FC Dallas 2014 Season Preview

 
FCD, once the masters of Garber’s universe for a third of 2013, find themselves in flux once more. Despite exotic ventures to the Middle East and a club legend returning to the helm, tons of questions abound. The offseason has been great on the transfer front, but poor on the competitive front. Major injuries weigh down the back line in spite of a buoyant and healthy looking attack. The biggest problem of all is time. Pareja hasn’t much to work with, and it could be at worst a yearlong project in Frisco. Although, don’t think for a second that Papi is intimidated.
 
Oscar Pareja
 
2013 Overall Record: 11-12-11 (44 Points)
 
Home Record: 8-5-1
 
Away Record: 2-5-6
 
Shutouts: 9
 
Top Goalscorer: Blas Perez (11)
 
Top Assists: David Ferreira (9)
 
2014 Transactions:
 
In: Brian Span (M – Weighted Lottery), Hendry Thomas (M – Trade with Colorado), Andres “Manga” Escobar (M/F – Loan to buy from Dynamo Kiev), Tesho Akindele (F – 2014 Superdraft), Adam Moffat (M – Trade with Seattle), Ryan Hollingshead (M – 2013 Superdraft), Nicholas Walker (D – 2014 Superdraft), David Texeira (F – Transferred from FC Groningen)
 
Out: David Ferreira (M – Option declined), Kenny Cooper (F – Trade with Seattle), Jackson (M – Trade with Toronto), Ramon Nunez (M – Option declined), Erick (M – Option declined), Bradlee Baladez (F – Waived), Kyle Zobeck (GK – Waived), Bobby Warshaw (M – Transferred to GAIS)
 
Exorcising Hyndman’s Ghost
 
To many the exit of the man in the mustard yellow jacket from Frisco just months ago came even a little late. Dallas had turned stale. Despite climbing to the heights of MLS in 2010 under Hyndman’s tenure and boasting the best record in the league a third of the way through the 2013 campaign, the decline had been slow and too long for most.
 
Cue Oscar Pareja. The Dallas Burn hero, former academy director and master mind of the FC Dallas youth system (even in its infancy) was a name on page and nothing more for months into FCD’s manager quest. It was always a long shot. Hell, the man was under contract for another year at least. The Rapids had put together a successful season (relatively speaking) with a youthful squad the Pareja molded into a swift, intelligent side very over two seasons.
 
Through a combination of magic, luck, human sacrifice, prayer, and money Dan Hunt got his man eventually. For Dallas fans it’s probably the best ending to the 2013 season. It was closure, if nothing else. Dallas’ former son and the natural heir to Schellas Hyndman waited in the wings. But what does Papi’s return to Dallas bring to the club?
 
It’s No One’s Team
 
Keep in mind that Pareja’s hiring happened in December and a majority of roster decisions were made prior. Oscar is a known quantity and entrusted with a great deal of faith amongst FCD supporters and the front office alike. Be it him, Marco Feruzzi, Tab Ramos, Bob Bradley, Brian Bliss, or any other person associated with the coaching position in Dallas months ago, any one of them could always drop the “Well, this isn’t my team exactly” card after an undesirable campaign.
 
No one expects Oscar to make this excuse. I certainly don’t. His acceptance of this position definitely came with these concerns in mind. Frankly, he probably wouldn’t have taken the call if he didn’t think he had talent, front-office support, and good signings to make ahead of him. He’ll have all those and have to mold them into something he appreciates. Fortunately, as he has in Colorado already, Papi can put his stamp on a team and make them play some attractive, effective soccer.
 
Oscar’s Inheritance
 
Papi inherits a team that suffered as much mentally as it did physically in 2013. The tolls of losing a league-topping position and then the toil of a nearly-endless midseason losing streak left many mental scars that Dallas did not really recover from.
 
Personnel that soon exited weren’t just any second XI, reserves, or marginal fringe players. Kenny Cooper, Jackson, and David Ferreira were all shown the door. Ramon Nunez, who performed well off the bench for Dallas last year, also given his marching orders. Midseason Clavijo signing Erick was also waived.
 
Not only were gaps left up top and in center midfield, but as well as starting spots on the wings. Furthermore, Mauro Diaz, the other midseason Clavijo signing, looks to be the inheritor of Ferreira’s helm. Erring on the side of caution seems to be smarter and the team should be, if they aren’t, still in search of some depth to back up FCD’s young, green trequartista.
 
But what other gaps have been filled? Despite numbers in the position, center defensive mid has been a spot of worry since 2010 for FCD. Adam Moffat’s acquisition brings at least MLS and MLS Cup veteran boots to the center of midfield. He’s believed to be the answer that James Marcelin, Andrew Jacobson, Erick, and Michel never were. Peter Luccin, also fighting for a CDM starting spot, is more or less a new signing after recovering from a 2013 preseason knee injury that sidelined him all year. Hendry Thomas, the Honduran international, comes along with Pareja from Denver and will more than likely edge out any competition for one of two CDM spots. Three veterans, one who has Champions League experience, the other who is a full international (expecting to make the roster for Brasil) is something Dallas hasn’t encountered in that position in particular. Really, FCD hasn’t seen a dominant, stable midfield pairing since Dax and Hernandez were an item in 2010.
 
Brian Span, Ryan Hollingshead, and Andres Escobar round out the other midfield signings and are expected to all compete for positions on the flanks. Span is a former collegiate standout that plied his trade in Sweden (Djurgardens IF) for a season before returning across the Atlantic. Hollingshead finally rejoined the squad after going on hiatus for all of 2013. Escobar, the most recent of all three signings, may be the most exciting prospect yet. A Columbian native and on loan from Ukranian side Dynamo Kiev, he’s the pacey, head-turning prospect that most are sure Pareja is currently salivating over. Though loan spells at Evian (Ligue 1) and Deportivo Cali (Columbia) since joining Kiev in 2011 haven’t proven fruitful, he is still only 22 and a mirror image of sheer pace to compliment Fabian Castillo’s on the opposite wing.
 
Defensively, FCD will be the same as ever. George John, Matt Hegdes, Stephen Keel, and Walker Zimmerman all will return to fight it out for center back supremacy. Acosta, Loyd, Benitez, Michel, and Woodberry will do the same for outside back supremacy. Chris Seitz, Richard Sanchez, and Raul Fernandez will all hopefully amp up their ambition and drive to spend top minutes between the pipes as well. If FCD cannot stop the rot, or at least the leaks, this year with a returning, solid defense, changes will definitely come after the season. Yet, injuries of George John, Stephen Keel, Walker Zimmerman, London Woodberry, and Zach Loyd have FCD scrambling to fill the spot beside Matt Hedges as of right now. Moises Hernandez has featured at CB, most recently against San Antonio, and performed fairly well. In all honesty there is no perfect solution if George John isn’t fit for March 8. Even Andrew Jacobson spent some time at center back in the San Antonio tune-up. If that isn’t indicative of the uncertainty of the situation, I don’t know what is.
 
Certainly the big theme to the 2013 offseason was all the new signings prompted by an influx of Brek money. Sadly it’s paid few dividends. Hassli is perpetually injured, still reeling from back strains. Cooper was traded off for Adam Moffatt. Raul Fernandez’s acquisition may be the only bright spot.
 
But FCD still can sport Blas Perez, the team’s leading goalscorer in 2013, up top. The depth offered by Tesho Akindele, and possibly Eric Hassli, should help FCD keep at least buoyant in the target position. Escobar’s signing impacts this dynamic as well, as he can very well fit into a forward role if need be. David Texeira, recently purchased from FC Groningen (Eredivisie), is an Urguayan who will offer the same aerial prowess, speed, and perhaps improved footwork upon what is offered by Blas Perez. His signing is a fairly big portent in regards to Hassli, as his back injuries and fitness may see him flat out cut going further into the season. The one important thing to take away from FCD’s attack and midfield: there are no significant injuries to starters or otherwise heading into the season. Given the past three seasons it’s a huge relief and an uphill battle that won’t have to be fought.
 
Papi’s Promise
 
What of 2014, though? Pareja’s acquisition is obviously a pivotal moment, but even more so will be his ability to throw together a coherent system and strategy with a team that is partially his in a short amount of time. This also includes a lack of MLS-or-greater competition. Friendlies against BK Hacken are good, but against the University of South Florida certainly aren’t cutting it. But at least we may have made some contacts in Dubai that could fund several armed conflicts, along with a growing soccer club in north Texas.
 
The good news is he has plenty of – nearly unending, really – faith backing him. His academy sides, nationally ranked academy sides, played outright beautiful soccer. The chemical makeup of Pareja as an outstanding box-to-box center midfielder was injected not only into his young protégés, but also his young Rapids side, especially last season.
 
He’s got quite a bit of youth to work with here. Castillo, Acosta, Escobar, Diaz, Woodberry, Baladez, and Hedges are all 23 or younger and should see heaps of time on the pitch. Hollingshead, Span, Zimmerman, and Sanchez are all in the same scenario, but will certainly have an uphill climb to gain their fair share of time. Either way, Pareja will not have much time to put these juvenile talents together and meld them with the old guard in Dallas. But Hendry Thomas is a good signing and an important one in a center midfield position that has been unstable for three years in Frisco. Pareja, a box-to-box center mid himself, must put a lot of stock in Thomas to bring him along from Colorado to help convert FCD into something more to his liking.
 
That being said, we may not see this team’s identity, in all reality, until midseason, given the circumstances. Oscar’s Rapids side went on a nine game unbeaten streak through the summer of 2013, if that’s of any comfort.  The lack of top-level preseason matches for Dallas also factors greatly into this conversation, even with an early march tilt with San Antonio. Injuries throughout the back line add further instability.  A new system will be tough to adapt to for any player as well. But, Pareja’s promise and gilded reputation gain him tons of capital with the FCD faithful. So, if 2014 is yet to be another year in flux in Frisco, then so be it. At least Pareja will be good for the long term, or so we all hope.
 
Current Depth Chart:
 
FCD
 
* Indicates current injuries and/or ongoing rehab
 
Remaining questions:
 
Does FC Dallas try to find more depth at center attacking mid before March 8?
 
Will Eric Hassli be leaving soon en lieu of his ongoing fitness woes?
 
How quickly can FC Dallas conform to Oscar’s favored 4-3-3?
 
Can Fabian Castillo actually match his expectations in terms of production?
 
(image courtesy of fcdallas.com)

 

Dustyn Richardson

About Dustyn Richardson

Managing editor and Houston Dynamo writer for Total-MLS. Fan of all Houston sports teams and Manchester United supporter. Still angry at Bud Selig for moving the Astros to the American League.

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