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Monday, May 9, 2011
Does FC Dallas Closing Practice Signal a Shift to the 4-4-2?

By Todd Date

Media who cover FC Dallas learned earlier today that Tuesday morning’s training session will be held on the stadium field at Pizza Hut Park, which as is the normal custom for the final practice before a home game. What is not normal is that training will be closed except for the final 15 minutes.

Here are a few thoughts.

Case For the 4-4-2

This has to rank as possibly the most likely reason for practice being closed tomorrow. Eric Avila has now had two games in the truly unenviable position of filling in for reigning MLS MVP David Ferreira and the results to be frank have been less than spectacular. Avila is a great kid and a very positive presence on the club as well as in the room, but it’s abundantly clear why most of his MLS career has been spent as an energy guy off the bench.

Plain and simple, that is a role in which Avila thrives. Maybe it’s unfair to pass judgment on his play at the No. 10 spot after just two games but such is life when you’re playing for a team that won the Western Conference title not all that long ago.

So, what would this team look like in the 4-4-2? Well, that depends on several things. Most namely, it depends on the health of one Jackson. If he’s able to go, it’s very likely he starts at right back while Zach Loyd starts on the other side since Jair Benitez figures to miss at least the next few games while recovering from the knee strain he suffered against LA last weekend.

Of course, if Loyd is starting at left back, that means Brek Shea returns to left mid, which is clearly where he helps this team the most, in the attack. Some might question putting Shea back at left back against DC United on Saturday but considering the injury situation with both Jackson and Benitez, the Soccer Sinsei really didn’t have much choice in the matter and pulled the trigger on moving the big Texan back against the Black-and-Red.

With Shea on the left side and speedster Marvin Chavez on the right, that likely leaves captain Daniel Hernandez and newcomer Andrew Jacobson to man the middle of the park. That tandem is developing into a solid combination and shouldn’t be broken up anytime soon.

Up top, there is one lock to start no matter whether it’s in the 4-1-4-1 or the 4-4-2 and that individual is Fabian Castillo. The Colombian teen has been impressive and plain and simple, is the best option this club has at forward right now. Who will start alongside Castillo? Well, that’s a very good question.

Schellas Hyndman could go with fellow youngster Ruben Luna alongside Castillo but it would deviate from his history of not playing two young players next to each other. It seems like Luna’s star has fallen a bit with FCD since the start of the season. Maybe he’s not as ready as they had hoped he would be. Maybe something happened behind the scenes that none of us media types or fans are privy to but at this point, who knows?

So, if indeed the team rolls out in a 4-4-2 on Wednesday night when Toronto FC visits The Oven, it could very well be Castillo and Milton Rodriguez up top. Uncle Miltie delivered a scintillating tally in the season opener against Chicago but his performance has dipped ever since and that stellar backheel goal seems like it happened eons ago.

But the gaffer likes a veteran playing alongside a youngster and that line of thinking could very well play out and if FCD indeed faces the Reds lined up in a 4-4-2, there is a strong likelihood they will do so with Castillo and Rodriguez up top.

Some might wonder, what about Maykel Galindo? Well, the Cuban-born forward isn’t quite fit and last week, had a boot on his right leg. As for the other forward on the roster, Peri Marosevic, he is nowhere near ready for a shot at playing with the first team in a game setting.

Naturally, if the Red Stripes go with the new look, someone has to come off the field and this one also looks like pretty much a no-brainer. It would have to be Avila since there really wouldn’t be a spot for him in this new formation. He would return to the bench and go back to doing what he’s done best since he’s been here, providing instant energy, speed and attacking skills off the pine late in the game.

Maybe It’s All About Focus

It’s not like this is the first time the gaffer has done this. In fact, Hyndman closed training to the media last year leading up to the Colorado home contest and by all accounts, that approach paid huge dividends. Maybe there is a problem with the club’s focus and Schellas wants to make sure that everyone’s head is where it needs to be.

One intrepid reporter asked him last year when he closed practice if he also planned to sequester the team in a hotel the night before the match with the Rapids. Schellas answered no in fairly emphatic question but it was a fair line of questioning considering that it was a strategy his predecessor, Steve Morrow, employed at least once during his short tenure as FCD head coach.

Saturday’s 0-0 draw against DC United, a team that had allowed 17 goals heading into the match was no matter how you spin it, disheartening. It was a testament to how far this once-vaunted attack has fallen in Ferreira’s absence. Maybe Hyndman wants to give these guys a jolt or a wakeup call per se and how better to do that than to close practice?

No matter what his reasoning is, the results against TFC on Wednesday night will truly tell the tale. If the FCD attack is back on track against the Reds and they get the three points, then all will be well up in Frisco. But if by some strike, they either tie or do the unthinkable and drop one to those Hosers, then the real questioning will begin anew, especially with another game looming in just three days’ time.