Wednesday, December 17, 2014

FC Dallas season in review via

Here is the 2014 FC Dallas Season in Review I did for As always,there are layers and details that just can't fit in the main article, so I wanted to add a few other thoughts and give some background on a few things as well.

Team MVP

First off, MVP. I was very very tempted to go with Blas Perez because frankly, I was shocked when I went back and looked and saw that he led the team in goals and assists. My overall sense of his season was similar to most of you - that he had not scored enough as the team's forward, that he had struggled with injuries and absences a bit, but that when he was in the game, he was hands-down the hardest worker on the team. Credit him for that, no doubt, but I think there was a sense that he could have done more....

And then, you see that he led the team in goals and assists. Shocking, in a way. And very impressive. So setting aside who actually won awards, please consider moving your respect for the Panamanian forward up a notch.

But at the end of the day, a good friend made a point - who was hands down the most dangerous player on the team this year? Who was the player that if you gave him half a heartbeat of space, he would make you wet your pants and often, put the ball in the back of the net? That would be Fabian Castillo. This year was his coming out party. That was the guy that everyone has been waiting and watching for since he first showed up. Bags of pace, skill, talent, but more often than not prior to this season, often wasted over the endline. 

Not this year. This year he gutted teams, especially when he rounded into form after the first few months of the season.

Goal of the Year

I will admit, I was surprised there weren't more candidates. Michel had some free kicks, there were some important goals across the season. Personally, I really liked the goal against Vancouver where the team was in a 5-3-2 and both outside fullbacks got forward and involved, with Moises Hernandez feeding Michel for a cross to Zach Loyd, whose shot on goal rebounded to Perez for a finsher's finish. I also really liked some of David Texiera's goals and Tesho Akindele's goal against Houston in the US Open Cup.

But this team had a golden era - the first seven games - and that was defined by a flowing play through the wings and Mauro Diaz. I also think that the game in Houston was the moment where a lot of Dallas fans really started to believe that this team was something special. Wins against teams like Chivas USA and Montreal weren't against great competition, but Houston was also in good form and it was  on the road whereas a lot of the other games were at home. And, the Dynamo are the big rival.

So, with the score already 3-1, when Fabian Castillo got the ball on the left wing, beat three defenders to the inside to release the ball to Mauro Diaz in the middle of the field, only to have that masterful midfield maestro make a deep splitting pass into the Dynamo penalty area for an onrushing JaVaughn Watson to put home, it was the perfect example of that version of FC Dallas.

Players to Add

It might seem awkward to some to have a backup as the most important player the team needs to add when there clearly are other roles that have to be filled in the starting lineup, but all you have to do is look at the massive changes Pareja had to make to the club when it was clear that Diaz was out for a prolonged period of time, and that Danny Garcia - while talented and a promising player - was not ready to fill those shoes and keep the team operating in that formation.

This is one place that MLS has really struggled to develop US players, and otherwise this is an awkward slot to fill in such a tight-salary-cap league. There may in fact not be a solution. But the team has to try. Even if all it is is someone who can take on a game in a three-game-stretch or play early US Open Cup games, a full season is just too much to ask for this position.

Other places that need to be reviewed: as I mentioned in the article, a veteran player opposite Castillo if possible, as well as a veteran player next to Matt Hedges. Yes, Zimmerman, Akindele and Hollingshead might be able to fill those roles, but that is asking someone who hasn't played a full MLS season to step in and carry a major load - might be a big ask.

I also think that the team might look at possibly bringing in a veteran at left fullback. Moises Hernandez had a good season, but maybe was asked to be a starter a year too soon. From that perspective, next year with a full off season knowing the left back spot clearly is something he can play might be just the thing to motivate him to raise his game. But if the team can find a veteran who can play another year or two to give Hernandez the time to really develop, why not?

The other things are more Big Picture - does the team try to shift to a 4-4-2? And if so, what does that mean for Ulloa, Michel, Hendry Thomas and even Texiera? There certainly is the salary cap space and roster slots available to do it. In fact, if the team could find the right players, they could put a $200k a year player at centerfullback, a $250k player at defensive mid, a $200k player on the wing and a $250k player at forward to compliment Perez, and a $150k player at left fullback and a $150k player to back up Diaz, and still have money left over. That would require some fantastic work from Clavijo, but it is actually possible. Take a gander at the players currently in MLS who fills those roles and you ought to get really excited at what that would mean for the team.

Personally, I don't think the team is going to be that aggressive just because that would require a lot of big pieces to come together, and that rarely happens. It usually take a season or two for such a major change to settle in and the team is already in a good spot. I am more comfortable with the idea that Dallas will add the three spots I mention in the article and maybe take a flier or two on some free agent veterans to push Hernandez and some other spots, and if they pan out great. If not, then you still have a good player there for that spot.

I also don't know which of the players that Dallas didn't option will make it through the next round of the Re-Entry Draft on Thursday, or who otherwise the team will try to re-negotiate with - like Thomas, Moffat, etc. There definitely are some players there that can do something for the team.

Either way, the bottom line remains that this team is young, talented and has lots of options to work with. There is a lot of promise for FC Dallas in 2015 and beyond.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Soccer on the radio in Dallas - now twice the fun!

Now you can listen to soccer talk on the radio in the DFW twice over the weekends.

For years, you have had on ESPN Radio (103.3 FM), "Soccer Today" with Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) and Steve Davis (@SteveDavis90). Lately they have been on Sunday mornings at 10. It is also available via podcast.

The newest addition is the one that was introduced this summer, The Kickaround on KTCK, The Ticket (96.7 FM and 1310 AM). @DFWTicket @TheKickAround Their first show is Saturday, December 13 from 2-4 pm. Hosted by Andy Swift and Peter Welpton, they led the drive this summer to show The Ticket that people to listen to and care about soccer from the general sports population and thanks to you and many other listeners, they now have a regular, weekly show.

Listen every weekend - 10 to 11 am Sundays on 103.3 FM 
and now 2-4 pm Saturdays on 96.7 FM and 1310 AM

Take advantage, dear readers. You are seeing the development of soccer media right before your very eyes. Imagine being able to say you remember listening to Brad Sham when he got his start. With those four mentioned, and those they bring along with them (such as Mark Followil, Bob Sturm and Kevin Hartman from FC Dallas broadcasts and other media?), you are getting to experience the development of an industry.

To say it is exciting is quite the understatement.

And it underlines one of the things I have been saying about Dallas soccer media for years - it is much more developed and vibrant than people give it credit for. Starting with Steve Davis at the Dallas Morning News and Buzz Carrick and, growing with Big D Soccer, the Dallas soccer media industry has been better served than almost any market with an MLS team in terms of multiple avenues to learn about soccer things. Adding in the radio shows is just another example of how developed things are now.

Congratulations, Peter, Andy and KTCK - a major milestone well accomplished!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

FC Dallas and the Expansion Draft - who gets picked?

So after going through the background and mechanics of the Expansion Draft to be held on Wednesday, then going through the Individual Player Options for FC Dallas, now we have our group of players available to Orlando City and New York City FC. What are the dynamics that will factor into which player might be taken? Let's take a gander, shall we?

Of those listed, many are players who have obvious talent and a lot of them have proven track records in MLS or professional soccer in general. A lot of them did not have their options picked up by FC Dallas. These will have to survive the Expansion Draft, then go back through the Re-Entry Draft process before Dallas can re-engage with them so I am not going to focus on them.

The ones I am going to focus on, though, are the ones currently under contract to FC Dallas: Span, Keel and Texiera.

Remember, if Dallas loses one, they protect a 12th player. If a second player is taken, the team is done.

Let's start with the one I think is least likely to be taken - David Texiera. This is not because he does not have talent. It could be argued on raw talent and remaining potential, he is the best forward on FC Dallas' roster. The questions are his salary cap number and whether other teams believe that talent can translate into MLS on a regular basis. The teams may be aware of what Texiera's cap number will be in 2015 - I am not. But as a DP in 2014, it can't drop too much - certainly not to numbers below $200,000. In other words, expensive enough that he needs to be a regular starter and consistent producer. Did we see enough in 2014 to think he can be that kind of player in 2015 for a club that he wasn't originally brought to? Anything is possible, but this seems unlikely to me.

Next is Stephen Keel. He is coming up on his 11th year as a professional, not all in MLS. He picked up a significant injury in FC Dallas' US Open Cup Semifinal loss to the Philadelphia Union and recently had surgery for it.  Before the injury, he had been out of the lineup for the team after a significant run at central defense. Question is - will teams see the first part of that and recognize a veteran player who can contribute to an MLS side, or will they see the fact that he has started less than half of his team's games over the last four years in MLS for various reasons, and has to deal with an injury after playing professionally for a decade? As mentioned earlier, clearly, he brings something to the table in terms of being a "glue" guy - someone that makes the team better in ways that rarely show on the scoresheet. His cap number is not high. In some ways, this typifies the kind of player that can be picked up in the expansion draft and work for a team.

Finally is Brian "Cobi" Span. There is no real way to gauge how Orlando City values the player. He made 19 appearances for the team, scoring three goals, but he wasn't a key contributor late in the season. A player who was not contributing at the USL Pro level - what value does he have in MLS? Up front, it may not seem like a big risk, especially for a player that did not make a significant impression in MLS. But like Hollingshead, Span is a player with a textured background, having left to play in Europe for a short while before coming to MLS. That may make identifying his ceiling hard to bracket and Orlando may be hiding the ball a bit.

As for NYCFC, it is even tougher to tell, but suffice to say, a free player is a free player.

The question then becomes who else is available from other teams, and it is pretty clear that other teams left more valuable players - some expensive, some not - vulnerable. And who knows - someone could take a player coming off an injury on a really high cap number because they remember that the guy was a regular starter once.... or not.

Let's talk about the teams for a moment. Jason Kreis worked with Garth Lagerwey to put together one of the best teams in MLS on one of the most economical salary cap numbers that has stayed in the top third of the league in RSL. I doubt he is going to make Ruud Gullit mistakes.

And Orlando City has been a very solid club that has a track record of smart moves in US soccer for years, albeit at the USL Pro level, and much to the chagrin of Austin Aztec fans... But their move to sell their USL Pro team rights to their now affiliate in Louisville? Very forward-looking in my personal opinion. Again, not a group that will make Hans Backe errors.

Bottom line - there is a very good chance that either of these teams will see something of value and make a play for it. Pound for pound, I expect these clubs to be very player savvy. Question is, whether there will be better value on other rosters or not.

We find out Wednesday morning. Ought to be fun. Check for details.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Individual player evaluations for the FC Dallas expansion draft discussion

As discussed previously, FC Dallas has to expose 11 un-exempt players for the upcoming Expansion Draft where Orlando City and New York City FC will be filling part of their rosters. Those exempt or no-brainer protection players are: Ulloa, Hernandez, Acosta, Zimmerman, Gonzalez, Craft, Garcia and Zendejas; and Diaz, Akindele, Castillo, Kennedy, Hedges and Loyd.

So those remaining players are: Perez, Seitz, Hollingshead, Keel, Michel, Span, Watson and Texiera. Let's go through those individually, with the idea in mind that five of the eight will be protected, meaning three will be exposed in the expansion draft. I am not going to give a "yes or no" on any of these, but rather discuss the variables at play for each player.

First, let's break out Span. He is the one player who did not get any significant time for FC Dallas in 2014, although he played a key role for Orlando City at times last season in the USL Pro. As Orlando City is one of the two expansion teams that might value Span because of his history with the team, there is reason to think he might get drafted. Then again, they may know him well enough and have assessed him as not being ready for MLS yet and decide not to spend a pick on him. But that totally depends on what other options their are out there.

Second, let's look at Michel. Frankly, the Brazilian is one of a few in this group that are so borderline I thought about putting them in the first group, but there are some variables that ought to be discussed. In Michel's case, the question is do other MLS clubs value a player who is insanely talented on free kicks, but has to work harder than others to be effective in the run of play?  Michel uses his well above average understanding of the game to mask weaknesses that, frankly, don't usually play well in MLS. He also is a little older and has not been able to play a full season the past two years. Personally, though, I think the Dallas Brain Trust remembers the first seven games of the year last season, especially how dangerous the team was with both Diaz and Michel on the field. Go ahead, foul Diaz to slow him down. Pretty please, with sugar on top.

Like Michel, Seitz is practically a no brainer, but again, variables. This time, largely from the perspective of the expansion teams, but also from other MLS clubs. Seitz clearly showed value this year and you are taking a big risk to leave him open. Then again, he hasn't played a full season since his year in Philadelphia (for an expansion team, and it was not a good year for club or player) and some teams might be cynical enough to hold that against him. And like most keepers in MLS, he has strengths and weaknesses and some teams may look at him and think they can do better from other pools of talent. But one thing is for sure - Jason Kreis, the coach for NYCFC, knows Seitz well and between them and Seitz's former club, RSL, there is a much greater than zero chance that Seitz would get taken. Seitz and Michel are the closest things you will see from me saying it is highly unlikely that they are left exposed.

JeVaughn Watson is pretty close to that group of two. While after the 2013 season many thought Watson might not be long for the team considering that he didn't find a consistent role for the club, this year saw him be versatile and valuable, playing well at both wing midfield and outside fullback. The fact that Pareja felt comfortable enough to play him as an emergency centerback and it worked relatively well speaks volumes. Jack of all Trades type players are immeasurably valuable to teams in a tight cap league like MLS. That being said, with everyone healthy and 100%, I am not totally sure that Watson is in this team's First XI, especially if the team goes out and fills the George John slot with a solid MLS-quality player. In fact, a number of centerbacks have been rookies in MLS and been very productive. So if that spot is filled (even possibly by a re-negotiated John), and Loyd moves back to right fullback, I can see Watson being on the bench. Bottom line, though, it would be surprising to see Watson exposed.

Blas Perez is also a player that brings so much to this team, but has a few variables worth discussing, especially considering the way the team handled Fernandez. In my article for, Clavijo made it clear that international absences do play a part in how the team evaluates potential production from a player, and that makes sense. You have to weight the costs and benefits of having a player who is quality enough to play international soccer against how often that player will miss games because of it. In the case of Robbie Keane, it is a no-brainer. And while not exactly at the same level, I think Perez is similarly valued... except for the fact that he is getting older and has picked up a few knocks across the season. Again, like most in this group, not enough to leave exposed, but enough that there are at least variables worth discussing. Then again, as I was working on my upcoming article for about the FC Dallas recap for 2014, it struck me that it didn't feel like Perez had led the team in goals and assists, yet he did. The perception sometimes this season was he wasn't as productive as people might want, but looking at the numbers he put up, added to all the hard work he does off the ball and his professionalism in the lockerroom, its tough to leave a player like that exposed, even if you think other teams may or may not make the same evaluation.

That completes the list of players who played basically no minutes for the team this year (Span) and those who played a major role (Perez, Watson, Seitz, Michel). Now lets get into the remaining three. This, frankly, is where things get really murky.

Stephen Keel is a veteran journeyman MLS player who showed often in 2014 that he can be a contributing player. In fact, it seemed to me that he was a key part of the team's early chemistry and communication at the back. I did an interview with him that unfortunately didn't run where he and teammates of his discussed how important his communication was at organizing the back. An argument could be made that such a level of communication didn't really return to the back line until Loyd moved inside to play with Hedges. Two players talking is better than one in most situations. But Keel is older, and has picked up some injuries that may make teams hesitate. It may depend on how much teams know about his veteran presence in the lockerroom and the example he sets as a professional - something that many clubs need considering how many players come to MLS from either college or the USSF Development Academy rather than an established professional environment where it is your *job* to be a soccer player and there are no other distractions or priorities.

Ryan Hollingshead has a high ceiling. A Pac-12 player of the year from UCLA is someone who has legitimate potential. The challenge with Hollingshead is that, from a professional evaluation, his personal decision to take a year to help establish his brother's church raises all kinds of questions. Luckily for FC Dallas and the player, Dallas gave him a chance to fulfill his dream of helping his brother and then come work to make the team, and the player rewarded the club with a work rate that revealed he can produce at an MLS level, answering a majority of those questions. I am not sure we saw enough from him this year to think he is a lock for a starting role for next year, but we saw enough that I wouldn't count him out of fighting and possibly winning one. A free draft pick where he showed he wouldn't be a bust? If I am one of the expansion clubs, yes please. There is definite danger here that if he is left unprotected, he will get drafted. On the other hand, I am not sure that other MLS clubs will be willing to try to trade for him if an expansion team takes him with an eye towards moving him because they have that spot filled on their particular roster. I mention that, though, only in the fullness of the discussion. The danger of him being drafted by an expansion team for their own roster is very real.

And that leaves the big enigma, David Texiera. We saw him finish chances in such a professional, goal-scorer's way in a number of games. His first goal against Seattle on September 24 was pure instinct. The work that Texiera put in to be that good at scoring is not to be underestimated, and is something that we rarely saw from many FC Dallas players in 2014, including Blas Perez. There is real value here. On the other hand, he really struggled to find the field for large swaths of the season, and the times that he did play, it was a double edged sword. He clearly developed a relationship with Andres Escobar that led to quality goals, but at the expense of other things that the team relied on for their overall shape. Either way, it seems the transition most international players have to go through to succeed in MLS is still a work in progress with him. Add in his high cap number and the fact that he is an international player and I think you have someone that is high risk, high cost - the recipe for someone unlikely to be taken by an expansion team or wanted by another club - therefore likely to be exposed. But Governor Tarkin, we've analyzed their attack, and there is a danger.

So, to sum up, FC Dallas has eight players who they have to consider exposing in the upcoming MLS Expansion Draft, and I think you can break them into two groups. The first group are unlikely to be exposed, but there are at least reasons to consider: Perez, Michel, Seitz and Watson. The second group of four have more questions than reasons to retain, but each have enough value that it would be unfortunate to lose them: Keel, Texiera, Hollingshead and Span.

FC Dallas has to leave three of those eight exposed, and at most can lose two. Considering that Dallas will have at least 15 proven starting quality players protected or exempt, it is safe to say that whatever they decide, they are in really good shape for 2015, although it is never good to lose a player for free, and each of those eight players has some clear value to the team.

FC Dallas expansion draft options

With the moves FC Dallas made yesterday, they really simplified the analysis of who they should protect in the upcoming Expansion Draft.

In this article, I will go through the background and landscape of the draft - what goes into it, what factors to consider, what to look for. Especially if you haven't been through the Expansion Draft process before, there is a lot of good detail. If you want to skip directly to the individual player evaluations, you can go HERE.

The rules of the draft - many are exempt (homegrown players, Generation adidas players, etc.); 11 have to be exposed, including a certain number of internationals; once a player is taken, the team can protect one more; if/after a second player is taken, the rest of the players are protected.

But here is the fun part. After you take out the list of exempt players - a total of 8 for FC Dallas - that leaves 14 players for FC Dallas to have to chose from.

Exempt list: Jesse Gonzalez, Moises Hernandez, Victor Ulloa, Kellyn Acosta, Coy Craft, Danny Garcia, Alejandro Zendejas, Walker Zimmerman. Four of those players played key first team minutes for the club well enough to be able to count on them again in 2015, and all have the potential to make a real impact, some sooner than later.

That leaves the following players: Mauro Diaz, Blas Perez, Tesho Akindele, Fabian Castillo, Dan Kennedy, Chris Seitz, Matt Hedges, Ryan Hollingshead, Stephen Keel, Michel, Brian "Cobi" Span, JeVaughn Watson, Zach Loyd and David Texiera.

Many of those are simply no brainers - players who are both good value and produced a lot for the team in 2014, without any real questions. Players like Diaz, Akindele, Castillo, Hedges and Loyd. You can throw Kennedy in as well even though he didn't play for FCD in 2014, he certainly proved his worth for Chivas USA. These players played major roles for the team and are absolute certainties to be taken if left unprotected.

That leaves a handful of players who have a range of production v. questions. Bear in mind, there are a lot of variables that need to be considered in situations like this. What is their cap number? What is their projected production in 2015 and possibly beyond? Health, age, international call ups and other things play into that last question. Additionally, what is their value within the league, and outside the league, although the decision not to retain Fernandez makes me think that the latter factor might not be as big a player for individual teams when it is MLS that ultimately owns their rights.

But the ultimate lens is this - will one of the two expansion teams take one of these players. For example, if George John had been retained, I think it unlikely that one of those two teams would have taken a player on John's salary cap number considering his injury history. It would be a huge risk to take him considering there is no way to know how he will respond to the various surgeries he had this year. It is very unfortunate for the player, to be sure, but that is how the teams will have to look at situations like his, especially in a league where the salary cap is so tight.

Bear in mind, also, that if a non-expansion team likes an exposed player, don't be surprised to see an expansion team grab and trade a player. So really, you have to look at every player through the main lens of how the expansion teams see them, but also does one of the expansion teams think they can take and trade a player?

In some occasions, an MLS club has played a little poker and been called - leaving a player like Jason Kreis, etc., exposed, thinking that age and salary cap value will make them unpalatable to an expansion team trying to save money for bigger signings, and that player is taken, and the original MLS club is stuck because they don't or can't trade to get him back.

Oh, and that doesn't touch other variables such as a player's plan to continue in MLS, or perceived value in the league - things that are usually private and not publicly known. Best example was Clarence Goodson, who told FC Dallas that he was getting legitimate offer from Europe and that he was not going to re-sign with them or anyone else in MLS. FC Dallas left him exposed in the  Expansion Draft for the 2008 San Jose Earthquakes. San Jose took him and had his rights, but Goodson went and played over five years in Europe before returning. He did eventually sign with San Jose, but that certainly wasn't the plan the Earthquakes had in mind when they originally drafted him. Short version - there are certain things that we may never know, and a lot we may not know before the draft itself.

Short version, to quote the Tenth Doctor, from the seminal episode Blink, "It's complicated. Really complicated."  Complicated enough that I am having a little word-swim with the length of this article, and if *I* am having word swim... I can only imagine what you, my dear readers, are feeling. So consider this post the background, and look for a separate post soon with the discussion of the individual players.

Here is the individual analyses.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Initial season recap - FC Dallas

It may be too soon for some, but here are some initial thoughts on the 2014 FC Dallas season.

First, so much house money. After not making the playoffs since 2011 - and that being a poor appearance at that.

Oscar Pareja took over a team that had a good bit of talent, but it wasn't managed as well as it possibly could have been. Some players had been played too much, others not utilized maybe as much as they could have been. Its a fair question, especially in 2011, when David Ferreira was injured, why more squad rotation wasn't used more often even though the team was under a lot of schedule congestion.

By most accounts, we have seen a good number of games from a variety of players, and almost all of the ones that currently are able to play first division soccer. It was a well developed roster.

We have seen a number of players do more than what was expected of them as well. Fabian Castillo, Victor Ulloa and Tesho Akindele specifically had break out years. Other players, like Zach Loyd, Matt Hedges and Blas Perez had solid to really good seasons. Other surprises, like Moises Hernandez and Chris Seitz, proved able to play. Seitz in particular was really good, especially in tonight's game against Seattle. In some ways, it shouldn't be surprising considering the amount of time the keeper had to hone his game, but he had not gotten regular minutes since playing for Philadelphia in their expansion season.

And the promise of Mauro Diaz' first seven games. Wow.

We also saw some things that are more than just good roster management and player development. One of the negatives from this season was a rash of injuries and suspensions (a team record of red cards, and another 5+ games worth of suspensions), but the team played for the coach no matter who was in the lineup and, considering that they lost their key player so early in the season, coming in fourth in the West and winning their elimination game against a good Vancouver side is no embarrasment. Add in that they fell on the away goals rule to the Supporters Shield winners - as well as the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup champions - and you could say they showed they were clearly in the top tier of the league.

There is a lot more drilling down to be done. These are just surface level observations. But considering where the club was in November of 2013, it has been a good year for the team.

Now, that doesn't mean there are no changes to be made. Far from it. There are certainly players who could have produced more, certain positions that could use some upgrading. There is the crazy season of the next month with the MLS Dispersal draft for Chivas USA players, then the expansion draft for Orlando City and NYCFC, as well as the Re-Entry Drafts, etc. Lots of moving parts.

But overall, this club certainly moved the needle in the right direction.

FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders - November 10, 2014 - MLS Semifinal Playoff 2nd Leg

So let's put a few things in one place here.

First, while some at the time thought the away goal scored by Seattle in the first leg would prove to be big, I am not so sure. What it does mean is that Dallas did not win at home, but unless the game ends 0-0, that away goal does Seattle no good.

Considering that Seattle has kept Dallas scoreless only once in the last two years - in seven meetings - I think while possible, it is unlikely that the Sounders will keep Dallas off the scoreboard tonight.

So if the game ends 1-1 - which is very possible - it would go to extra time and then kicks from the mark (often incorrectly called penalty kicks - what penalty is called?). Otherwise, a tie would put Dallas through at 2-2, 3-3, etc.

Simply put, Seattle should be playing to win the game outright. Interestingly, Dallas should be playing to score. This ought to be a pretty open game and will in large part be shaped by the first goal.  Dallas scores first and it is game on. Interestingly, if Dallas does score first, keep in mind that FCD in the last half of the season has generally been solid at the back, unlike the Galaxy. Recall that LA was up 2-0 on Seattle before they came back to tie the match with two late scores in the second to last game of the season. Barring that breakdown, it very easily could have been the Galaxy with the Supporters Shield.

Then again, let's acknowledge the simple fact that Seattle is a tremendous home side. They are the Supporters Shield winners for a reason. They will be dangerous throughout the game. If you haven't fastened on your big boy helmet, better do it now.

The really good news for Dallas is their attack has been strong. Very strong. FC Dallas has scored first in every game between Dallas and Seattle, and only once has Dallas been kept to just one goal. That, of course, was the 2-1 loss in Seattle this year.... Add into that the effectiveness of Michel alone - the Brazilian has been putting goals in the net against the Sounders at almost a goal or assist a game pace.

The other good news is Dallas has kept Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey off the scoreboard in their last two games. Of course, as college football fans know, transitive properties and all. Especially as it relates to the last regular season game between the teams - a 3-1 victory by Dallas in Dallas. Seattle had been in Philadelphia eight days before, winning the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, and then had to travel to New York to play another game.

As we saw, last Sunday, though, the defensive pairing of Hedges and Loyd has been able to make it relatively hard for Martins and Dempsey to get open and create the kind of havoc that they have been known for this year.

The bottom line, I think, though is how can Mauro Diaz change the game. When on, he is what makes Dallas more than just good. He makes them something really special. As such, I expect Pareja to play the 4-2-3-1 and go for it. Not all out attack, but the usual Dallas possession and pressure that they used well in the first two months of the season. 

The challenges are can they get back into that flow with so few games played that way (really, only the Vancouver playoff win...) and will Diaz and that attack be affected by the turf. The other thing is how long Diaz can be effective - while he was very good in the first half against Vancouver, he tired late. Granted, that was his first game back after a long layoff and he has had twelve days to work on his fitness, but he probably can't make 90 minutes so we will have to see how far past 45 minutes he can go.

One other thing to look for - if Dallas can get a lead late, especially if they have scored at least 2, look for Adam Moffat to come on and shut the game down. He did this against the Los Angeles Galaxy on October 12th and was very effective.

Of course, Sports Happens, as we saw last night with the huge win by LA over Salt Lake. I bet the odds were pretty low for the Galaxy to win 5-0. So we will see one heck of a game with huge drama. Dallas has all the tools to bring it home, but it will be anything but easy. Hope you've made your popcorn!

Update with lineup - Seitz instead of Fernandez. A bit surprising to me. The rest: Hernandez, Hedges, Loyd, Watson; Ulloa, Michel; Castillo, Diaz, Akindele; Perez. 

Seattle's lineup - Frei; Yedlin, Marshall, Scott, Gonzalez; Evans, Alonso, Pineda, Pappa; Dempsey, Martins. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

May You Live in Interesting Times

The past few weeks has been an interesting period for professional and college sports with the issues surrounding players, domestic violence, violence against women and general inappropriate behavior.

I am not going to detail what has already been covered by others elsewhere, but I want to add a call to action. Every once in a while, and issue becomes The Topic, and in moments like this, massive change can happen. In fact, I think we are seeing huge change now, no matter what happens.

I will, though, share one link that has Samantha Ponder's great comments this morning for ESPN:

But let's not take that chance. Add your voice. Small (Twitter, Facebook) or big (whatever that looks like to you), put your two cents in to the NFL, Florida State, the NCAA, MLB, whoever. Just be a part of the conversation because it seems we have a very real chance to massively change the way women and children are treated, especially as it relates to domestic violence and violence against women.

But I would suggest one other thing. If you have the time, find out about local womens' shelters, etc., and other charities that help victims of abuse and see how you can support them. A simple google search should give you that information.

And maybe put in a word with your local DA.

Let's make sure that the kinds of things that led to Ray Rice almost getting away with severe abuse to his fiance is significantly more difficult to allow, and further that we are taking care of those who are victims of such abuse.

If you really want to get educated on the subject, don't hesitate to read about the complex nature of domestic violence and violence against women - including blaming the victim mentality, etc. It is not in any way an easy topic, but deep down, I think you know you really need to know more about it. Don't shy away - the person you understand better, and ultimately help, could be someone you know personally. Just look at the rape statistics - if that doesn't bring the issue home for you, I really don't know what to say.

I just know that for me, domestic violence and violence against women is one of the biggest un-discussed issues we face. Let's take advantage of the spotlight that is currently on it and make it count.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Special Olympics Texas team defeats Special Olympics Colorado, 2-0, in match at Toyota Stadium

FRISCO, Texas _ Tonight at Toyota Stadium, the Special Olympics Texas team defeated the  Special Olympics Colorado team, 2-0, with both goals coming in the second half.

The match was played with full presentation from the FC Dallas staff, in front of an energetic and supportive crowd after the FC Dallas 3-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids, including the Dallas supporters groups, FC Drum and the entire first team.

It was a back and forth match, but the Texas club broke away in the second half. Jacob Hill opened the scoring in the 4th minute of the second half, finishing a series of attempts on goal with a low shot into the back of the net. Colorado worked to create their own chances, trying to get back into the match, but gave up a late breakaway eight minutes from time that Steven McIlheny finished to finalize the scoring.

Reece Halfmann was in goal for Dallas and made some late saves to preserve the shutout.

After the game, both teams were given medals at the end of the match from FC Dallas President and owner Dan Hunt, head coach Oscar Pareja and team captain Matt Hedges.

The center referee for the match was Rob Kucenski.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

FC Dallas wins a big one on Monday

Last night, FC Dallas (and the Philadelphia Union) won a substantive victory - the winner of the match between the two on August 12 (yes, Kyle's birthday!) will host the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Final!

It was a coin flip shown live on Men In Blazers and  Pretty exciting stuff, in large part because the other side of the coin (literally) would have meant traveling to either Seattle or Chicago for the Final. Both venues have some history of filling a stadium for big games, although clearly the Sounders have been doing that for pretty much everything these days, whereas Chicago has been struggling over the past few years.

Obviously, Dallas does have to win next Tuesday for this to matter. If you do not have tickets, PLEASE consider getting them for that game. Clearly, having a big crowd has helped this team at times, so be a part of the success!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

FC Dallas beats Chvias USA - what it means

Quick update on the piece I did earlier on evaluating Dallas and the playoffs. Tonight, Dallas beat Chivas USA on the road for their first road win in almost four months.

It puts Dallas three points back of RSL and even on games. Catch-able.

It puts Dallas even on points with the Galaxy, although they have three games in hand. Not as catch-able, but not impossible.

But the other thing that it key here - Dallas hosts Colorado on the weekend. Currently Dallas is three points up on the Rapids and even on games. A win in that match, and that puts another three points between Dallas and Colorado. Big. Not "bring out the closing music" big, but big.

The other think to take away from tonight's game is this - Dallas once again was leading in the second half of a road game. Win or draw, that is good stuff. Shoot, add in the Open Cup matches and now you are looking at six road games in a row where Dallas has every reason to think they could have and maybe should have won.


Let that sink in, fellas. (The ladies have already figured this out. Trust me on this.)

Without Mauro Diaz.

And key in this is the development of three players - Akindele, Escobar and Castillo. Each had their own developing that needed to happen, and each of them have.  Now, once Diaz can go 90 minutes, you will likely see a switch back to a 4-2-3-1 with Escobar and Castillo on the wings. You will probably also see Blas Perez stay as the 1, which should not be a surprise. BUT. if Perez should falter, you have the rookie to bring in and he has shown he can contribute. Can he be The Starter, and all the pressure that implies? Maybe. Maybe not. But absolutely he can contribute. Which, in my eye, is why Perez won't falter. Love competition for starting spots.

But now that Castillo has matured some, and Escobar has worked his way into fitness and knowing the league, both are very dangerous. The speed and skill in Dallas' attacking four is borderline sick.

At least in terms of potential.

A few random thoughts on FC Dallas and playoff race

I usually touch on this in my MLS Rankings, but I wanted to go into a little more detail than I usually do there, so here goes.

First off, I think that a first goal for Pareja this season would be to establish his system, locker-room atmosphere, and start sifting through the players on the roster as he inherited a roster he had little input on. So far, so good. Clearly, this team has survived challenges that you can't without some real quality on the roster, cohesion and leadership - both from top down and from within.

Second, see how far you can take it. At the very least, get into the playoffs. On that part, so far so good as well. It isn't a lock, not by any means. The rest of the schedule has challenges and there are realistically seven teams right now in the West who have a chance to make the top five, barring a fantastic run from either San Jose or Chivas USA. Right now, Dallas is fourth in the West, three points behind Los Angeles, six behind Real Salt Lake and eight behind Seattle who sites at the top. Colorado, Vancouver and Portland trail.

With all the intra-conference games remaining, odds are that Seattle is likely in, and it is going to take something special for Real Salt Lake and the Galaxy to not make the playoffs. Set aside whether Dallas can catch any of them for a moment. But if that is true, then you are looking at four teams fighting for two spots, and Dallas currently is at the top of the four and seems to be the stronger side, especially considering Diaz is getting closer and closer to playing 90 minutes. Bottom line, it is going to take some real effort, but making the playoffs - and likely being fourth rather than fifth - is a legitimate possibility.

Third, can they do more than just get in to the 4-5 matchup? Recall that in MLS, the playoffs pit the 4 seed against the 5 seed in a one game playoff mid-week before a series against the No. 1 seed. It is a very tough ask for any team - win on a Wednesday, then play a home and home series with the best team in the conference that is rested. Not at the expense of making the playoffs at all, but if at all possible, this is something to be avoided.

It is here that I think we will see how good this team is. Much as FC Dallas fans might want to believe the team can win the conference, at this point, they are too many points behind with not enough games to play against the right teams. Yes, it is mathematically possible, and there certainly are enough games that it can happen. I am certainly not saying the team should not try. But taking the 10,000 foot view, it is not likely. Seattle, Los Angeles and RSL are too good to pass all three.

But not all three are going to stay hot. It IS possible to catch one of them for the No. 3 seed. And that is just what I think FC Dallas should try to do. I don't think it will mean the season was a failure if they don't, but at this point, that is the goal that can challenge them to maximize their potential.

My two cents. What do you think? Comments and feedback are always appreciated.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

FC Dallas moves Jacobson - what next?

NOTE - make sure to keep an eye on The Red Book for my latest on FC Dallas and MLS.

Andrew Jacobson has been traded to NYCFC by FC Dallas. This is a business, and sometimes business happens. Glad to see the way FC Dallas is thanking him on the way out. His response on Twitter makes it look like everyone is happy, which makes sense.

This raises all kinds of questions, though. I am working on this for, and will certainly share the story if one develops. (Update - Here is the story.)

Is this just finally dealing with the fact that the team has too many holding midfielders, something that clearly was a help at times, but as everyone other than Thomas is getting healthy, you still have four guys for two positions (Michel, Ulloa, Moffat, Jacobson).

Or is it something else - Back to Thomas - as he was placed is expected to be on the MLS version of injured reserve, and now the move of AJ, you have room on the roster and in the salary cap. (Edit - Thomas placed on Season Ending Injury List on July 30.) Same for the sale of Richard Sanchez - to be completed when Chris Seitz returns. Including the sale money for him - which because he is a homegrown, more of it will stay with Dallas. Up to three spots on the roster, and a good amount of salary cap room.

The biggest question then is - room for what?

Unless there was a restructuring, or some other move is on the horizon, Dallas has all three DP slots filled.

So that means, barring a larger move that would require other changes, Dallas is trying to add a non-DP level player or players.

With recent injuries to Hedges and Escobar - although not knowing the details (severity, length of absence if any) - there are a variety of options. (Looks like Hedges should be ok, and they will give Escobar a run out during Wednesday's practice.)

Depth or upgrade at central defense?
Depth behind Diaz?
Depth or upgrade at wing or forward?

Or is there something bigger at work? Currently, Dallas is pretty high on the allocation chart... That could mean either a move directly to Dallas or Dallas could leverage the position to get something in return in case someone is trying to add an allocation level player.

Recent players to come through Dallas for various reasons that seemed innocuous at the time - Honda and Shea?

Other US players who maybe are wanting to come back to the US from abroad?

It will be fun to see how this all plays out.

Mark Followill (@MFollowill) tweeted that Jacobson will join Bob Bradley in Europe on loan until NYCFC starts its pre-season.

Drew Epperly (@wvhooligan) brought up a good point - is part of the deal keeping NYCFC from taking a player from Dallas in next year's expansion draft?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Dallas at Vancouver - random notes

The cliche is about a glass and whether it is half full or half empty. Well, as everyone knows, the answer is both - it is just from a certain point of view.

Dallas tied Vancouver today, 2-2. Let's touch on a few points, shall we?

Half full

Vancouver didn't gain ground on Dallas
Dallas came back from being down 1-0 to be up, 2-1
Dallas got a road point
Dallas did so without JeVaughn Watson, Fabian Castillo and Andres Escobar
Blas Perez showed some real veteran savvy with his goal (if he keeps it - there was some thought that Loyd might have scored originally, but that doesn't change his cool control and placement)
The lead-in to that goal was quality all around - from Hernandez to Michel to Loyd to Perez
Michel to take penalties has to build confidence
Raul Fernandez made some massive saves
No card issues

Half empty

Hedges' status?
Escobar's status?
Dallas gave up a lead
Dallas was not really able to hold the ball much, especially in the second half
There were long stretches where the team looked vulnerable in the middle of the field


Not ideal because they had the lead at half, but both penalties were more mistakes by the defense rather than pressure from the attack, so in a way, fair is fair?

This team is so beat up, injury wise, that any injury is a concern until proven otherwise, and for a player like Hedges, that is scary. On the other hand, this team has gone a number of games now without a red card, and frustrating as it might be to have to mention that as a positive, it is in fact a clear positive.

At the end of the day, in this stretch of games, if FC Dallas wins at home most of the time and doesn't lose to the teams it is fighting with for playoff positioning (Vancouver, Colorado, Real Salt Lake, Los Angeles), then it has to be considered progress. So today is progress.