For MLS teams, there’s nothing quite like an away match in CONCACAF Champions League play. It’s a unique setting, a different vibe. The environment, culture and style is unlike any seen in MLS.
FC Dallas experienced those ups and downs last season during a CCL run that turned out to be the highlight of a forgettable season. It’s been an up-and-down road since, but they see this year’s CCL as a launch point and a chance to push past the struggles of last season.
After falling apart down the stretch in 2017, FC Dallas opens 2018 on Wednesday with a clash against Panamanian side FC Tauro. The club’s CCL opener will see them travel south to Panama for a match that will certainly be a challenge.
Knowing that, FC Dallas will rely on experience. The club was the most successful MLS team in last year’s competition, reaching the semifinals before falling to eventual champions Pachuca.
“We’re ready. We have been preparing for the last four weeks and we’re excited and looking forward to start competing,” said head coach Oscar Pareja. “We aimed last year for good participation in CONCACAF, and we have another opportunity now.”
Following last year’s setback, FC Dallas will certainly look a bit different heading into Wednesday’s match. Defensive stalwart Walker Zimmerman is gone as are veterans like Atiba Harris and Javier Morales. In their place come a crop of newcomers in Reto Ziegler, Anton Nedyalkov and Santiago Mosquera as well as rookies Francis Atuahene and Ema Twumasi on the wings.
Among the returnees, though, there are questions. Kellyn Acosta is battling injury and remains questionable for Wednesday’s match. Mauro Diaz, meanwhile, appears to be healthy heading into 2018, giving FC Dallas a major boost with the new season looming.
For several, it’s the first taste of CCL action, but for those that stuck around from last year, there’s familiarity. FC Dallas knows what its like to play in Panama after taking down Arabe Unido a year ago. The club knows what a knockout test looks like.
“They’re going to play a lot of long balls. It’s my job and the job of Matt to win these long balls,” said Ziegler, one of the newcomers expected to be in the lineup. “In the middle, we have to win the middle. We know what we have to do. We have a lot of quality in this team. If we concentrate, I don’t think it will be too hard. It’s a Champions League game, an away game, so we have to be ready.
“In Arizona, we played a good 45 minutes against Portland,” he added. “It was our last test before this Champions League game. I think we are ready now. We worked on a lot of set pieces and that could be the difference on Wednesday night.”
On the other end, FC Dallas does face an Tauro FC team that is struggling. After falling to eventual champions Chorrillo in the Apertura semifinals, Tauro has picked up just two wins in their first seven matches. The club currently sits fifth in the league.
Still, there’s little doubt that Wednesday’s match will be a test for the MLS side. Tauro FC is in midseason form and on home turf in an environment that has been notoriously difficult for MLS teams. Knowing that, FC Dallas has one goal in mind: escape and take care of business when the tie moves to Dallas.
“You try not to give up a goal against us and to score it,” Ziegler said. “It seems easy, but that’s the reality. We have to play really strong, together, compact and really fight for the score and then make the job here in Dallas.”