MLS veteran Javier Morales is beginning to make his mark on FC Dallas’ 2017 season after watching the first three regular season matches from the sidelines. The 37 year old MLS Cup winner was brought in for his experience and playmaking ability. He was also signed to provide cover in the wake of Mauro Diaz’s long term achilles injury. Some thought he might be just a bit-part player after FC Dallas’ free-spending offseason. But six games in, he looks primed to assert himself in the starting XI.
Javier Morales Finding His Way into FC Dallas’ XI
Óscar Pareja started 2017 with the job of integrating several new players acquired in the offseason. His early roster selections favored a 4-4-2 formation that leveraged new DP Cristian Colmán as a second striker alongside Maxi Urruti. That formation was less dependent on the central playmaking role that Javier Morales was born to play.
Colmán struggled to capitalize on early season opportunities though. Pareja recently returned to the 4-2-3-1 that was preferred last season. In two of the past three matches, that formation was used and Morales started in the #10 role.
FC Dallas won both matches, one against Minnesota United and the other against Sporting KC. Morales featured in the first match, scoring the game winning goal (the 50th of his MLS career). Morales also cameoed for 22 minutes off the bench in FC Dallas’ recent draw against San Jose. Over the three matches he impacted results and effectively distributed the ball with an 88% pass completion rate.
Will Morales Continue to Start?
Javier Morales may not be built to start several consecutive matches after 19 years as a professional. Pareja could opt to toggle between formations, based on tactics and which one suits the fitness of his squad. He also surely has not given up on Cristian Colmán, and will look for opportunities to integrate him into the lineup until he settles.
FC Dallas fans were bolstered by news this week that the fitness of Mauro Díaz continues to progress. He is now participating in drills with the team at a limited volume. Díaz is expected to return sometime in June but even then will be eased gingerly back into action. There is a slate of nine winnable matches between now and the end of June where Morales has the opportunity to play a key role.
This weekend’s critical matchup against first place Portland will be telling. If Morales starts again, it’s likely he will play a key part in the starting XI until Mauro Díaz returns.
Battle for the Top of the West
FC Dallas has the opportunity to assume their familiar position at the top of the Western Conference on Saturday. To do so they’ll have to beat and unseat a dangerous Portland Timbers squad. FC Dallas will be at home though, and Portland will be without key starters Diego Valeri and Jake Gleeson.
FC Dallas in known for its youth and homegrown talent, but a 37 year old Buenos Aires native could be the key to whether this team can three-peat in the West and make a more definitive run at an elusive MLS Cup.