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Western Conference Preview: FC Dallas

What can we expect in 2016 from the team that finished first in the West in 2015?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Under coach Oscar Pareja, FC Dallas outperformed expectations by slipping into the playoffs in 2014 and then shocked everyone by winning the Western Conference in 2015. Going into Pareja's third year in 2016, the expectation for FC Dallas is even higher - to compete for the MLS Cup.

Dallas relied on striker David Texeira down the stretch last season because he harried defenders into making mistakes with an intense work rate. Panamanian Blas "Super Raton" Perez was called off the bench for last minute goals. Both have been dumped in the offseason and FC Dallas moved up in the Re-Entry Draft to snag Maxi Urruti, who will be expected to lead the line. Urruti was typically an option late in games for Portland, but in Dallas he will likely get his wish to be a starter. Urruti joins fellow Argentinean Mauro Diaz, with whom he appears to already be forming chemistry. In their most recently friendly against Salvadorian champions Alianza FC, they each bagged 2 goals in a 4-0 demolition. Former Rookie of the Year Tesho Akindele, now entering his third year after a sophomore slump, will be expected to spell Urruti at striker.

Young Ecuadorean international midfielder Carlos Gruezo joins FC Dallas from VfB Stuttgart. He was the fourth-youngest player at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the second-youngest to start. Gruezo has made 18 appearances for Stuttgart and 10 for Ecuador since 2014. Dallas General Manager Fernando Clavijo explained that Gruezo handed a transfer request to Stuttgart, voluntarily leaving the Bundesliga for MLS, because he saw that Pareja did not hesitate to play young players. 20-year old Kellyn Acosta and 23-year old Victor Ulloa played nearly every minute at defensive midfielder last season. While they did a great job, this was not ideal according to Clavijo as they could have used rest. The addition of Gruezo and newcomer Juan Ortiz, who at 28 years old has already played 241 Colombian first-division matches, will mean that all four defensive midfielders can rotate and stay fresh.

On the backline, Dallas has brought in Honduran World Cup international and Premier League veteran Maynor Figueroa, who can play left or center back. Oscar Pareja has discussed moving utility man Ryan Hollingshead back into the midfield from left back. The unexpected departure of JeVaughn Watson for family reasons leaves a vacancy at right back as well. If Figueroa or Walker Zimmerman plays next to Hedges at center back, Zach Loyd could play left back if Pareja chooses to deploy Atiba Harris at right back. Jesse Gonzalez returns after leading the league in goals against average, although he may miss some time to star for Mexico in the Olympics this summer. Chris Seitz is a more than capable fill-in if Gonzalez misses any time.

Dallas has a core of players entering their prime. Mauro Diaz, Fabian Castillo, and Matt Hedges are 23 to 26 years old and in the top few players at their positions in MLS. Barrios came into the team last year and was a significant contributor in the second half of the season. Youthful players like Kellyn Acosta, Victor Ulloa, Jesse Gonzalez, and Ryan Hollingshead were surprisingly effective last year and are now a year older and wiser.

Bottom Line: Dallas has a deep roster with contributors ready to step up in every position. The only missing piece is a proven 15-goal striker. Can Urruti provide the requisite number of goals or will a summer swoop be needed?

Projected Strongest Lineup: