For those of us who have followed MLS, we've come to recognize a phenomenon that seems singularly unique to our league – teams that start their seasons well frequently end them prematurely and teams that flounder at the beginning of the season often walk away with the MLS Cup (Exhibit A – Seattle Sounders).
There are many theories as to the cause of the fade, but there is one certainty which all would agree upon: winning the Cup is a case of the “tortoise and the hare”, so to speak. A fast start can cause a team to burn out too quickly, peaking before the grind of the playoffs. Better to “keep your powder dry” as they like to say in the Lone Start State. But how do you do that without losing games along the way? Well, that's the trick, isn't it? Good thing we have Oscar Pareja manning the tiller. He knows when and how to use youth to wear out an opponent better than any other coach, and this year the team is overflowing with talented and experienced youth.
The fade is the result of a long season through a brutally hot summer coupled with extensive long-distance travel itineraries, mixed in with the one overriding phenomenon – being figured out by the opposition (once that opposition has had sufficient time to find your Achilles' heal). There will always be “world beaters” that appear out of obscurity at the beginning of each season. Just for fun, watch how many fade into oblivion before the season ends. Case in point – Fabian Castillo. Once opponents played against him enough times, his shortcomings were glaringly magnified and his production suffered horribly. In essence, his opponents figured him out (except for that “Rabona” assist).
As for FCD, well, Dallas' early departure from the playoffs last year could be blamed on a risky change in formation that backfired into full blown dumpster fire, but the real problem was plain as day – the team was completely dependent on Mauro Diaz to orchestrate an attack. We all saw this one coming.
AS one might expect, in the offseason, Dan Hunt, Pareja and Fernando Clavijo made it JOB ONE to address this issue, knowing that history has a tendency to repeat itself (and knowing that Diaz has been excessively injury prone for years).
Mauro Rosales fit in brilliantly last year as a stopgap, but he's long in the tooth and no longer capable of giving a full 90. He rendered yeoman service last year but is most likely not going to make this roster in favor of the youth movement. The team is looking for a more permanent solution. That being said, Paxton Pomykal may be the eventual understudy or even a midfield tandem partner, but that's simply too much to expect of a 16 year-old right now.
So what can FCD do?
Enter one Javier Morales, a truly elite two-way midfielder. We're catching Javier at the tail end of his career, but he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder from how Real Salt Lake kicked him to the curb. Their loss is our gain, and that's one hell of a gain. He can dominate a midfield just like Diaz and he is deadly, and I mean DEADLY on dead balls.
Javier can make virtually all of the passes that Diaz can. He's not a magic unicorn, but he's a maestro on the pitch when his game is on. He's even better than Mauro at long distance shooting – something this team has been lacking for several seasons now.
So the FCD brain trust has been proactive in addressing the “fade” by bringing in a clone of Diaz with some gas left in the tank. (let's hope it's not just “fumes”!) At the same time, they're fast-tracking Pomykal so that he can sub in as needed (the kid plays beyond his years – this preseason has shown that consistently).
Pareja also wanted to address the fatigue aspect of the fade, and our improved conditioning means that FCD is a much more fit team than in past years, with speed at all positions. This will cause the other teams to lose steam faster than our players, especially when their legs get heavy at the end of the season – or the end of a playoff game when extended time is highly probable. In MLS, speed is becoming a major factor in transforming perennial also-rans into world beaters, and FCD is once again ahead of the curve on this one. Clavijo and Pareja place a high premium on speed, because as everyone knows, “you can't teach speed.” The team has brought in speed at every position and is raising the bar. FCD will once again be a nightmare for other teams... and it's all by design.
“Busca la forma” has several meanings... most of them roughly translate “finding your way”. In this context, I think Oscar has already found the way. As a consequence I think we will hoist the Cup this year, once and for all... because our coaching staff has a solid formula for overcoming the dreaded fade.