FRISCO, Texas – When FC Dallas starters Atiba Harris and Daniel Hernandez each picked up their fifth yellow cards of the season last Saturday afternoon at Columbus, it meant that both will not play this Saturday when Toronto FC visit Pizza Hut Park.
Both had been mainstays in head coach Schellas Hyndman’s starting lineup, and Hernandez was one of five position players in MLS to play every minute in 2010. Their departure leaves two big holes on the pitch, but the FCD manager is confident he has the personnel to deliver results even in their absence.
“We’re getting some really good performances from our young players,” Hyndman said. “It’s just, how many of them can you have on the field at the same time before that egg cracks? We’re going into this with [the attitude] of at least we’re at home. We’ve just got to play our team structure. It doesn’t always count on an individual. That’s my focus.”
Among the possible replacements for Harris at right mid are Eric Avila, Marvin Chavez, recently-signed Jackson Gonçalves, or even Heath Pearce or Jeff Cunningham.
Chávez has struggled with fitness since returning from injury earlier this year and didn’t deliver much in the way of results when he got a run of playing time in late June and early July.
As for Avila, he got one start earlier this year at the linking role. He has a history of delivering results off the bench and can provide speed and vision on the right flank.
But the dark horse candidate might be Jackson, who was brought to FCD from Brazil to play right back. He’s no stranger to playing in the center of the pitch, having done so in South America, and he played well on the right side in a 3-1 win at D.C. United on Aug. 14.
Pearce has played his share of midfield earlier in his career and even earlier in 2010, while Cunningham is also no stranger to that position.
“Yeah, that would be an option,” Hyndman said of using Cunningham, who has scored three goals off the bench in FCD’s last three games. “His explosion, his pace and his history of scoring, I think all those things are possibilities.”
Besides worrying about the flank, the FCD gaffer has to figure out who will cover for Hernandez in the center of the park.
“I’ve also got to worry about that holding midfielder,” Hyndman said. “This is where we have to give a lot of thought into our structure and organization."
The leading contender for that role has to be Bruno Guarda, who filled in for ex-FCD captain Pablo Ricchetti over the last two years and is a player who knows exactly what Hyndman’s expectations are for someone in that defensive midfield spot.
“[Guarda] is an option,” Hyndman said. “It’s what are we going to get and what do we give up? You can throw [Avila] there, you can throw [Eric] Alexander there, you can throw a lot of people there, it’s what are you prepared to give up?”
Alexander, who has started the last few games at the linking role, could move over. But with starting linking mid Dax McCarty looking like he will miss at least one more game with a right leg injury, Hyndman would likely be reticent about moving Alexander over and then having to find someone to fill that spot
Whoever Hyndman calls upon to fill in for his suspended players, he’ll make sure they fit as perfectly into his formation and tactics as possible -- but he also realizes he’ll have to give something up.
“The thing that we have to be cautious about is the team structure,” Hyndman said. “You get these types of things, but what are you prepared to give up? Right now we’re only going to be moving around midfield players. Whatever you decide to do, you’re going to be giving something else up.”