Mauro Diaz was the player I couldn't wait to see. Brimming with potential, Diaz was the guy who was supposed to have a breakout season en route to FC Dallas rising up the Western Conference rankings. While his hot start made me a believer, a series of injuries forced Dallas into scramble mode.
Boy, has it been fun to watch.
Instead of building a consistent, reliable game plan behind their #10, Oscar Pareja's team got scrappy and have done what it takes to put themselves in a pretty solid position to make the playoffs. Their style of counterattacking play on the wing has let do the break-out of Fabian Castillo and even, to a lesser extent, Andres Escobar. Blas Perez and Tesho Akindele have often been the beneficiaries of on-point crosses and Michel has taken advantage of the free kicks awarded because of the speed and ball control of the wingers.
Without Diaz, Pareja changed Dallas' lineup. Injuries to other players throughout the season has forced Dallas to put themselves in so many configurations that it's hard to even start to list them.
When Diaz returned, he definitely was not at 100 percent, but even if he had been, FC Dallas had already moved-on to an approach based more in wing play. In fact, Diaz even played on the wing as a substitute in some games this season. Perhaps the wing is where he is most effective moving forward while he continues to rehab to 100 percent fitness.
Those injuries have also made regular contributors out of some players who started the season on the bench. Adam Moffat, Victor Ulloa, Raul Fernandez and Tesho Akindele are four players who have come on to play huge roles for FC Dallas this season.
Think about the players Dallas lost. Hendry Thomas. George John. Chris Seitz. Diaz, for much of the season. An argument could be made that, with everything they've gone through, Dallas has become one of the deeper franchises in the league.
Because of all they've gone through, fans can be really bullish on this team going into the final month. "Full strength" is a relative term at this point in the season. So many players have cut their teeth this year and, if they can get back close to the available players they had in the middle of the season, Dallas will have a ton of lineup and formation options.
If they want to play with five defenders, they will. If they want to play off the wings, great. You want two big, tall options up front? They've got that.
Pareja's lineup options at this point are so numerous, that the second game of a two-game playoff round could be the most fascinating example of coaching adjustments throughout the MLS playoffs. While other teams are trying to "play their game" and "stick to what they do," Dallas is poised to do whatever the situation calls for. This team-wide flexibility has to be Pareja's greatest victory this season. With a month to go, it's not something that even a really fun and interactive game like FIFA can account for.
Look for another FIFA preview next week.