Scrap Mettle: Once Resilient Dallas in Midseason Lull

Someone still has his or her finger held firmly on the pause button in Frisco. What was the most dominant team in the West, let alone MLS, has hit the skids, falling from first to fifth in a matter of three weeks. Rivals have risen like the sea surrounding a slowly sinking ship. But how did FCD get to this point? What woes now torment the former best side in MLS?

FC Dallas

Breaking the season into thirds of eleven, twelve, and eleven matches, it is easy to see how dominant FCD was through the first third of the season. A 7-1-3 record overall, flawless win record at home, and 1-1-2 road record seemed downright glorious by the middle of May. Five shutouts wove their way into FCD’s record, followed by six multi-goal matches.

Since the DC United home match on May 11, Hyndman’s side has gone 1-4-5, and winless in the past nine matches. Only two shutouts were held in this time, but maybe more telling is the fact that FCD has been shut out four times. It took fifteen matches across three and a half months for the first goalless match to occur; the last three happened in a matter of a nine-day span. Clearly, the wear and tear of the early season has made the midseason lull more difficult to overcome.

Injuries, Absences, and Suspensions

Kenny Cooper, David Ferreira, Eric Hassli, Blas Perez, George John, Jair Benitez, and Fabian Castillo have all seen time away from first team action for a myriad of reasons. Benitez and Castillo were suspended. Cooper and Hassli have been injured. David Ferreira was simply given time off. Blas Perez has been in constant action with the Panamanian national team.

However, the most impactful loss is George John. Unlike the others, FCD has a tough time coping with the gaps John leaves when gone. Not coincidentally, the team is 1-3-3 with John out of the lineup (it’s almost like FCD is on the road when he is away).

Coincidentally, his absences have all occurred during highly busy stints in FCD’s schedule. It’s tough to slip a guy into a lineup in quick succession, and even tougher when two, games happen within four days of one another, or three in ten days. It’s ironically bad timing, but the flip side of the coin is that Dallas will only have one more busy week, August 17-24, seeing Portland (Away), Chivas (Away), and San Jose (Home) in quick succession. Pray that George John is healthy.

Thirty Three Percent

The rest of the season offers ample opportunity to prove that FCD’s offseason activity, especially regarding its strike force, was not a waste. Blas Perez remains the team’s best goalscorer with six on the books. Cooper and Hassli’s combined goal production doesn’t even equal the Panamanian’s, however. Hassli’s chances have been limited due to fitness and injury. Fan-favorite Cooper, however, has received starts up top, as well as out on the flank, and still failed to stamp his authority within the opposite penalty area.

One out of our three strikers are performing at the expected rate, and sadly enough, Perez will continue to miss (in a bittersweet way) more for World Cup qualification. Is there enough time in the season for Hassli and Cooper to contribute to FCD’s goal differential? Absolutely, but both will have to be more clinical in front of goal in the short stints they are given as the loan target. Even if they proved to be better providers than targets an elevated effort to set the table for others would make their decline even out.

Blas’ absences have been as impactful as they have meant little, leaving FCD 3-3-1. However, FCD victories during Blas’ absences have come because of other players, namely attacking midfielders and the flanks, contributing more than their fair share.

Castillo and Jackson, more specifically, have contributed well in his absence, and have been the source of goals in the three Dallas wins without the Panamanian. In his past three absences FCD has been shutout. It’s a telling statistic about Blas, but even more telling about how the squad, especially early in the season, could perform well without him, but has lost its teeth recently.

Road Form, Road Form, Road Form

If there is one lingering problem from 2012 this is it. FCD is 1-4-5 away from Frisco, the first and only road win coming against New England in the first month of the 2013 campaign. In fact, FCD’s kindred spirits in road form include bottom feeders, Chivas USA, DC United, Toronto FC, and San Jose, all of which have a solitary road win. Seven road points were dropped from winning positions against Chivas, Toronto, and Vancouver. Furthermore, the side is winless on the road against their Western Conference opponents.

To be fair, there were spirited comebacks and late drama in Philadelphia and Colorado, where FCD certainly left it late but salvaged something. The past two stints of road losses have also come during packed schedules when FCD has played three, and sometimes four, games in a matter of nine to twelve days. Even the new depth found in the offseason hasn’t been able to spare FCD from road woes.

Suppose even two of those games, such as the Toronto and Vancouver matches, stayed victories, Dallas would be top of the Western Conference. The margins are that tight at the top, and FCD’s road form is the biggest place for improvement.

Bolstering the Ranks

If nothing else, a week off helps. Blas Perez will return. The walking wounded can return to, well, walking, but more importantly, FCD can take a mental break from the blistering schedule and dismal results of late.

Welcome news arrived recently in the form of Mauro Diaz and Erick, two young and touted South American players (from Argentina and Brazil, respectively) signed through the scouting efforts of Fernando Clavijo. Erick will hopefully integrate into the lineup as a holding midfielder; Diaz will need time (and hasn’t quite arrived in Frisco, yet), but could very well help Dallas out on the outside midfield flanks, as well as an attacking center midfielder.

Clavijo has pled for patience with the signings, especially with Mauro Diaz. Clearly, he may not slide into meaningful minutes for some time. Erick, however, could fill a need a center defensive mid, challenging Jacobson for a share of the minutes. His inclusion in that position could even push Michel to left back, forcing Benitez to the bench. The only setback at the moment with either signing is that Diaz isn’t even in the US yet, and Erick tweaked a hamstring in training this past week.

Diaz’s signing doesn’t put too many jobs in jeopardy, but will be young, inspired competition for Castillo, Jackson, and even Ramon Nunez. Erick’s signing is a portent for Bobby Warshaw and Victor Ulloa, however, in that the two young center defensive mids have yet to find minutes and purpose on the pitch in 2013. Should Erick establish himself, either could be shipped out on loan, or perhaps even off the books by the end of the year. Time will tell. At least there is little chance these signings could be nearly as unfortunate as Pipico or Peter Luccin.

Overall, absences from George John and Blas Perez have plagued FC Dallas on both ends of the pitch in the past six weeks, leading to a dismal nine match winless run. Their vacancies have only exacerbated a team that is tired and a bit out of form. But given the week off, easing of the schedule, and the impending return of a healthy John and Perez will bring needed confidence back to an ailing side. Reinforcements have been brought in, young ones at that, and will hopefully be able to contribute meaningfully down the stretch moving into the final third of the season. 

(image courtesy of Erik Davila)

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.