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Form is Fiction

Bringing context to FC Dallas' recent struggles, and why fans should take short-term dips in form much less seriously.


Following the dual LA disasters of last week, Dallas supporters have been freaking out. This would certainly seem justified given the red stripes' 6 match winless streak. The club has clearly fallen short of the standard it set early in the season and that's simply not fun to watch.

But based only on the fan reactions over the last couple days one would assume that this club is racing with DC United and Chivas USA for the ignominious bonus of the top draft pick and allocation spot next year. Just in comment sections of articles on this site over the last couple day, fans were calling for the benching, selling, and/or firing of Schellas Hyndman, Kenny Cooper, Andrew Jacobsen, Jair Benitez, Zach Loyd, Je-Vaughn Watson, Fabian Castillo, and Jackson, alongside heavy criticisms of Fernando Clavijo, David Ferreira, Matt Hedges, and Ramon Nuñez.

In short, if each critic had their way, Marco Ferruzi would get another run as interim coach on Saturday and would field a mostly-under-21 side against Real Salt Lake.

The simple truth is that single soccer matches are driven in large part by luck, and FC Dallas is neither as bad as recent results, or as good as the beginning of the season, would suggest. These bad spells aren't at all uncommon in MLS, either. Over the last two and a half seasons, there have been 213 six-game runs in which a club earned 4 points or less, as FCD has since June 1.

If we look for only 2-match trends it gets even more obvious that short-term form is a poor predictor. In 2011, 2012, and 2013 so far, here are the percentages of the results following a win, tie, and loss, ignoring the outliers of great (2011 LA & SEA, 2012 SJ & SKC) and terrible (2011 NE & VAN, 2012 CHIV & TFC, 2013 CHIV & TFC & DCU) clubs:2_game_trends_medium
How 'bout them apples? The most common follow-up to a win has been a loss, ties most often lead to wins, and the encores to a loss are about as close to an even distribution as you will ever see in the real world with 450 data points. The losses are tricky, though, and we probably see less wins and ties following them because a significant number of red cards occur in losses. Now we see that for the middle-class majority of MLS, one match's result is close to independent of the outcome of the match that preceeded it, and if anything they trend in reverse of what people tend to expect.


Also, let's bring in some context that people are forgetting as they yell about the 6 match winless streak. The first match was a road draw in Colorado. Not a great performance, but not a terrible result in and of itself. In the second match, Dallas battled quite well in JELD-WEN Field considering they were without a single striker from the 9th minute to the 90th, and only lost 1-0 to a Nagbe golazo.

The 3rd and 4th non-wins were more draws, earned in dramatic fashion to cap poorly-refereed matches. Go back and look at the ties against Kansas City and Philadelphia and you'll see they were riddled with erratic decisions regarding calls and non-calls, cards, PKs, etc. Some of those judgements favored each side, but it all conspired to make it difficult to simply blame the club for getting a point in weird circumstances.

Our Big, Hurt, Greek Difference-Maker

More importantly, George John is an enormous part of this team, and he has missed the last 3 matches with a hamstring issue. As a measure of John's importance, consider that in his 1,080 minutes this year, FC Dallas has averaged 1.58 Goals per 90 (G/90) and 0.83 Goals Allowed per 90 (GA/90). In the 630 played without him, those numbers sink to 1.14 G/90 and 2.00 GA/90. That means that FCD's Goal Differential per 90 (GD/90) is 1.61 goals better when Big George is on the pitch than when he isn't.


For further perspective, the with-John GD/90 of +0.75 would be well ahead of the best in MLS (Portland at +0.61) while the without-John GD/90 of -0.85 is almost as bad as Toronto's -0.89, but a decidedly better than DC's league-worst -1.11. Caveats are necessary here, as these numbers aren't adjusted for fixture difficulty, and many things happen on a soccer pitch that are independent of any single player's influence. But the gap is far too large to ignore, and anyone who has watched this team play can tell you that George John makes an enormous difference to the backline, and to set plays on both sides of the ball.

Where do they go from here?

This isn't to say that Hyndman and his players aren't deserving of criticism. But could we at least ease off the apocalyptic tone when discussing a club that has the 4th-best record in the league? They have had a run of bad results, 4 points over 6 matches, against mostly high-quality opponents. These thing are hard to avoid amidst MLS parity.

When good results turn bad for a spell, doom, gloom, and blow-it-up is a common chorus, but it's not the right one. Surely this club needs some course correction right now (some of which could come just from George John's health), but if the roster is as deeply flawed as some have asserted, it seems rather odd that they performed so well over the first 13 weeks.