No Major League Soccer team in the history of the CONCACAF Champions League has taken the competition as serious as FC Dallas has this year.
Oscar Pareja’s men took their preseason training to Argentina to prepare for the quarterfinal round and they’ve spent the last week in Mexico adjusting to the surroundings ahead of their second leg clash with Pachuca on Tuesday night at the Estadio Hidalgo.
FC Dallas’ attempt to become the third MLS side to qualify for the championship match of the competition started off strong in the first leg, with a 2-1 victory. A late first-half tally from Maxi Urruti and a blistering free kick from Kellyn Acosta in the 58th minute helped Pareja and Co. recover from a third-minute concession to Franco Jara.
Despite giving up an away goal, the club is confident it has all the resources to go into Mexico and pull off the rare achievement of beating a Liga MX foe on the continental stage.
“We’re excited. We took a week preparing for this and we’re glad that the game is finally here,” Acosta said. “We’re positive, we’re confident. We had a good result back home and we’re looking to close out the series here.”
Since Pachuca has the away goal in hand, FC Dallas won’t be able to sit back and defend for 90 minutes, which is something that isn’t in the club’s DNA anyway.
“We know we have the advantage, but we know that if we score a goal, that’s an away goal and can be worth a lot,” Urruti said. “We’re going to play like we always do and try to win the game.”
Urruti will be the focal point of the attack, but the key to victory will come in defense, where Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman will be tasked with replicating the form they displayed throughout the 2016 campaign.
If the FC Dallas back line can hold Pachuca scoreless through the first 45 minutes, it will hand the MLS side a huge boost of confidence. The trust in the back line being secure will also let FC Dallas move forward with more intensity. As long as they don’t leave themselves susceptible to counters by committing too many men into the attacking area, FC Dallas should be fine in Pachuca’s half.
U.S. Men’s National Team boss Bruce Arena will have a close eye on the contest, not only to monitor Acosta, Zimmerman and Hedges, but to see how Omar Gonzalez performs while leading the Pachuca back four. Gonzalez started against Panama in the last round of Hex matches, and he could be a key piece moving forward for the USMNT.
Pachuca will have more firepower in attack on Tuesday night, as Hirving Lozano has returned from a foot injury. The Mexico international has scored six goals in the competition this season. Whether he starts remains to be seen, but Lozano will definitely play some part in the match, even if it is off the bench.
Going down to Mexico and leaving victorious is something MLS clubs have rarely achieved, but with a lead in hand and plenty of time to prepare, FC Dallas has set itself up for one of the best chances to win south of the border in recent memory.