Know your enemy! Each week, we do a Q&A with our friends around the SB Nation Soccer world to get some insight on their team from those who know them best.
New York City FC was thorough in its 3-1 victory over MLS expansion side Atlanta United, taking apart the newcomers in their first visit to Yankee Stadium. The Boys in Blue are on the road this weekend with their sights set on taking three points against Western Conference leaders FC Dallas.
Dallas sits atop the West having played the fewest games so far in MLS, snatching 18 points from their first 8 games. The team is strong at the back, consistent in the midfield, and filled with talented, goal-scoring threats.
Drew Epperley of Big D Soccer joins HRB this time around to break down the upcoming match. Drew discusses early season success, replacing Mauro Diaz, and intriguing talent in the team.
Q. Dallas is off to a really strong start, sitting top of the standings in the Western Conference and sporting an excellent +8 goal differential despite playing the fewest games in MLS. Expectations were high coming into this season but this start must have everyone in Dallas excited for what's to come. Without watching much of Dallas this year, talk me though what has fueled the early success. On paper it looks like the defense (allowed only five goals in eight matches) is making life easy for Dallas, is that the case?
For me, the depth has been a huge reason as to how this team has done what they have been able to do so far (with the Champions League and league games). Oscar Pareja continues to push the right buttons from week-to-week and this team is really determined to maintain the high-level of play that they've displayed each of the last two seasons. He rotates players in and out of the lineup without any real issues too, giving young guys like Victor Ulloa, Paxton Pomykal and Cristian Colman the minutes they need to continue their development.
The defense is certainly a big reason too. Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman have turned into beasts on the field together and the fullback duo of veterans Maynor Figueroa and Hernan Grana are equally impressive in how they shut down the wings and also help out in the attack.
Lastly, this group has really gone out of their way to remain close off the field too. They do a lot of team related outings with one another to help with the chemistry that you see on the field. This goes a long way in maintaining this high-level of play.
Q. Mauro Diaz was one of the main reasons Dallas competed for an MLS Cup last year, scoring 5 times but contributing 13 assists as well. Diaz is returning in June, but I'm surprised the side hasn't missed a beat to start this season without his presence. How has he been replaced in the side? Does he easily regain his starting position when he's ready to return (he has to, right?), and will the transition back be seamless?
Again, this comes down to the depth and the rotation that Pareja has put this club through so far this season. Javier Morales came in and has filled in Diaz's role from time-to-time very nicely. But on the flip side, when Pareja has used a 4-4-2, we've seen more development out of a guy like Kellyn Acosta to fill those creative spots on the field. You can't really replace a guy like Diaz but this club has definitely done a good job at making sure they don't miss a beat without him.
I think the plan for getting him back into the rotation will be a slow build. While he is training, I know the club will be pretty cautious not to rush things here with him. They've been through too many injuries before in the past with him to not take it slow. Its a long season anyways, and I know they'd rather have him healthy for the last third of the season.
Q. There was a lot of movement in and out of the club this summer in the transfer market, with some big names departing but some intriguing ones coming into the team. Which player has exceeded your expectations most this season with his performance? Who are you hoping will get more of a run in the side as the season progresses to be able to show off their talent?
I know a lot of folks here in Dallas will get on to me about this one but I've been impressed with the development of Colman so far. I know he was brought in to be the team's go-to number nine but we're starting to see that he brings a lot more to the table than scoring. In all honesty, he hasn't really brought the scoring to the table yet, but I've been impressed with his movement both on and off the ball. Because of that movement and energy that he brings to the field, he has basically allowed Maxi Urruti to be the guy in the attack that finishes the play and gets the goals.
As far as your other question here, there are a slew of Homegrown players that we're still hoping to see more out of this year in Reggie Cannon, Bryan Reynolds and Jesus Ferreira (son of former MLS MVP David Ferreira). All three of them have had nice runs recently either in the Dallas Cup (Cannon & Ferreira) or with the Youth national teams (Reynolds).
Q. Lineup Prediction?
Jesse Gonzalez, Maynor Figueroa, Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, Hernan Grana, Roland Lamah, Carlos Gruezo, Kellyn Acosta, Michael Barrios, Maxi Urruti, Tesho Akindele
Q. Score Prediction?
There you have it! Thanks again to Drew for answering our questions. Have some thoughts you want to share about soccer stuff? Let us hear it in the comments section.