BDS-1) Real Salt Lake has the highest goal differential in MLS at 10. Nick Rimando and the defense is well known, but who is leading the offensive charge? Is it one player skyrocketing or more of a team effort?
RSL: With Real Salt Lake it is the team effort that has made them consistently good over the past four or five years. However, if I were to name a few players that have stood out this season it would start with Joao Plata. He is currently averaging a higher goal per 90 minutes played rate than is Clint Dempsey. This takes some of the focus off of Alvaro Saborio which allows them both to flourish. Luke Mulholland has also come on the scene and provided another scoring option from the midfield. But at the end of the day this is a very deep team which allows them to plug and play even when the stars are away.
BDS-2) Typically when a head coach vacates his position, the new coach experiences an adjustment period and the club destabilizes while learning a new normal. Jeff Cassar was obviously an assistant coach under Jason Kreis for many years, but what else has happened or Cassar done to achieve such an incredible start in 2014?
RSL: The main thing that Cassar has done to achieve such a great start to 2014 is not to rock the boat. Part of why he got the head coaching job is because he argued that he would be the most logical choice given how long he was under the tutelage of Jason Kreis. Cassar knew that the RSL system was not broken and had no intention of fixing it, rather, he knew that the best was yet to come as evidenced by a lot of the young players just coming into their own over the last season and the beginning of the current one. I personally give credit to his assistant coach picks as well. RSL has position coaches much like the NFL does with a quarterback coach, a running back coach, and so on.
BDS-3. When RSL's internationals return to their club after the World Cup, will they find a still defeated side or one that is a bit more beat up? Who has to step up off the bench during this next stretch to maintain this breakneck pace?
RSL: I am fairly confident that RSL will be able to keep pace. That said, we all know a loss is going to come sooner or later and it will likely be while their three World Cup call-ups are away. In order to keep rolling the impetus falls directly on a couple of players. Cole Grossman played his first full 90 minutes last week against Colorado and he did pretty well. He is no Beckerman, but that is not a knock as nobody in MLS really can do what Beckerman does in that position. He did hold his own defensively but can improve in his distribution. The other is Jeff Attinella. He has some big shoes to fill while stepping in for the best keeper in MLS, but he has done a good job in the times he has needed to step in. Once again, he's not as good as Rimando but that is a tall order. Both of them are gaining valuable experience to hopefully allow RSL to make runs in other competitions.
Next up, I've got my answers to RSL Soapbox's questions.
RSL-1) Dallas started off hot and has cooled off a bit over the past month? To what do you attribute that drop-off and how will FC Dallas overcome it?
BDS: Stupidity and injury have ruined FC Dallas' high-flying start to 2014. Stupidity is defined by the 5 red cards earned, and the soft goals allowed after putting in a solid defensive effort for 89 minutes.
The defensive lapses and disciplinary problems are regrettable. However, the mountain of injuries is insurmountable. I think any team hit with this number of injuries to this many key players would be struggling. Right now, we are missing George John who has been FCD's top defender for years. Andres Escobar, FCD's high impact off season signing has been out with back problems most of this season; he is only recently starting to get some minutes. Kellyn Acosta, the homegrown fullback, is recovering from a knee fracture. Hendry Thomas, FCD's first true enforcer/destroyer type in midfield since Daniel Hernandez retired, is on the mend with a muscle tear. Then of course, Mauro Diaz, FCD's amazing maestro, THE #10, is healing from an unspecified knee injury... out for several more weeks.
Dallas needs some of these players back to recover the season before it's too late and there aren't enough point available to still make the playoffs. Dallas needs the rookies, the homegrowns, and the bench players to stand up and make a difference while their colleagues are getting medical attention. The remaining players need to be disciplined and make the smart plays.
RSL-2) The change in teams for head coach Oscar Pareja was a dramatic one. What are your thoughts on why he wanted the job at FC Dallas and out of Colorado?
BDS: I'm being picky here, but I want to clarify your question. OP was perfectly content in Colorado (as far as I know) and was building a youthful system there. However, North Texas has been home to the Colombian for a long time, and he wasn't going to turn down the Dallas job when the Hunt Family came knocking on his door. The drama bit came right after the 2013 season ended and the coaching search began. Colorado originally told Dallas that they could not approach OP since he was still under contract. FCD's ownership, Hunt Sports Group (HSG), honored this request and started interviewing other candidates. It was only after the Christmas holiday break that I think FCD wasn't seeing a candidate stand out, so they stepped up their negotiations with the Rapids and made headway.
Oscar played for FC Dallas for 7 years then stayed on 5 more after that as an assistant coach and director of the youth academy. I heard that when he took the coaching job in Colorado, he kept his house in Frisco. North Texas has been his home for many years, and we are absolutely delighted to have
him back where he belongs. So to answer your question, OP has been building at FCD for a long time, so it was a foregone conclusion that he would come back to take the head coach job after Schellas Hyndman retired. The wrinkle became "When?" after he took the Colorado opportunity. (And for the record, Dallas fans never held the Rapids job against OP. He was deserving of a shot at MLS head coach for some time. A guy can only be patient for so long.)
RSL-3) Who has been the MVP for FC Dallas so far and why?
BDS: Until he was injured, the obvious answer was Mauro Diaz. His accolades were the subject of many articles earlier this season, and FCD's downward spiral into the hopeless abyss during his absence is further proof of his value. Nevertheless, we must disqualify him for the time being.
A very close second place on the MVP chart is Matt Hedges. He has played every minute of every game in 2014. He's scored twice and added an assist to the stat sheet. For a defender, the towering centerback is surprisingly agile in front of goal. He has generally been a rock in an otherwise revolving roster as Oscar Pareja adjusts for the unrelenting stream of red cards, disciplinary suspensions, and injuries. Matt has quickly grown into a true professional after being drafted just a few short years ago. The backline has been a force to be reckoned with when Hedges is able to partner with George John. However, John has been on a long recovery road spanning the entirety of 2014 up until this point. Without George on the field to marshal the defense, Matt has stepped up vocally on the field - something that is out of his normal comfort zone. For these reasons, Hedges is the MVP through week 12.
That's it for this week. See you again next time!