COLUMBUS, OH - MAY 12: Fabian Castillo #7 of FC Dallas, left, celebrates his first half goal against the Columbus Crew with teammate Blas Perez #9 of FC Dallas on May 12, 2012 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Things are about as dark as they've been in awhile for FC Dallas right now, it's tough to deny that fact. The offense is seemingly broken while the defense has pitched just one shutout. It's looking quite likely that once every Western Conference team has played 12 games, FCD will be sitting in last place in the conference.
On the other hand, there's definitely reasons to be optimistic. Injuries, suspensions and just flat out bad luck cannot be blamed for everything, but you certainly feel there was 5 or 6 points that have been lost because of those things. I'm generally a glass half full kind of guy that thinks this thing will get turned around, while you may be expecting FCD to miss the playoffs for the first time in 2009. Whatever side you fall on, I'm going to give you three in-depth reasons to be optimistic and three reasons to worry. We'll start with the bad and end with the good.
Reason #1 to Worry: Struggles On The Road
FC Dallas has been awful on the road, there's no way around it. With an 0-4-1 record, Dallas is one of three teams along with Portland and Toronto that has yet to win a game on the road this year. FCD in their rise to prominence in the Western Conference has made one of their calling cards the fact that they come to play on the road and give you a game whether it's home or away, unlike many MLS teams.
In the past two years, Dallas is 10-10-12 on the road, a hugely respectable road record and near the top of the league for road points over the last two seasons. You can afford a slip up or two at home every now and then as long as you get some points on the road, but Dallas has not done that. While it can not be ignored that FCD has played a pretty tough road schedule up to this point (at KC, at DC, at VAN, at LA, at Crew), you've got to find a way to get more than one point from five games if you want to be competitive in the ultra-tough Western Conference.
Readon #2 to Worry: Defensive Inconsistency
Daniel Hernandez: "But again, it's the little things that have been costing us games all season. Whether it's making a mistake and getting a red card, or ending the game slipping up and making a mistake and letting the opponent back in the game. This was a game I think we could've held on with a tie. It was just one simple assignment that somebody wasn't marking up at the top of the box where they should've been and it cost us the game."
Getting the little things wrong will get you killed in this league. Not marking up on set pieces, poor communication, bad passing out of the back, they're all problems that you see in teams near the bottom of the table. Through 12 games this season, the Dallas defense has allowed 18 goals, tied with Toronto FC for the most in MLS and tied with LA for second worst in the league goals per game allowed. That just boggles my mind.
Last year, FC Dallas allowed their 18th goal in the 19th game of the season! Now last year's franchise record scoreless streak is not something that should be expected, but it is unacceptable that a back four with this much talent is producing this poor of results. Zach Loyd, George John, Ugo Ihemelu, Jair Benitez, Kevin Hartman and to a lesser extent Hernan Pertuz have all shown to be in the upper half of MLS defenders.
The offensive struggles can be somewhat excused with the injuries/absences of Shea, Villar, Ferreira etc...but those excuses do not apply to the defense. There have been red cards, but just one shutout in 12 games is not good enough, especially at home.
Reason #3 to Worry: 9 Months of Mediocrity
FC Dallas was 11-2-5 in the first 17 games after David Ferreira went down to injury, an incredible run that everyone involved with deserves a ton of credit. However, dating back to August 1, 2011, FC Dallas is 6-13-4, a pace of 32 points over a 34 game season that would find you at near the bottom of the table. Yes, Ferreira is the MVP and it very much hurts to lose him, but 23 games is not a small sample size and at some point you are what you are.
No matter who the player is that you lose, you must adjust to life without them and cannot keep hoping that they will come back and save the day. As Billy Beane once said "Hope is not an option." It's easy to blame the last 9months on Ferreira's absence, but fans don't want to hear about all that. Results are what matters and the results have not been there for a team with way more talent than their record has shown.
Ok, now that we've gotten that out of the system, the good news!
Reason #1 to Remain Optimistic: Rest is Coming
To an extent, things have been a perfect storm to start this season. The injuries and suspensions have come at exactly the same time as the busiest stretch of MLS games in the season. When next Saturday's game at Real Salt Lake ends, Dallas will have finished a stretch of 9 games in 36 days including three out of five weeks with Wednesday games. Also frustrating is every single one of those three busy weeks ended with a road game rather than a home game. It's a brutal stretch, there's no doubt about it.
However, there is rest coming. In the 34 days after the RSL game next Saturday, Dallas will play...drumroll....just two games, at Houston and vs Chivas USA in Frisco. While there should be a couple Open Cup games mixed in there, there will be no better time for FC Dallas than the month of June to get everyone healthy, even David Ferreira, and hit the second half of the season healthy, ready to go. It will be essential for Dallas to get some points out of the three games next week so the mountain isn't too high to climb in the second half.
Reason #2 to Remain Optimistic: This Team is Talented!
This is not an expansion team we're talking about that's struggling here. This is the same back six (Hartman, Loyd, Ugo, John, Benitez, Hernandez) that got you to MLS Cup in 2010! You just have to think that surely they put it together at some point. Hope is not an option, but believing that players can replicate past performances is certainly understandable.
Finding the right mix in midfield with Shea, Castillo, Jackson, Jacobson, Villar and (Hopefully) Ferreira should come and they have the exact forward that they need in place. Perhaps the same reason why were all so frustrated with the way the season has started is because everyone knows what this team is capable of. It's like the teacher who is harder on the kids with more potential, if FC Dallas wasn't necessarily capable of the spectacular then expectations would be tempered, but when this team has their best XI on the pitch it's an MLS Cup contender. Now they just need that to happen, which goes back to reason #1 to be optimistic.
Reason #3 to Remain Optimistic: It's May
I'm probably the most guilty of this as anyone, but how many times have Dallas fans celebrated the demise of the Houston Dynamo as they sat in a similar position to what FC Dallas is in right now, only to have them make their traditional run and end up right in the thick of things at the end. When you have a team as talented as FCD, a lighter schedule in the second half(with no Champions League, unlike their competition) and David Ferreira returning to the fold, there's certainly a ton of reason to be optimistic.
In the current MLS playoff structure, FC Dallas needs to finish 5th or better in the Western Conference to make the playoffs which will mean finishing above three teams out of RSL, Seattle, LA, Chivas, Vancouver, Colorado, Portland and San Jose. It's certainly do-able and once you're in, it's whoever is playing the best at that time. FC Dallas won at RSL and at LA to make Cup in 2010. There's a long, long way to go in this story that is only about 1/3 over.