The final quarterfinal to open play in the CONCACAF Champions League is the with perhaps the most intrigue for Major League Soccer fans. FC Dallas, who won two trophies in 2016, will look to start strong at home in its two-legged tie against Arabe Unido at 8 p.m. ET.
Oscar Pareja used an aggressive preseason schedule in South America to prepare his FC Dallas side for the important pair of clashes with Arabe Unido over the next seven days before the league campaign begins in earnest with a trip to StubHub Center to visit the LA Galaxy.
“My own philosophy here and the philosophy of the club is we have to be convinced that we are good,” Pareja said. “We went to Argentina and the boys competed against the best teams in Argentina and they did well. I know sometimes they get surprised [thinking] ‘we’re good.’ Well American players and American soccer is very good, but we have to believe on that.”
FC Dallas earned eight points to beat out Suchitepequez and Real Esteli in Group H, while Arabe Unido won all four of its games in Group D against Monterrey and Don Bosco. The Panamanian outfit and the Vancouver Whitecaps were the only teams to achieve perfect records in the group phase.
“The first thing is that we have to have not just the optimism, but the work, belief in that work and the conviction that we can match the Mexican teams and best Central American teams in the competition,” Pareja said. “First, we need to be convinced of that and put the excuses aside in terms of the schedule, calendar, lack of competition. We just need to find a way to do it. We’re not going to use anything as an excuse. We are well prepared. We have had good matches. The boys are ready and eager.”
The focus of the offseason for FC Dallas was bolstering its depth in order to contend on all fronts during the 2017 season. Winger Roland Lamah will be one of the prized acquisitions on display for the U.S. Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield winners. He’s expected to line up on the wing in Thursday’s contest.
The biggest concern for FC Dallas at the start of the season will be replacing the production of Mauro Diaz. Former Real Salt Lake man Javier Morales is one of the contenders to slide into Diaz’s spot, but Pareja could also use a combination of Cristian Colman and Maxi Urruti to pack a punch up top during the home leg of the matchup.
Other than the few newcomers in the squad, FC Dallas should put out plenty of holdovers from last season’s successful squad in the starting 11, including the center back pairing of Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman.
Arabe Unido has already played in seven matches in its domestic season, but the results haven’t been exactly what the club has wanted ahead of the Champions League clash with Dallas. The Panamanian side lost its last domestic match, 5-3, to Tauro and fell, 1-0, to Chorrillo a week prior. The club is currently seventh in the league with just seven points.
In order to finish the first 90 minutes of the quarterfinal in the driver’s seat, the FC Dallas must stand firm led by Hedges and Zimmerman, and the attack needs to find a way to take advantage of Arabe Unido’s poor defensive form. That means we should see plenty of chances created by Lamah, Colman and Co