With a dearth of forwards on his roster, FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman has opted to try Atiba Harris up top while star scorer Jeff Cunningham is in camp with the U.S. national team.
Thus far, starting as the club's lone forward in each of its last two preseason games, the plan seems to have worked. Against Tulsa on Saturday, he had two goals and on Tuesday morning against SMU, he delivered another goal.
Still, despite his solid offensive output, Hyndman is adamant that it could very well be a short-term experiment.
"He made a great run and got the ball (on the goal)," the FCD coach said after Tuesday's scrimmage. "The one area that is difficult for him is being the lone striker. We put a lot of balls to him and he's just got to be able to hold the ball a little bit better. It's one of the things you want your striker to do is hold the ball. If you've worked the ball from the back to the front and when it gets to the front and they lose it, everybody gets frustrated and everybody is out of position. Atiba is helping us by going there but I don't know if that's the best position for him."
Harris admits that he is a bit rusty since he hasn't played up top in some time.
"Yeah, it's been since I was with Chivas (USA). Actually there's a lot of rust there," he said. "I haven't played there in a while. I got used to playing at right mid. Playing forward, I still have to get used to it again. "If the coach wants me to play there to give us depth, that's obviously Jeff's position. If he wants me to play there sometimes, I have no problem with it.
Playing midfield, I'm used to going forward, attacking and then all of a sudden, I have to defend. At forward, it's more like attacking and less defending," he continued. "In the transition game, most of the time, you're going to kind of be out of the game and up there by yourself just waiting for that one opportunity. As a midfielder, you have to be in the game trying to create an opportunity by winning the ball for your team and trying to go again."
Last summer, Harris was acquired in a trade with Chivas USA. In 12 games with FCD, he delivered two goals and five assists. The majority of his starts were at right midfield although he also performed well on the opposite flank, making him an option for Hyndman there to replace Dave van den Bergh, who is now out of contract.
Even though the St. Kitts native has shown some rust at forward, Hyndman still sees some potential.
"He's not getting behind the defense as much as we want him to. I think he'll learn that," the FCD coach said. "We want him to stretch the defense and he can do that. He is so strong in the box. Atiba has always been a forward. He may not feel comfortable being the only forward. We've got to work on him a little more with that."
The versatile 24-year-old has adopted a basic approach to his first preseason in Frisco.
"It's preseason. We're trying to get better by playing," he said. "It's just good to be out there playing. I'm still getting there. I'm trying to be ready going into the season. I don't want to have my peak performance in preseason and then have it drop. I want to be building going into the season."
On Thursday, he and his teammates head to Orlando for 10 days, a trip Harris is excited about.
"Hopefully we continue to play well and get used to each other again. We want to have a strong performance in that preseason tournament because we're going to be coming against MLS teams and that should be a real test for us to see where we're at," he said.
Whether or not he remains an option at forward once Cunningham returns, Hyndman remains on the lookout for another striker he can bring in.
"I think there are players out there that we think can help our team," the FCD coach said. "We drafted a couple of forwards, but we didn't expect them to be Jeff Cunningham. I think we need to continue to look for another player who can go there and play similar -- hold the ball, score goals and maybe a big body, somebody who can do some of the things we're asking Atiba to do. We may pick up another player to help the team as well."