FRISCO, Texas – It’s been exactly one year since the Luchi Gonzalez era began at FC Dallas on Dec. 16, 2018. In that year, the 39-year-old head coach has adjusted to the rigors and responsibilities of being the club’s head honcho while steering it to a fifth playoff berth in six seasons.
His first season coaching in the pros, Gonzalez had to learn the finer points of the position on the job. His biggest lesson? Trust your instincts.
“You don’t have a lot of time to overthink,” Gonzalez says. “You have to really trust your instincts and trust the people around you. A lot of it was trying to use my instincts in the best way possible to communicate well.”
As an Academy coach, Gonzalez was directly responsible for nearly every aspect of his team. But with the added duties of first team head coach, Gonzalez learned that trusting in his coaching staff is equally as important as trusting his instincts.
“Coming to the professional level I have a bigger staff on the field than I did before,” Gonzalez said. “I needed to manage the roles of the different staff and what they should be involved in. That was a great experience for me to learn and improve my managing and delegating because that’s the job. I’m lucky to work with this staff that allow me to enjoy what I do and allow me to learn every day from them.”
On the field, Gonzalez helped FC Dallas evolve from a reactive, counterattacking side into a high-pressing, possession-based one. Impressively, he did it while integrating a new generation of young Homegrown players that showed immense potential. While there were growing pains along the way, the new-look team progressed to the postseason yet again.
“If you look at the season as a whole, it was a good step—a big step in the right direction for us,” Gonzalez continued. “Winning here at home in our last regular season game and clinching a playoff opportunity was one of our main goals we set in our preseason objectives.”
Although Dallas’ MLS Cup dreams ended against Seattle at CenturyLink Field, they fought back from multiple deficits to force extra time and showed the qualities that Gonzalez believes will make them winners.
“I know Seattle was the end of our season so that was a disappointment, but we showed our concepts, our spirit, our philosophy,” Gonzalez said. “And we did concede more goals than we scored so we lost the game, but I am very sure that we showed determination and courage away from home and with more work, we can win important games just like that.”
Indeed, FC Dallas’ performance away in Seattle was filled with heart and promise. But the result didn’t fall their way—something Gonzalez admits happened too often on their travels in 2019.
“Playing away from home in any sport is a challenge for different reasons,” Gonzalez said. “We learned some hard lessons away. And those were good opportunities for me to use at references for next season. We want to be true to our way of playing football, but we also need to be better at the different phases of the game without the ball so that we can earn points more consistently away. One of my hardest lessons was my experiences away from home.”
While he had to learn tough lessons on the road, other aspects of top-level coaching came more naturally to the Florida native. An excellent motivator, Gonzalez’s impassioned team talks (captured in fcdallas.com’s Year One documentary series) give unparalleled insight into his ability to captivate an audience.
Charting his team talks chronologically, it’s evident how Gonzalez’s techniques evolved throughout the season.
“I think in the early season most of the pregame [talks] were very tactically and technically based,” Gonzalez said. “They were about game concepts because it was newer for me and for them, and we needed to review it a lot. It evolved midway and towards the end of the season where the pregame discussion was more about emotional connection and being present in the moment. Trying to instill more emotion and mentality rather than the technical/tactical because I felt like we had progressed so well tactically – although we’re never perfect – we had created a foundation there that allowed me to stress the emotion and the mental things more.”
After the playoff loss in Seattle, in his final postgame speech of his first season, Gonzalez’s emotion was palpable. It spoke to his belief – in his team, his staff and the club – and the future he believes is within touching distance.
“You guys are winners,” Gonzalez told his team that day. “You played for each other with no fear; no fear. You played with courage, and you tried and you didn’t give up. You were down 2-0 and you didn’t give up. You showed the personality to climb back in this game. I see winners here. I see future champions. Get your head up. Get your head up and believe. We have a great group and we’re going to keep growing. We’re going to keep working. It’s going to be ours—the Cup is going to be ours. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”