FC Dallas is off to a 2-0-1 start under new head coach Oscar Pareja. However, Pareja has employed three different combinations of holding midfielders in his current 4-2-3-1 formation in those contests.
In FCD’s season opener against Montreal on March 8, captain Andrew Jacobson started alongside Hendry Thomas. However, Thomas had to leave that game in the second half with a foot injury. He returned to training just a few days later with a minor ankle sprain, but did not see the field in Dallas’ 1-1 draw at Sporting Kansas City on March 15.
At Sporting Park, Pareja went with Adam Moffat, who like Thomas joined FCD this offseason, alongside Jacobson. Moffat returned to the first 11 for the 3-1 win against Chivas USA at Toyota Stadium last Saturday alongside Thomas.
However, Moffat’s night against the Red-and-White lasted just 11 minutes as he had to leave early in the game with a leg injury. Jacobson replaced him in the middle, but the current Dallas captain also had to leave the field, departing in the second half on a stretcher after a rather awkward challenge in the middle of the yard with Chivas USA midfielder Thomas McNamara.
And as if losing Jacobson wasn’t enough, Thomas will be unavailable for this weekend’s visit from Portland after earning a straight red on a silly challenge outside the Dallas area on Chivas USA’s Adolfo Bautista during stoppage time.
Pareja offered updates on both (ankle) Jacobson and (hamstring) Moffat, after training on Tuesday, FCD’s first session of the week.
“Moffat, a couple weeks maybe and could be less than that because I know Moffat’s personality and professionalism. He’s a warrior and he will be out there. But we still have the protocol to follow,” Pareja said. “With [Jacobson], it is the same. [Jacobson], it might take just a few days. His character, his urgency and his leadership will get him through that injury.”
So with Jacobson and Moffat likely out for the Timbers game this weekend and Thomas most definitely unavailable, who does Pareja turn to now?
Well, one answer could be veteran Peter Luccin, the French-born holding mid who FCD signed prior to last season only to see him miss most of the season after having knee surgery during preseason. Luccin made his Dallas debut late in the year and even though he wasn’t in the 18 for the Chivas USA game, he figures to be Pareja’s top fallback option at the d-mid spot.
“Peter pulled a hamstring and he’s back in training this week,” Pareja said on Tuesday.
As for the other spot alongside Luccin, set-piece specialist Michel, who not only scored a goal off a free kick against Chivas USA, but also set up the game-tying goal the week before in Kansas City, figures to be the logical choice to line up alongside Luccin.
Michel, who is technically a left back by trade, started a number of games at holding mid last season under now former FCD coach Schellas Hyndman but with mixed results.
Sometimes the benefits of having the experienced Brazilian on the field, namely his ability to deliver a great ball on set pieces, would outweigh his major issue with playing there, a propensity to turn the ball over quite frequently.
However, other times, his turnovers proved to be more of a detriment to the team than anything and by the midway point of the season, Michel found himself on the bench. But early on in 2014, he has played holding mid in all of FCD’s first three games, each time coming off the bench for Pareja.
Michel has seemingly settled into a nice role under Pareja of being a guy who can come in, play some minutes at the holding spot and can be an offensive weapon on set pieces. So, does Pareja want to take that option completely off the table by starting him against Portland?
If he doesn’t want to start Michel, then Pareja’s only other option appears to be former Homegrown Player Victor Ulloa, a player who saw just one game of action with the first team under Hyndman and whose contract expired after last season.
However, once Pareja was hired, he gave Ulloa, a player he had previously coached in the FCD Academy several years ago, another shot and the youngster made the club to begin the season. Could this be where Pareja sees what Ulloa truly has against top-level competition?
It’s tough to say whether Pareja goes with Luccin and Michel or maybe even Luccin and Ulloa come Saturday night. Having such an important decision looming when it comes to his first 11 is exactly the way he likes it because it shows not just how deep his roster is, it also shows how much competition there is for each and every spot on his roster.