It has been a while since we have done any sort of game grades on this space. You can blame me for dropping that ball or for not finding someone to replace me. Now that FC Dallas is out of their first (and only) bye week of the 2015 season, it is a good time to access how things are going.
We have had a couple pieces already reviewing this year so far and now we'll put some grades to them here today. We're going to take each group of the team and give them a grade for their performance.
We knew going into the season that we'd see a bit of a split between Chris Seitz and Dan Kennedy. Both veteran keepers battled through preseason with Seitz coming out on top of things to start the season due to some back injuries that kept Kennedy from finishing out the preseason. Seitz did well in the first couple of months, picking up a couple shutouts along the way and looking pretty decent in some USOC matches (not including that SKC loss though).
Kennedy on the other hand has been every bit the keeper we expected him to be since coming over from Chivas USA. He is steady in goal, vocal when the team needs him to be vocal and a total professional between the pipes. He has kept FCD in some games with his saves too, something I'd argue that has been missing out of the last few years in goal for this club.
Lastly, there is Homegrown keeper Jesse Gonzalez. We haven't seen him with the first team yet other than on the bench. But his time with Mexico in the U-20 World Cup was good and he showed very well in the MLS Homegrown Game a couple weeks ago in Denver.
It has been an up and down year for the Dallas defense between the decent amount of shutouts and the sad number of blowout losses. Matt Hedges and Zach Loyd continue to be the key in the middle of the defense while Oscar Pareja has been shuffling fullbacks left and right this year. Walker Zimmerman has been good in spots when the club has needed him to be but we still can see that he has a ways to go in his development before we can bank on him as an every game starter.
The trouble in this area in a way has been the depth. While Pareja has been able to plug new guys in to spots, it has been hard to see a back four group be consistent from game-to-game this season. Some games Atiba Harris will look decent, while Moises Hernandez or Ryan Hollingshead doesn't. Or Je-Vaughn Watson will step up when Harris doesn't.
The club did bring in Bakary Soumare recently to help with the depth in the middle of the defense, seeing how Stephen Keel looks no where near where he should be in terms of health (it seems he's been going one step forward, two steps back all year long in his recovery).
If FCD wants to get to a MLS Cup this year, the defense has to find a fifth gear in my mind. This group can do it and they'll almost certainly be tested in the final two and a half months of the season.
Going into the season the midfield was always a concern in terms of depth - both behind Mauro Diaz and on the wings. FCD made sure to bring in guys like Rolando Escobar and Michael Barrios to help fill that void, while renting Kyle Bekker for a few months didn't pan out.
But somewhere along the way a group did emerge after a rough patch in the early summer months. Kellyn Acosta returned from the U-20 World Cup to pair up with fellow Homegrown Victor Ulloa and the midfield began to take a better shape. Barrios began to get more comfortable while Tesho Akindele was off with the Canadian national team in the Gold Cup. And then Fabian Castillo, was, well...he was the special one that became an All-Star.
There have been plenty of ups and downs with this group in 2015 but thankfully the health of Diaz and Castillo have helped push things forward very nicely through 22 games. Acosta and Ulloa continue to play well beyond their ages and if Barrios or Akindele can continue to lock down the right side of the midfield, Dallas will have a group of players that can contend with any in the league just like we've seen so far this year. Also, knowing that we have the youngest HGP in the league in Alejandro Zendejas and what he could potentially develop into is nice as well.
There are still some holes however. Diaz doesn't have a true back up and we don't know how long it will truly take Ezequiel Cirigliano to figure out MLS (I'm willing to bet we won't see him at his best until next season). Until then, we may be at a wait and see with this group but at least we know so far that it can be a pretty fun ride.
Oh the forwards. This is the group I worry about the most these days. Blas Perez isn't getting any younger. David Texeira isn't really anything special (to be fair we were warned about that going into this with him last year). Akindele doesn't get nearly the minutes up top that he should. And Coy Craft hasn't gotten any time to really develop this season due to injuries.
The gap in the forwards is rather large in terms of age. But also the scoring out of this group isn't that of a championship caliber team. Perez only has five goals on the season to go with Texeria's two and Akindele's three. And while the scoring isn't great, the lack of shots on goal out of this group isn't that great either when you look at some of the top scoring groups in the league.
Simply put, Dallas needs someone in this group to pick up the pace in the scoring department to help take the load off Castillo and Diaz. Having a big threat up top will help relive the pressure off those two and give teams an even tougher time dealing with them.