The last few months have been a wild ride in some ways for FC Dallas fans. For the majority of the summer, the club spent a lot of time near or at the top of the Western Conference. During that stretch we saw plenty of good games and performances out of the team, and then some not so good outings (two losses to San Jose ring a bell?).
No matter how you look at it, this team has been a bit Jekyll and Hyde as of late. Some of that has been due to how Oscar Pareja manages things and some of it comes down to the players showing up or not showing up.
As the team heads into the Knockout Round tonight against Portland, there really are only two outcomes in my mind that feel plausible at this point for FC Dallas.
Why they’ll advance and eventually get to a MLS Cup
The old motto “defense wins championships” should be the thing that FC Dallas follows here in the playoffs. When they’ve been good this season, it has largely been due to the leadership in the defense between Matt Hedges and Reto Ziegler. Throw in the abilities of Carlos Gruezo and Victor Ulloa above them in the midfield, and the emerging play of Reggie Cannon, the defense has been a positive aspect of the 2018 season.
Also, as we’ve seen in the past with MLS Cup winners, you don’t always have to be red-hot in the attack. Seattle won a MLS Cup two years ago without putting a shot on goal against Toronto. This teams shown that they can get a result on the road too. That 6-7-4 record away from Toyota Stadium is actually better than that of the 2016 squad that won the Supporters’ Shield (they were 5-7-5 that year).
Dallas has struggled up front as of late but given the streaky nature of Michael Barrios, Maxi Urruti and Santiago Mosquera, sometimes all you need is one goal in the playoffs and each of them can provide just that.
Lastly, when you look at the rest of the Western Conference, no one stands out as the true club to beat other than maybe Seattle. LAFC doesn’t have the experience, RSL doesn’t feel like a threat, Portland is streaky and we’ve seen that SKC can be beaten.
Why the offseason starts on Thursday
The last three weeks have been rough. Rough enough to show that this team looks more like a team that will endure an early exit from the playoffs than one that will make a deep run.
Part of that has been due to how Pareja has been coaching this team. In a small way, he’s out coached himself here by the way he has been handling things tactically. His substitutions in recent games have also been a puzzle that have caused the team to drop points on the road.
The confidence of this team doesn’t look like that of the team we saw in September either. Sure you want a business-like approach to games at this point in the year but you also want to see these guys have a little fun along the way. Maybe the Hall of Fame opening took some steam out of the team as it was a bit of a distraction. Maybe the heavy amount of rain over the last month in North Texas has taken a weird toll on the gang. Or maybe, this group is just flat out run out of gas at this point in the year.
No matter how you spin it, until the attack shows up and really has a complete game. Or until the defense truly locks an opponent down for 90 minutes, this looks like a one-and-done type year for this team in the playoffs.