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.