Three Things That Could Doom FC Dallas Against Árabe Unido

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FC Dallas hosts C.D. Árabe Unido of Liga Panameña de Fútbol (LPF) on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. The Texas club advanced to the elimination round of the CCL for the first time in team history, going undefeated in the group stage. Árabe Unido qualified for the knock-out stage in style, winning all four group matches and eliminating Monterrey of Liga MX from the tournament. FC Dallas has the talent to get past Árabe and into the semifinals, especially given their recently reinforced roster. They will have to avoid three things in order to make Champions League progress in this two leg series.

Three Things That Could Doom FC Dallas Against Árabe Unido

Rust

FC Dallas hasn’t played a game that matters since their disappointing playoff loss against the Seattle Sounders last November. Because of this, Oscar Pareja scheduled an extended preseason sojourn through Argentina to get his team ready for battle. Will it be enough to prepare a team with so many new faces? Árabe on the other hand is five games into the 2017 Clausura in LPF. They haven’t yet been able to reproduce their championship form however, and currently sit seventh out of ten teams in that competition.

Not Knowing How to Play Without Mauro Díaz

The end of last season saw Óscar Pareja experiment with different formations and rosters in an attempt to absorb the loss of Mauro Díaz. The Argentine playmaker suffered an achilles tear in the penultimate game of the regular season. The late season adjustments were not effective, and Dallas paid dearly for it in the MLS Cup playoffs.

Pareja has had plenty of time in the offseason to devise a better strategy and bolster his midfield options. Javier Morales was added to the roster, but it’s doubtful that he will start given the preseason looks we’ve seen.

Speculation is that the preferred lineup will be a 4-4-2 with Urruti and Colmán up front. Urruti would assume playmaking duties and be supported by Gruezo and Acosta holding in midfield. Regardless of which formation is used, FC Dallas will have to operate in a shape they are comfortable with and create goalscoring opportunities without their talismanic midfielder.

Letting Enrico Small Run Rampant in Attack

Árabe Unido’s #11 Enrico Small is the  danger man for the Panamanian outfit. He was their top scorer in the 2016 Apertura with 16 goals. He’s also tied for top overall scorer in the 2017 Clausura. He’s plays forward but can drift wide to the left or right and attack from the flank.

FC Dallas was thrashed by Jordan Morris from the left flank in the away leg of the 2016 playoffs. In a period of eight minutes, he almost singlehandedly ended their MLS Cup playoff run, playing part in two of the three Sounders goals. They’ll have to avoid a defensive lapse of that magnitude against Árabe in a first leg with similarly high stakes. Fortunately for Dallas, they’ll be at home this time and should benefit from comfortable confines of Toyota Stadium.

Summary

Arabe Unido’s young, physical squad has the quality to challenge MLS’ reigning Supporters Shield and U.S. Open Cup Champions. The fact that they were the 2016 Apertura Champions in LPF and beat Monterrey twice should be quite enough to get FC Dallas’ attention. However, the departure of three key players from Árabe’s successful 2016 campaign has left them in less threatening form. Oscar Pareja strengthened an already strong FC Dallas roster in the offseason. Thursday’s matchup with Árabe Unido will show whether he’s had enough time to craft those strong pieces into a cohesive footballing unit.