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.