runs that go deep into the postseason.
“These games now, nothing to celebrate or be all crazy about,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just his next steps and so he hasn’t started a game yet and starting a game and playing a full 90 minutes is different than a 10-t0-15 minute burst. But he’s shown a mentality that he can earn the opportunity to impact this club in that way. He’s made the last few rosters — yeah, I know we’ve been missing some players — but he’s earned it too. We’re not putting guys on there for charity. It’s been great progress for him and now, he’s challenged to take the next step.”