Here is the 2014 FC Dallas Season in Review I did for MLSSoccer.com. 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.
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.