Now that the preseason is underway for FC Dallas, it is time to take a look at the top storylines to lookout for in 2016. From staying healthy, to Champions League play, to remaining a contender in the Western Conference, there is a lot going on this season for FCD.
1. Aging youth
The last two seasons under Oscar Pareja have been all about the youth movement and how well the younger players have been playing. Now that Pareja enters year three as manager we know what to expect, his team will be young and fast.
For all of that it means that the young guys that we all know and love are experienced players now. Homegrown stars like Kellyn Acosta and Victor Ulloa continue to gobble up minutes. Jesse Gonzalez has found himself to be the next big thing in goal. And then our Designated Players in Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo continue to be themselves.
The youth movement is proving to pay off in Dallas but hopefully it means that the experience this squad has gained the last two years can be cashed in for an even bigger prize this season.
2. Health as always is key
The 2015 season saw injuries go down in a massive way from 2014. Gone were the random hamstring injuries that plagued the team in the past. But with the added games on the calendar this year and the less favorable schedule, injuries will more than likely be a thing that happen again this season. If Dallas is able to stay away from the injury bug like they did in 2015, a deep run in the playoffs will certainly be possible again.
3. Crowded schedule
I mentioned the schedule above. This year's slate is going to be difficult at times, not just because of the involvement in Champions League but also due to how some months are laid out. Last year the club had a lot of four-game months that saw them split time fairly evenly between home and away. This year won't be the same as there will be more midweek games to deal with and some fun travel at tough times in the year.
As long as the club can get out to their usual hot start, it will go a long way in helping stay above the red line.
4. What will the defense look like?
Right now we know some of the key guys are still going to be Matt Hedges, Zach Loyd, and Je-Vaughn Watson. But there are still debates about who will be at left back and whether or not Loyd will get moved back to the wings with some newcomers joining the team.
I think the bigger thing could also be how this group plays with newcomer Carlos Gruezo. The chemistry between the back line and the duo of Ulloa and Acosta did a lot to guide the team to a first place finish in the Western Conference last year, so messing with that is a gamble. Thankfully, Gruezo is coming in during preseason instead of during the middle of the year like some Designated Player signings do in this league. That will help as the team goes to Colombia and Arizona this preseason as players get to know one another.
5. How will the Hall of Fame construction mess with game-day atmosphere?
During the playoff run last year, there was a good buzz in the air at games. Toyota Stadium had an energy level to it that I hadn't seen in some time. But now with the south end set to be demolished to make way for the National Soccer Hall of Fame, will that energy get sucked out with it? Or will the smaller crowd only enhance the way things sound and look? Time will certainly tell on that front.
6. Will FCD get a 15-goal scoring striker?
I should continue to stress that the MLS transfer window has not yet opened. That means there is still plenty of time to get a quality striker to join the likes of Tesho Akindele and Maximillano Urruti. Not to mention the load of TAM that the team still has to spend on someone.
Still, even with Castillo, Diaz and Michael Barrios in the midfield behind the striker, is there enough up front to carry the load that FC Dallas needs? Right now I think we'd all agree that there probably isn't a 10-goal scorer up front on this team. But, in years past that wasn't a big deal. The scoring was spread out enough in 2015 that the team didn't have to rely on a guy to get 15 goals from the forward position.
On the other hand, we all know how important that is to the success of the team.
7. International absences
While injuries were way down last year, the amount of international call-ups were up massively last year. So far this season, FCD has already had a hand-full of players called up by their respective national sides. With the Copa America tournament in the country this summer along with World Cup qualifying that will take place, this will be a very busy year for international players. That means quality depth will be key as guys like Akindele, Atiba Harris, Watson, maybe even Castillo, Gruezo and Gonzalez get called up.
8. Champions League involvement
Right now we don't know which teams FCD will face in the group stage but we know one thing is certain, they won't get a Mexican club with the way groups are drawn. They'll find out their fate later this year, likely around the summer time.
9. First year with Oklahoma City
Let's be honest, the affiliation deal with Arizona United SC last season was a downer. Only two players were loaned out and neither ended up staying on board with FC Dallas at the end of the year. So far, things seem different with Oklahoma City. The two sides were at the MLS Combine together and have been working with one another since the end of the 2015 season. Dallas picked a couple players in the draft that could be good fits on the OKC roster if they don't end up in Frisco this season.
The most important thing about this deal could be how close the two sides are on the map. Players and staff can get to OKC fairly easy and within the same day in a car unlike Arizona.
10. Will Moises Hernandez return from exile?
We thought last year would be one of those big stepping stone years for Homegrown fullback Moises Hernandez. Instead it was a year that saw him go from starter, to international team player with Guatemala, to a guy that struggled to get any time on the field what so ever at the end of the season. The competition at left back is still going to be very tough in 2016 as Ryan Hollingshead looked to have taken over that role in the final months of last year. For all of our sake here, we do hope to see a healthy and determined Hernandez in 2016.
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What are some storylines that you are interested in looking at in 2016? Sound off below with them.