Playing three games in eight days is nothing new for FC Dallas or fourth-year head coach Oscar Pareja, challenges which the man known as “Papi” welcomes.
“The challenges are there all the time,” Pareja said after practice on Wednesday. “For the players, it’s beautiful because they like to play. They don’t like to train, they like to play.”
FCD (1-0-0, 3 points) started its 2017 season, the club’s 23rd in Major League Soccer, with a 2-1 win against the Los Angeles Galaxy last Saturday at StubHub Center, a game that was the highest-rated television broadcast for the opening weekend of MLS.
And Dallas hits the trail again this weekend with a Saturday match at Sporting Park against Sporting Kansas City (0-0-1, 3 points), who is always tough to beat on their home field.
SKC opened its 2017 campaign last weekend with a 0-0 draw against DC United at RFK Stadium in the nation’s capital.
“Yeah, it’s obviously a great win on the road (to start the season), but we got to keep it going,” Dallas captain Matt Hedges said. “We had an OK road record last year (at 5-7-5) and that’s something we can definitely improve on this year. But Kansas City’s one of the tougher places to play. We’ve struggled there in the past, so we just need to have a tight, solid performance, and I think we can get points out of it.”
Next Wednesday, FCD will also host a semifinal match in the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League next at Toyota Stadium against CF Pachuca of Liga MX, Mexico’s top division. Pachuca is nicknamed Los Tuzos or the Gophers.
Dallas reached the CCL semifinals by defeating CD Arabe Unido of Panama twice, winning 4-0 in Frisco in late February and 2-1 in Panama last week.
And three days after hosting the opening leg of the CCL semifinals, Dallas will host its MLS home opener against the New England Revolution next Saturday, March 18.
Before starting league play last Saturday, FCD already had two CCL matches under its belt. Dallas returns much of its squad from last season, but there are still enough new faces and injuries to contend with that it makes life never dull for Pareja, who is the true epitome of an eternal optimist or glass half-full individual, someone who always sees the positive to any challenge or adversity.
However, thus far, “Papi” really can’t complain about how well his roster is coming together.
“It’s interesting to know every day the group shows you different chemistry, different colors, different ideas and options. Initially, you might think that they don’t work, but the group on the training ground is showing you that it works more than you think,” Pareja said.
“As coaches, we have to be good listeners and understand that it’s not what I think, it’s about what is good for the group. The group yells at you without talking with all these ideas. It’s a process. The new players are still in the process.”
Even with various new faces, Dallas, who won the 2016 MLS Supporter’s Shield with the league’s best regular-season record for the first time and who also won the 2016 US Open Cup championship for just the second time in club history, is a favorite to hoist MLS Cup as league champions, which could be another franchise first, come December.
But before the man wearing the captain’s armband in Frisco and his teammates can even begin to entertain such a thought, they need to get well acclimated to playing alongside one another, something which continues to be a work in process so early in the season, much like it is for every team in MLS.
“Yeah, I feel like with every game we’ve jelled a little more. Our chemistry’s gotten better,” Hedges said. “We kind of know what to expect from the newer guys and they know what to expect from us and the system as well is a little bit different than we’re used to. You see each game we’ve gotten better and better at it.”
And with this rapidly-approaching stretch of three games in eight days, FC Dallas will have plenty of opportunities to jell even more as a team over the next week or so.