Let’s jump back into the wayback machine for a second. If I had told you in January FC Dallas was going to be one and done in the Concacaf Champions League, two and done in the US Open Cup, but still in strong contention for two trophies at the beginning of September. What if part of those details included being in first in the West for two months straight, but that we had dumped three of our core players going into the season during the summer transfer window. Would you be content with how the season had gone so far? What’s more, would you believe I was telling the truth? Here’s how the club got there and some speculation on where it goes from here.
Three Quarter Season Recap
Although it doesn’t neatly split neatly by number of games, there are eight months in the regular season, so September essentially started the last quarter of the year. A light first quarter of the season was set up to alleviate fixture congestion so early in the season. On the CCL front...that didn’t work out so well as FC Dallas ended up losing on away goals to Tauro FC. In MLS play, it actually served to benefit the team as they were able to integrate the new parts into the club and start regaining their mojo from 2016. FC Dallas wouldn’t lose its first MLS match until the end of April. FCD ended this quarter with 12 points from their first seven matches, and yet were slightly disappointing given the fact five of those matches were at home.
The second quarter started out much like the first- five points from three games wasn’t bad, but with two of those being matches the team should win, we were left wanting. In particular, a 2-0 lead was squandered against Vancouver in the dying minutes of the match squandering two more precious home points. This prompted a switch from Jimmy Maurer back to presumed #1 keeper Jesse Gonzalez for a road match in Toronto.
Gonzalez responded with arguably the best match by any keeper in MLS this season.
Nine saves (several of the spectacular variety) paired with an Urruti goal secured a 1-0 victory which would be the first of four consecutive league wins (three of which were on the road) which was the best stretch of the season. However, it was the fourth of these games that ended up being Mauro Diaz’s last game with the club. This was followed up with an absolutely dreadful performance at Red Bulls (A 3-0 loss despite playing up a man for over an hour) and the depressing ritual of a USOC exit away to Sporting Kansas City. FC Dallas was able to right the ship with a shutout win at Minnesota United at the end of the month to finish the second quarter with a 6-1-2 league record during that road-heavy span.
The third quarter began with this bit of magic. Enjoy.
At the end of the week, a gassed FC Dallas would be shut out for only the second time all season (FCD has been shut out less than any MLS team this year) at Real Salt Lake, but they ended the week in first place in the West. The club then went unbeaten in their next three (including a win at Spork for the first time in seven years), but followed that up with a disastrous home defeat against San Jose (which lead to another keeper swap), another squandered opportunity for three points at Houston, and another disastrous road defeat against San Jose (which lead to yet another keeper swap). With the only ray of light in that period being a home win against a Quintero-less Minnesota United, swoon talk began in earnest. That being said, a 4-4-2 record wasn’t all that bad especially with the club remaining in first place since the dramatic win against Atlanta.
Oh, I almost forgot; FC Dallas traded away Kellyn Acosta in the middle of all of this. This was the third foundational piece of the roster to be shipped away in the summer window. I’m hard pressed to find example of teams that did this and went on to great success. And yet, here we are having just started the fourth quarter with a comprehensive throttling of the hated Dynamo with seven games to go. There’s not much season left, but there’s silverware and benchmark achievements there for the taking.
Currently, FiveThirtyEight has our average season ending with 59 points and a first round bye in the playoffs. If FC Dallas were able to get just one more point, they would become the first MLS club to earn 60 points in three of four seasons. That most likely won’t be enough for the Supporters’ Shield, however.
That’s because Red Bulls and Atlanta United FC are both on track to reach the mid-60s. Furthermore, they both have easier closing schedules (1.22ppg opp for NY, 1.17ppg opp for ATL) than FCD (1.35ppg), but they do have a head to head match at the end of September. To have a reasonable shot at the Shield, FC Dallas will need to win six of their last seven (four of those on the road). I’ll give the team a 5-10% chance of doing that, and that might not be enough to overtake either.
As for MLS Cup, you know the drill; finishing at the top of the conference has little to do with the playoffs. Last year snapped a five-year run where neither #1 seed from each conference even made the final. It isn’t necessarily a crap shoot, but the playoffs do serve as an entity that’s independent of regular season performance for the most part. A look at the team should give one reason for optimism, however.
One of the favored stats of skeptics to cite is the team’s record since Mauro Diaz last game against Montreal. It’s true the team is only 6-5-2 in MLS play since then, and it’s also true that the only two games FC Dallas has been shutout were within a month of the aforementioned match against the Impact. Of course when uttering this incantation of doom and gloom, I rarely see any mention of 8 of those games being on the road, and yes, life almost always gets harder after a staple of the club moves on. 1.54 points per game during that stretch (still playoff level) is nothing to sneeze at.
With the turnover, it’s a good time to add some more awesome small sample stats. New acquisition Dominique Badji has essentially averaged more than a goal every other game (1g/159min), and since his first game, FC Dallas has averaged 2.2 goals per game (not bad!). Beyond the entirely inadequate quantification, Badji has provided more than just a missing a goal scoring threat up top.
In this observer’s opinion, Badji might just end up being the missing piece. He makes the runs and does the dirty work to clear out a ton of space for his teammates. He might never be a 15-20 goal scorer, but he’s clearing out room/providing an outlet for service to:
Maxi Urruti- who will eat up that space as a goalscorer and who suddenly has more room to make plays.
Santi Mosquera- please stay healthy, and keep being productive.
Michael Barrios- who basically hoisted up the team on his shoulders (still couldn’t see over the wall!) by bagging six goals and three assists in the last seven games.
None of this includes our leading scorer (Roland Lamah), an international player who bagged our biggest goal(s) this year (Tesho Akindele), or our very promising Mauro 2.0 (Pablo Aránguiz). Even Cristian Colmán remains a viable backup in this deftly reconstructed attack. You can’t ask for better depth/flexibility in this league. Keep Chicharito far, far away.
Unlike the attackers, our holding/defensive midfielders have been perfectly stable. Oh wait:
If you were a fan of the team for a year, this stung. Two years and it was a bandage-able wound. Three years to life, it was a full force kick somewhere that hurts really, really badly. The yield was good though; we received Badji, a
potentially high draft pick Badji, and an extra international slot for the next year and a half (we might have to get more).
In a practical sense, this deal has worked out well for both sides. Never mind what we got; Kellyn has provided a real spark to Colorado; they’re no longer like watching paint dry. They’ll probably beat us in the last game of the year to keep us from winning the Supporters’ Shield, and he got called up to play with the Nats this week. Good for, Kellyn.
Also, Carlos Gruezo and Victor Ulloa have been flying under the radar as one of the best defensive midfield tandems in the league. They’re an integral part of a fearsome spine, and FC Dallas’s record shows it. Before this duo activated their Wonder Twin powers, Jacori Hayes showed he was ready for the league as well. Then, and I have no idea how, the club was able to add a guy who played in the World Cup this summer (Abel Aguilar- Colombia) as depth. If everyone falls a part, there’s always this guy when he gets back from the U20 US Men’s National Team.
Probably the biggest difference from 2016 to 2017 was the defense. A dip from tied for fourth on goals allowed in 2016 to 10th in 2017 helped cause a precipitous drop out of the playoffs. In 2018, the back line has reverted close to previous form; Dallas is currently tied for 6th in goals allowed, and the improved results mirror that fact.
Matt Hedges has returned to form this year after a rough patch last year that started after he returned from the Gold Cup. Winter signing Reto Ziegler has been an excellent partner in the middle and, due to his free kick and penalty kick ability, is tied for the lead for goals scored by a defender this year. Reggie Cannon (more on him in a minute) has locked down the right side and started every game this year, and a committee of five different left backs (including yet another midseason departure of importance, Anton Nedyalkov) have upgraded this year’s defense.
Marquinhos Pedroso is the last of the five, and his signing was one the front office absolutely had to get right. So far, Pedroso has provided the two way play necessary to keep the attack balanced while providing solid defense. This has allowed Pareja to keep Maynor Figueroa, Moises Hernandez, Ryan Hollingshead and Kris Reaves (who can play all across the backline) reserved as solid (perhaps best ever?) defensive depth.
For all of the griping, FC Dallas has had reasonably good goalkeeping (no, really). Jesse Gonzalez (8th, 69.0% save percentage) and Jimmy Maurer (10th, 68.1% save percentage) have both performed above the median for keepers who have played 10 or more games. It isn’t a master class, but it has been good enough.
Despite those facts, more consistency between the pipes to end the year would be welcome, and both keepers have delivered enough good to great performances this year that one should probably expect that. If one of these guys can get hot during the playoffs, FC Dallas will win MLS Cup this year.
First and foremost like every other club, FC Dallas is trying to win with the senior team. The club’s secondary goal is to produce talent for the national team and for the international talent mark. FC Dallas has and will continue to attack that goal by shopping for underrated youth abroad and churning out talent from the strongest academy in the US.
To see the success of that at the highest level, look no further than Kellyn Acosta and Weston McKennie- longtime academy players who are almost certain to be fixtures for the US Men’s National Team for multiple cycles. At the club level, the conversation starts with Reggie Cannon.
After playing only one minute in the league last year, Cannon was given the opportunity to make the right back position his. He’s started every game this year. Beyond that, he’s progressed from being a solid defender to a legitimate two way asset for the team. Given his domestic status and salary, he’s the most valuable right back in the league. Watching him grow and thrive this year has been a real treat.
Unfortunately, Cannon is one of the few ‘Homegroan Players’, young internationals, and drafted players who wasn’t shelved for multiple weeks with injury. Santiago Mosquera is just getting his legs this year (and that looks juicy) due to various injuries, Paxton Pomykal might have missed out on a breakout season after knee surgery, and dynamic wing draftee Francis Atuahene saw his season start late due to injury and promising stints at OKC interrupted by additional maladies.
Some of the young guys have earned some good minutes in USL this year. Jesus Ferreira and Adonijah Reid have both had good runs in the last couple of months for Tulsa and Ottawa, respectively. Brandon Servania has also had a good run of matches with Tulsa. He joined up with Pomykal and Chris Richards with the US U20’s last week. Richards himself has been good competitive minutes with Bayern Munich’s reserves (as well as the full team this summer during the International Champions’ Cup preseason tournament), and it is reasonable to wonder if Bayern will just buy him before he every plays a minute with FCD’s senior team.
The Bayern partnership and the rumored/confirmed/not announced but 99% going to happen USL team were two other excellent developments so far this year, and the academy keeps churning out talent. The U19s and U17s started the season this past weekend, and although the older group (missing a handful of players for international duty) fell 2-1 to SKC’s academy, the younger group absolutely hammered SKC’s group, 7-0. The U17s also made it to the LIGA MX Internacional Final for a second consecutive year, with Ricardo Pepi taking home the tournament’s Golden Boot. Youth development continues to be a strong suit for the club, and there’s little reason to believe that won’t be the case for the foreseeable future.
That’s the tale of the season so far. All things considered, it’s been a very good year, and yet we’re all wanting just a bit more. Lost points here and there and a slow start to the season have been balanced out by a strong road record and a few other results (Colorado and Atlanta) there were saved deep into games, all of which was surrounded by a not insignificant re-tooling of the roster midseason. Getting the climax right will be key if the team wants this year to go down in the annals as one of the great seasons in club history, but there’s reason for optimism as fall approaches.