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.