[MLS TEAM PREVIEW] In his series examining MLS clubs' preseason maneuvers and preparations, Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney reports on how Dallas coach Steve Morrow aims to integrate Mexican defender Duilio Davino, get the most out of second-year Colombian midfielder Juan Toga and replace the firepower of Carlos Ruiz.
FC Dallas fans might be a bit puzzled as to why members of their maligned back line have headed to national team camps and/or overseas clubs.
San Jose coach Frank Yallop thought enough of Clarence Goodson to snag him in the expansion draft, but Goodson left the U.S. training camp to train, and eventually sign, in Austria. Chris Gbandi went on trial to Norwegian club Haugesund and Coach Steve Morrow wasn't waiting for his return to plan out 2008.
The acquisition of Mexican defender Duilio Davino and an intent to play Juan Toja as an attacking midfielder, among other factors, has Morrow seriously considering a switch to three in the back.
"For Club America, he [Davino] played that position for many years, in the middle of a back three," says Morrow, a former defender with Arsenal, renowned as a back-four fortress. "He's a good, experienced player. He organizes the back line very well. That will be ideal for him."
It will only be ideal if it works, but Morrow has Drew Moor in mind for the right side, and is looking at numerous options, including David Wagenfuhr or a new player, for the left. If Morrow goes three in the back, Blake Wagner will get a long look at left mid, Marcelo Saragosa and Pablo Ricchetti take central roles with Adrian Serioux and Dax McCarty also in contention. On the right, it might be Arturo Alvarez, or Bobby Rhine, or Kenny Cooper, or McCarty. Or maybe not.
And you thought Morrow's main concern was replacing Carlos Ruiz, sent to Los Angeles for allocation money. True enough. Cooper, Abe Thompson, Dominic Oduro and Ricardinho are the leading forward candidates. Combined, they scored just 12 goals, but Cooper missed more than half the season and another forward, Roberto Mina, didn't play a minute because of knee problems.
Ricardinho played in various spots, none of them brilliantly, but Morrow's plans for him this season are much clearer.
"He's one we're certainly hoping for a lot more from in this coming season," said Morrow of no goals, one assist in 279 minutes. "He's shown in flashes what he's capable of. He's got amazing ability which we need to see a little bit more often. We want to get him on the field and playing higher up top to use his attributes of speed, and he's good in front of goal as well."
Ruiz, though, hardly tore it up with seven goals, which was one more than Toja managed. Morrow is looking for Toja to produce goals whether he scores them or not.
"When he came in earlier on, he played more of a free role in midfield just behind the front players. I think that's his best position," says Morrow, mindful that Toja's bold, swashbuckling style yielded fouls as well as chances. "With certain adjustments that we had to make -- you can read into that one - toward the end of the season we moved him around a little bit, but with the qualities he's got playing in front of the midfield and just in behind the front [line] is his best position."
Juggling the midfield to accommodate Denilson in midseason threw it out of whack. (Denilson is not returning.) Morrow will certainly tinker this month and next. He added some youth in the SuperDraft.
Morrow drew three of a kind, all young, in the first and second rounds. He took the blistering pace and precise crossing of U.S. under-17 midfielder Brek Shea, a promising keeper in U-17 teammate Josh Lambo, and the skills of U-23 midfielder Eric Avila. All three are Generation adidas players.
"Maybe Brek opened some eyes at the combine but we already had him very high on our list," said Morrow, of the blond, 6-foot-3 speedster. "He's knows the game very well, he's very technical and good in tight situations. He's able to see things and is a good passer. He just impressed me with all his qualities.
"We've got one on each side as well. It gives balance. Bret is obviously more left-footed, and Erik is more right-footed." Both also are possible replacements for Alvarez, who despite signing a new contract could be headed to San Jose, or overseas.
McCarty, Alvarez and Anthony Wallace are training with the U-23s and Moor is in camp with the senior team.
"Dax has impressed me with the way he matured last year," says Morrow, who moved McCarty to different spots and in and out of the lineup during the Denilson Chronicles. "He's having a very good time with the U-23s as well. [Coach] Peter Nowak is giving me a lot of good feedback. We need to get him in a position that gets the best out of him as well."
After Dallas' three straight first-round playoff fizzles, Morrow will need the best from just about everyone, including himself, starting in preseason.