We will know in six weeks. Frankly, if Oscar Pareja can conjure offensive magic over the next month and a half, FCD could be sitting high and mighty atop the Western Conference.
The circumstances are obvious. Dallas has five conference opponents in the next six games. RSL (2x), LA, Seattle, and Vancouver, all of which are currently playoff sides, makeup the run-in for the next month and a half. It is probably the most critical month in the season. Not will the Western Conference playoff picture take a more permanent shape, but worthy title contenders will also make their case.
Pareja’s case has been well stated. The issue is that recent success has to be sustained. FCD’s offense is second to none in MLS, flying high on the five goal thumping of San Jose. It also flies high upon its fifteen goals tallied in just six games. A lack of shutouts usually spelled doom under the previous administration in Frisco, but with the offense producing over two goals a game during this run, who is to complain?
If FCD beats RSL Friday night it will be the second team in a week whose unbeaten streak will come to an end at the hands of Pareja and company. Six games on the run, RSL has been unbeaten against the likes of Seattle, DC, New York, and Vancouver. Fortunately, their history in Texas works against them. In spite of this, however, their road record is as decent as it gets in MLS at 4-3-4.
RSL has caught fire of late. This has been even without creator Javier Morales in the lineup. Unfortunately for Dallas Luis Gil has filled in quite well in his stead. But team leading goalscorer Joao Plata will still be expected to start the match up top. The evergreen back line of Schuler, Wingert, Borchers, and Beltran should also fill in the ranks in front of Nick Rimando. It is still a tight, highly organized team that has transitioned nearly flawlessly from the helm of Jason Kreis to Jeff Cassar.
Once again, winning at home is essential in the next month and a half. Half of the six games in that time frame will be at home; the rest in less desirable locales such as Sandy, UT, Bridgview, IL, and Carson, CA. Given the heightened importance of beating conference rivals it is not impossible to see why pulling in at least nine points will be crucial to any playoff hopes.
But why doubt Dallas at this point? All good things must come to an end, but the form that FCD has maintained, even in spite of injury and the consequential squad rotation has been immense. Do not be surprised to see Michel make yet another appearance, given RSL’s difficulties in defending set pieces in 2014. He, along with Zach Loyd at center back, Watson at right back, and even Castillo up top are solid examples of how Pareja has evoked the best performances even for players out of position during this season and unbeaten run.
Some injuries will force Pareja’s hand and make a makeshift lineup more of a likelihood. Stephen Keel, Mauro Diaz, and Mo Hernandez will all miss the RSL match. Keel is a more long term injury than the other two. Still, the injuries seem like an afterthought at this point: Oscar has done a beautiful job with whatever rotation of resources are available at any given moment. It also helps to have guys who are in peak form, such as Akindele and Castillo. Their heroics in the past six matches will have to reappear in the coming month and a half.
But this six game stretch will evaluate the title intentions of FC Dallas. Knocking off the best in the Western Conference is a necessity, especially late in the season, and that time has arrived.