FRISCO, Texas - There was a palpable air of excitement around Toyota Soccer Center as FC Dallas began its 2021 preseason with a light training session.
Surrounded by his players, third-year head coach Luchi Gonzalez kicked off the preseason with comprehensive team talk before breaking into the first group training session of the new year.
"I missed these guys," Luchi said afterwards. "We’d be in touch in the offseason and stayed connected...but there’s nothing like being together on the field. Today was a great feeling and set the tone with some expectations. We’re getting to know each other with the new guys and the new staff. From the beginning, we want to create objectives and competition and clarity in the things that we want to do so that we can be better tomorrow."
The offseason saw the addition of a number of new faces to FC Dallas' roster. New signings Jáder Obrian, José Martínez, Kalil ElMedkhar as well as SuperDraft picks Nicky Hernandez, Colin Shutler and Thibaut Jacquell all took the field at Toyota Soccer Center for the first time.
"They’ve already made a positive impact and showed the things that we saw on video in terms of technique, personality and hunger for wanting to be here at this club, this family and this league," Luchi said of his new charges. "Those players are going to need steps and time to integrate but in the short of amount of time they’ve already showed that they’re here to help us."
The session itself was expectedly light considering the players' long layoff. It began with a slow jog around the training complex before breaking off into small group passing drills and eventually quicker rondo circles.
"The first day everyone’s always excited, the fitness (work) hasn’t really kicked in yet—we’re not getting killed quite yet," said left back Ryan Hollingshead, who's entering his seventh season with Dallas. "So, everyone’s excited. The work is going to come, we’ve got six and a half weeks to get ready and it’ll be plenty of time to do what we need to do.
"It’s always such a good feeling to get back with the guys, especially after the craziness of last year. This year’s looking like it might be a little bit more normal. Every year the players complain like ‘we want want a longer offseason’ and now we got one and we’re like ‘no, let’s get back to work man’. We miss it. So, anyway, it’s good to be back."
For second-year fullback Eddie Munjoma, the next six weeks offer an opportunity to stake his claim as the club's next long-term right back after last season saw fellow Homegrown right backs Reggie Cannon and Bryan Reynolds make the jump to Europe.
"I’ve been smiling since I woke up this morning," the 22-year-old SMU grad said. "Very happy to get back out there and get the first-day jitters out and just get started. Obviously, I didn’t sign here to just be a player, I want to be starting. I appreciate everything Bryan (Reynolds) did here, he paved the way. It’s an inspiration. He worked hard and when Reggie (Cannon) was out he took his opportunity. So I just want to try to do the same thing and see what happens."
First and foremost, though, preseason is a chance for FC Dallas to continue its evolution under Luchi. The jam-packed 2020 MLS schedule meant training sessions often doubled as recovery session, meaning tactical work came at a premium. Now with ample time to prepare, Luchi and his coaching staff can refocus their attention progressing their team tactically.
"We have six and a half weeks to really get into the details of the concepts," Luchi said. "We want to improve our football and our ability to press, improve our purpose with the ball, and (improve) our ability to play vertical and get forward while dominating the ball. There’s a lot of things that I think we have the opportunity to improve and preseason is a great time to work on those details and to teach. I’m just excited because we haven’t had this opportunity since last preseason so here we are and we want to take advantage of that."