MLS Focus: Mauro Diaz's return lifts FC Dallas spirits

The vaunted player development program of FC Dallas is about to be severely tested.

A strained MCL suffered by centerback Walker Zimmerman in a 0-0 tie with Houston Sunday will sideline him for 4-6 weeks, and put further strain on a roster that has been deprived of midfielder Kellyn Acosta and Zimmerman’s defensive partner Matt Hedges (USA) as well as Maynor Figueroa (Honduras).

Acosta and Hedges have joined the U.S. camp in Colorado. The U.S. plays a preparation match Friday against Venezuela in Salt Lake City, then returns to take on Trinidad & Tobago June 8 in its fifth game of the Hexagonal World Cup schedule. Three days later the Americans play Mexico in the Azteca Stadium.

FC Dallas, Last 5 Games:
May 6: 3-0 W @ Real Salt Lake
May 14: 1-1 T vs. NYCFC
May 20: 0-1 L vs. San Jose
May 25: 1-2 L @ Chicago
May 28: 0-0 T vs. Houston

FCD will have Figueroa available on Saturday when it hosts Real Salt Lake. He will depart after the game to join Honduras, which plays at Azteca the same day the U.S. hosts T&T. Figueroa has played both left back and center back for FCD, and last week in a 2-1 loss at Chicago Aaron Guillen played at left back. There’s not much depth behind Hedges and Zimmerman; rookie Walker Hume went the full 90 minutes in his pro debut alongside Hedges against the Fire.

Ryan Hollingshead has played 62 games the past two seasons but just five minutes this year since recovering from injuries suffered in a January auto accident. He’s an option on the corner yet has rarely appeared in the middle.

FCD plays in Portland June 10, the day before Mexico-USA. It’s possible Hedges could be released for that game if he’s not projected to be on the U.S. game-day roster, but otherwise FCD will face a very important game in a hostile venue without several of its best defenders.

The midfield outlook is also muddled. Victor Ulloa, who was often paired with Acosta in central midfield prior to the arrival of Carlos Gruezo last year, gives the team cover in the middle. Gruezo was not called up by Ecuador, which plays a pair of friendlies in June and will play without most of its starters. Carlos Cermeno, 21, has played in four games (two starts) since joining the team on loan in February. In six games veteran Javier Morales has scored a goal and brought some spark.

Head coach Oscar Pareja can rejigger the midfield mix by adding playmaker Mauro Diaz, who ended a seven-month injury absence (torn Achilles tendon) Sunday by appearing as a sub in the 81st minute. A healthy Diaz could revive the attack and reduce dependence on a back line that has for the most part been excellent.

“I’m happy to see him and I think he lifted our spirits a bit in a game that was not easy to get into,” said Pareja in his postgame comments. "When I saw him on the field, I think that brought up great memories for every player. We were all hoping something marvelous was going to happen and we were about to get it, but we were so delighted to see him back on the field. I’ll take that tonight. It just relieved my heart to see him dressing again and being around the team and being around the ball.”

Pareja is waiting patiently for his team to break out of a scoring funk. The 0-0 tie with Houston was the second straight home game in which FCD has failed to score – it lost to San Jose, 1-0, May 20 – and in its last three games at Toyota Stadium it has tallied just once. Dynamo keeper Tyler Deric repelled all three of the shots FCD put on frame of 15 total, five of which were blocked by teammates.

“It is healthy for the group when you see the goalkeeper is the man of the match,” said Pareja. “We could not score after that many chances and that many opportunities. We need to keep getting better on that, polishing that finishing, because it has happened in the last two games at home.

“But we continue to work. The boys once again are doing a terrific effort. I’m very proud of this group. I’m confident that we’re going to find the net again and we’re going to get our points here.”

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