FRISCO, Texas — When FC Dallas takes on New York City FC this weekend, the team will have played three games in eight days, including two road matches against the Chicago Fire and Seattle Sounders.
Coming off a poor 4-0 loss against Chicago, Dallas came with a plan into CenturyLink Field, earning a point in a place the team has historically struggled. That point on Wednesday came with a cost, however, as many players walked into training Friday sore from the turf field. While playing on turf is something players have to deal with, recovery for a quick turnaround is key.
“Yeah, our bodies are so sore, speaking for myself and playing on turf” forward Dominique Badji said. “But we’re used to this with the way the league is set up and it’s not the first time we’ve had a couple games close back-to-back. We have a great training staff that’s going to get us ready for three points this weekend.”
Coach Luchi Gonzalez is not concerned about the short week for training. The team recently had a bye prior to the Fire match, which the coaching staff hopes served as a refresher for the players heading into the final stretch of the season.
“I think we’ve picked some smart moments of giving the boys a day of rest, at least one day off a week, even two recently in the last few weeks, which allows them to recharge not only physically but mentally,” Gonzalez said. “So that when they are with us in the training and the game, we can really be demanding of each other of our energies and mental commitments. Not a lot of time to think after Chicago. We needed to have a response and so we were able to really push the guys to be critical and show ownership as a staff, as players, so that the standard can be higher to represent our club and I think they showed that in Seattle.”
Leadership playing a key role going into Sunday
FC Dallas has the youngest roster in Major League Soccer, with an average age of 24. It shows in the starting lineups, with many key players such as Paxton Pomykal, Brandon Servania, and Reggie Cannon being homegrowns from the team’s academy.
While the impact of co-captains Reto Ziegler and Matt Hedges have been documented, some of the other veterans in the locker room such as Badji add a more low-key element of leadership.
“I don’t know if a lot of them have really been in the situation, where the backs aren’t against the wall but we need people to step up,” Badji said. “I think it’s just reiterating that to them, not really putting too much pressure on them, but the importance of the moment. This is not the first time they’re going to experience this in their careers, so guiding them through this and letting them understand how important it is for our goals and what we want to achieve going forward is good.
“A lot of them stepped up [against Seattle]. Off the top of my head, Brandon [Servania] had a very good game, one of his best, and Seattle is not an easy team to play against. I’m proud that he stepped up in the moment and I’m sure a lot of them are going to be doing that going forward.”
Badji was apart of the 2016 Colorado Rapids side that advanced to the Western Conference finals, falling to eventual champion Seattle 3-1 on aggregate. Throughout the years, Badji has played with strong veterans such as goalkeeper Tim Howard and midfielder Jermaine Jones, helping Badji learn for his role with FC Dallas as an older player.
“The last team I was on wasn’t great record-wise but we had some very, very good experienced leaders,” Badji said. “I’ve been able to take a lot of positives from them to help the guys in this locker room. There’s different kind of leaders. I’m more of the guy who’s going to pull somebody aside as opposed to be loud and vocal, which works. That’s something a lot of the guys appreciate here and it’s important to do that. A lot of people are young and don’t know which direction to go towards so we need the guidance from our leaders.”
New York City FC currently sits top of the Eastern Conference on 57 points and has imposed a style under coach Domenic Torrent. Torrent, who was Pep Guardiola’s right-hand man at Manchester City, has developed a possession-based team. The team currently sits second in possession numbers at 55.4 percent, sitting only behind San Jose.
Even on the road, NYCFC will look to continue to play its game, not wanting to bunker down. With FC Dallas’ desire to play possession-based soccer as well, Sunday’s battle will see two teams stubborn to changing its ways, waiting to see who will blink first.
“I’m excited, our staff and players are excited to approach this challenge and not be naive about it and not underestimate in any way,” Gonzalez said. “New York City is a fantastic team. There’s a reason why they’re top of the table in the conference. They have a venue they do well in. It’s a smaller field and there’s a lot of transitions. They’re well-coached, a coach that’s been on world-class staffs and under a world-class manager. A lot of respect for them.
It may be the hardest game of the season at home and we know that but what a great opportunity for us to take our step and fight to have possession of the ball, fight to create more attacks, fight to defend our goalie especially at this point of the season where points are gold. We’re going to show a lot of respect but that respect is done with us believing and showing confidence and courage in our way, and going out and executing.”