CONCACAF Champions League rout gives great hope for FC Dallas’ 2017 season

The FC Dallas hype train has no brakes.

Or at least the brakes aren’t going to be able to slow it down any time soon.

Last Thursday night, FC Dallas trounced Panamanian side Arabe Unido 4–0 in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal round in Frisco. I went into the match with mild expectations, especially with playmaker Mauro Diaz sidelined until at least June with the Achilles injury he picked up late last season.

But any reservation I or any other supporter held going into that match quickly changed to hope and a ton of optimism. The Hoops controlled the match right from the start, putting immediate pressure on the Arabe Unido defense. FC Dallas created opportunity after opportunity in the opening minutes to no avail. Finally, forward Cristian Colman, the team’s biggest signing of the offseason, opened the scoring after getting passed the back line and beating the keeper to delight of the 4,XXX fans at Toyota Stadium.

The Hoops scored three more times in the second half, including a goalazo from Kellyn Acosta from outside the box to all but wrap up the quarterfinal series. Arabe Unido needs to win the return leg by more than four goals to keep FC Dallas from advancing.

So, with this series basically out of the way, FC Dallas sits just days away from the season opener in Los Angeles. Here are a few of my key takeaways from the first competitive match of 2017:

Multiple options on the attack

This was undoubtedly the best part about the match Thursday night. No longer will FC Dallas have to rely on Mauro Diaz to make the plays and set up goals. Just about everyone on the attack has that capability now and the result was quite remarkable. Colman is just as fast as what his YouTube highlight showed, and his finish on his goal shows he knows how to find the back of the net. Maxi Urruti failed to find the score sheet, but showed why his work rate is unmatched on this team, hustling all over the pitch and making life generally miserable for the Unido defense. And if he had just played a through ball a bit earlier in the first half, he would have gotten an assist.

Michael Barrios showed what he can do now that Rolan Lamah is on the opposite side of the pitch. He scored a goal in second-half stoppage time and made a lot of good runs. Meanwhile, Lamah came through with a solid debut, nearly scoring early in the match on the volley. Considering how much Barrios struggled without Castillo last year, having Barrios and Lamah terrorizing defenses on the wings will open the game up a lot for FC Dallas.

But Acosta stole the show with his offensive output. The homegrown midfielder netted a brace, scoring that afore mentioned goalazo as well as finishing an opportunity in the box in the 86th minute. Acosta is the poster child for the FC Dallas academy, but hasn’t always featured much in the attack. If he can do more of what he did Thursday night, the Hoops’ attack could be nearly unstoppable.

Strong play of Gruezo, Zimmerman

It’s easy to overlook the defensive side of the ball for FC Dallas after all of the offensive fireworks, but Carlos Gruezo and Walker Zimmerman both showed why the Hoops’ defense will be strong this year. Zimmerman, who earned his first international cap last month, looks so much more confident at the center back position. He seemed to win nearly every ball that was in the air near the back line. Arabe Unido struggled to finish in the final third with Zimmerman clogging up the holes. While Hedges will remain the captain of the back line and the team, Zimmerman 

Meanwhile, Gruezo also played a big part in the Hoop’s clean sheet. He doesn’t really get the recognition others on the team get, but Gruezo has been nothing but solid for the Hoops in the year-plus he’s been in Frisco. He always steps up at the right time to break up a promising attack and quickly gets the ball to players who can get forward, which is huge in FC Dallas’ counterattack style. While he’s listed as a midfielder, Gruezo plays almost like a fifth defender just in front of the back line while Acosta goes forward in the attack.

If Gruezo and Zimmerman can keep up this level of play, expect FC Dallas to continue to rack up clean sheets this season.

Grana getting forward

New right back Hernan Grana’s night didn’t get him into the score sheet, but he was a great surprise. I got a really good look at Grana in the first half as he moved up and down the right side of the formation, and I like what I see from him. He moves forward with the attack very well and played in a couple of really nice balls into the box. He and Barrios also overlapped really well along that right side, which only adds to the danger the FC Dallas attack poses.

My only concern comes on the defensive end. With as much he gets forward in the attack, Grana leaves a lot of open space behind him for a counterattack. He made up for this against Unido, tracking back quickly to get back into position. But doing that against much more experienced MLS teams could be costly. Still, the good far outweighs the bad with Grana so far considering how much FC Dallas has struggled to have a fullback get into the attack since Brek Shea left.

Now of course this was against a Panamanian side that has struggled in 2017 in its domestic league and there’s no doubt that MLS teams are going to be a lot better on the defensive side of the ball. 

But a 4–0 win in the first competitive match of the season is about as good as a start you could want. Plus the game featured no major injuries, which is an achievement against a CONCACAF opponent. And the blowout win puts the rest of the league on notice — the Hoops will still be a force to be reckoned with again this season.

The FC Dallas hype train has left the station and there’s no telling where it’s going.