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Is FC Dallas Not Good Enough?

Many people around the league are still skeptical of FC Dallas.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Despite their absolutely torrid start, it seems that FC Dallas has yet to impress one particular member of the MLS Media. He's far from the only one who is yet to buy in, but he's prominent in the MLS community.

Matthew Doyle, otherwise known on twitter and on the MLS website as the Armchair Analyst, just isn't impressed enough with FCD's performances early on. It all started when he said to Jeremiah Oshan (SB Nation MLS writer/editor, and a major piece of the Sounder at Heart blog) that Montreal and Dallas have not really impressed him.

(I'd like to point out that I'm usually a big fan of Mr. Doyle's work and love what he does on the site. I think his skepticism is misplaced though.)

I mentioned to him on twitter that Dallas has been winning, and that they aren't responsible for the quality of the competition put in front of him, and this is the exchange that followed:

I replied with my opinion on Sporting Kansas City, and his response left me clueless as to his standards.

What counts as a "pedigree"? Two years of topping the table? Houston hasn't done so, but they earn praise. I am not sure what counts as a pedigree, but I think consistent success is a good way to describe it.

I tried to explain that FC Dallas doesn't need to look pretty to be effective, but he did not reply to me further.

Double Standards and Selective Memory

For someone who's employed as an analyst (of any sort), this is a pretty blatant double standard to hold to.

Dallas does not have a pedigree, so they are hard to take seriously. Really?

It should be noted that Sporting Kansas City have nothing resembling a "pedigree". Last season (2012) was the first time in a long while where Sporting enjoyed consistent success. Lest anyone forget, Sporting were absolutely appalling in the first half of 2011 (one win in their first 11 games), where they played themselves completely out of the playoff picture and had everyone laughing at them in the process.

Yes, they played all of their games on the road, but good teams can get results on the road, and Sporting was not getting any results at all. They were a dreadful, awful team to watch. Later on, their new home opened and they recovered in time to qualify for the playoffs. Not a great year by any standard, but definitely a nice one. It wasn't a banner year for their team, but it didn't need to be.

Is their 2011-2012 season combo much better than than what Dallas has done since 2010?

Dallas won the Western Conference championship in 2010, and in the process lost only four games, which is tied with San Jose for the least losses suffered in the regular season by any team. Dallas proceeded to dominate 3/4 of the 2011 season before injuries and fatigue took their toll on the team. The 2011 season ended with a whimper, but hopefully we all have not forgotten the great soccer we were privy to for most of that season (with David Ferreira out no less).

FC Dallas became the first MLS team to defeat a Mexican team on Mexican soil in a competitive match. They also beat the Sounders in Seattle, dismantled the Colorado Rapids in their first rematch, and took down the hot-streaking Columbus Crew on the 4th of July.

Dallas had a horrific year with injuries last year, with 2012 becoming something of a lost season. Most MLS writers agree on the point that 2012 Dallas was impossible to gauge because at no point did they field their strongest eleven for more than one game at a time.

I guess those 2010-2011 achievements (and ignoring 2012), coupled with our current form, isn't enough to leave a lasting impression.

Things will level out... or will they?

The Armchair Analysts' first reply to me also doesn't mesh with what I understand about our team.

He says he needs Dallas to play better. He believes their wins are all too close for comfort, and that it won't last throughout the season.

That's a reasonable criticism enough coming from a casual observer, but not for someone employed by the league to watch games and comment on them with authority.

Dallas has been lucky at times, yes. Teams in the top tend to have luck break their way. No one ever won a cup or a trophy of any sort without luck favoring them at crucial moments. The biggest heartbreaks for sports fans are the losses that have nothing to do with true skill, and everything to do with rotten luck ruining a moment when both teams are in the thick of it. Dallas has had luck, yes, but that doesn't mean they have not earned their way to the top, or that there is a plausible reason to be cynical about their success.

Goals are goals. The way those goals come about doesn't matter, as without pressure and sustained attack Dallas doesn't get any of the goals they have scored. But the success the team enjoys isn't just reliant on the attack.

The Hoops' defense has earned many plaudits around the league, and is the foundation for all their sucess so far. It's not a stretch to say that Dallas' back four has earned them points that the rest of the team did not deseve. But is the defense any less part of the team than the strikers? Because Dallas relies on a solid defense to get them through the tough times in a match, is that less worthy of consideration? It's not as exciting as three goals a game, but try telling that to the fan whose team just won that those three points. Will that fan care, or will the opposing team earn any points, because Dallas relied on defense and were "unimpressive"?

Even more confusing than his "bah humbug" attitude towards Dallas is his skepticism of Montreal's success. Doyle was also not sold on them either, and that genuinely astounds me.

What good reason is there to be skeptical of Montreal's success? Their depth? That's about the only big flaw in their system that I currently see. Depth can be fixed with money and time. Even so, there's no telling if their bench is as rotten as some would tell you. After all, we did not think much of FC Dallas' depth to start out the season, and it has worked out pretty well so far.

Montreal have gone on the road to win at Portland and Seattle, bested league darlings New York, and have defeated Real Salt Lake just this past week. They have accomplished all these feats with a first year coach and a multinational team. Is there any reason to believe that they will be significantly worse for the rest of the season? It's possible, sure, but unlikely.

Where Dallas Ranks

Is eleven games a decent sample size to analyze things? I think (just about) one third of the way through the season gives an decent measure of all teams, though of course there are obvious exceptions. With that in mind, let's look at where Dallas stands with the rest of the league in several areas:

  1. Dallas is tied with Portland (whose style Doyle seems to be quite fond of in his articles) in goal scored per game. They currently stand at 1.64 goals per game. That's a pretty stellar number, but perhaps we're overdoing it. Maybe just being the best in one category isn't enough. Let's look at another.
  2. Dallas boasts the best goal differential at 7, and why is this? Because FC Dallas' defense has been, to put it politely, absolutely phenomenal. Highly-touted Portland managed only a single goal against a team missing two critical defensive players in Andrew Jacobson and George John.
  3. The Hoops, before the semi-dive DeRo took last Saturday, had not once been scored on in the first half of any game this season. I expect though, that that is no indicator of quality of defense and that FCD will come back down to earth. There is no reliability in that either, I'm sure.
  4. Using the Portland Timbers as a barometer (the league in general is rightfully excited about their success), Dallas beats them in almost every single statistical category save a few, and have done so without the Porterball style that is earning so many plaudits.
If someone were to sit down and carefully observe the team, it becomes plain why the Toros are number one in the league.

They score a lot and concede little. What else is necessary for success than those two things?

Anyone who has watched the games extensively (as FCD fans tend to do) will note that Dallas has a very rapid attack. Dallas simply does not play a possession style game, and hasn't for quite a while. They move forward, attack, and move on. Their system doesn't have "possession" as part of its mantra. Is that a bad thing?

No one system is fool-proof. Porterball's high-tempo, high-pressure, high-line offense is very exciting to watch, and also very, very dangerous for the team that attempts it. It's very easy to get burned on the counter, and if the players are not well-suited to the system they will have to pack their bags and go somwhere else. It's not a system that is free of flaws. Barcelona recently proved against Bayern Munich that even the Most Incredible System Ever (tm) is suceptible against a team that is simply better than their opponents, tactics be damned.

What all this skepticism really does though, is reveal a bias that is a very normal every human being. People tend to prefer that which is pretty and exciting, and Porterball and Sporting Kansas City are certainly that. What it isn't, however, is superior to any other system. Kansas City, who the entire league seems desperate to see succeed, has been all over the park in terms of their form.

One week they are brilliant, the next they are unimaginative, pinging the ball around desperately and doing nothing with all their possession. Portland has succeeded, but it isn't because of a magic formula in their formation. Porter is simply adept at a certain style and is good at teaching it. Would Porter have the same success implementing a catenaccio style, a system that has proven to be enormously successful over the years?

Put simply, possession isn't a magical statistic. Simply having the ball does nothing for you unless you can put it in the back of the net.

I can already hear the explanations: "But Portland/Sporting gets so many chances!"

If they start scoring even more (which would be incredible) then that's a different conversation entirely. Chances, though, aren't goals. If chances were goals, I'm pretty sure FC Dallas would still lead Portland. How many gilt-laced opportunities have our players fluffed not 8 yards away from the net? Chances and exciting play mean nothing if they can't put the ball in the net.

Dallas is neck in neck with Portland in every category that matters, leading them in most of those categories, and leading them in points as well.

But I guess that just isn't enough to convince some people.