By Jason Poon (@jasonhpoon)
2014 was about the return of a legend in Oscar Pareja to coach the Hoops, the final breakout season of a young promising attacker in Fabian Castillo and the return to playoffs after a two season absence. 2014 was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Dallas after Pareja was snatched up from Colorado days before the SuperDraft, but the emergence of several young stars (Mauro Diaz, Tesho Akindele, and Victor Ulloa) pushed Dallas into the post season and came within a goal of reaching the Western Conference Finals.
2015 will be about correcting some of their own mistakes (red cards), fitness issues (injuries), improving on the little things (fewer shots against), and making another deep run into the playoffs to challenge for the MLS Cup. I wrote some similar stuff here at BigDSoccer.com, so if this looks familiar, well there you go.
The most infuriating part of watching FC Dallas in 2014 had to be their propensity to needlessly shoot themselves in the foot time and time again. Dallas was the most red carded team in MLS last season with 10 send offs. Chivas USA were second with nine and Toronto and Columbus tied for third with seven a piece. It's an entirely different story if you go in for a potentially goal saving tackle and miss or deliberately handle the ball ala Luis Suarez circa World Cup 2010, but those are professional fouls to eliminate a goal scoring threat. Dallas did none of that in 2014. Every single red card was a result of poor decision making, rash challenges and plain silliness.
FC Dallas gave up at least eight points from matches where they picked up a red card in 2014, and that only accounts for the games that the red card took place, not the games missed following the suspension. Let's give Dallas the best case scenario that they didn't pick up those reds and secured all 8 points, that would have put them with 62 points, ahead of LA Galaxy and good for second place in the Western Conference last season. Or, we'll be more reasonable and conservative give them half of the points (4), that still would have elevated Dallas to third place. Bottom line, Dallas has to stop picking up pointless red cards if they want to give themselves a chance at becoming one of the elites in MLS in 2015.
The biggest question mark for me about this Dallas team is how will the defense hold up over the course of the season. If you'll take a quick look at the player transactions (as of 2/27/15) you'll notice something about the defense, namely that lots of players have left and few new players have come in to replace them:
Incoming: Michael Barrios (Uniautónoma/Colombia), Kyle Bekker (Toronto FC), Otis Earle (UC Riverside/SuperDraft), Atiba Harris (San Jose Earthquakes), Dan Kennedy (Chivas USA), Alex Zendejas (Homegrown)
Outgoing: Jair Benitez (Águilas Pereira/Colombia), Walter Cabrera (loan return to General Diaz/Paraguay), Andres Escobar (loan return to Dynamo Kiev/Ukraine), Raul Fernández (Universitario de Deportes/Peru), George John (New York City FC), Peter Luccin (option declined), Adam Moffat (New York Cosmos), Brian Span (waived), Hendry Thomas (option declined), Jonathan Top (option declined), Nick Walker (option declined), Je-Vaughn Watson (unattached)
Out went standout defender George John, and defensive midfielder Hendry Thomas. Granted John didn't play any minutes in 2014 and Thomas was limited to just 10 games so they didn't contribute much, if at all, to the team's defensive woes but the outlook was more positive had they recovered from their injuries and stayed with the team. The lack of incoming players to replace them is concerning and just who will step up for Dallas in ball winning and preventing goal scoring opportunities?
Dallas gave up an atrocious 14.4 shots per game, which was only bested by San Jose's even more inept defense which shipped 16.1 shots per game. In the Western Conference, the team average of shots against was 13.1. Dallas will have to do better in this department if they are hoping to improve in 2015.
Related to the above but at the moment, Dallas only has three true centerbacks on their roster in Best XI candidate Matt Hedges, former first round draft pick Walker Zimmerman and serviceable journeyman and fan favorite Stephen Keel (who is currently out injured). Zach Loyd (who actually did extremely well here), Moises Hernandez and Je-Vaughn Watson (not on the team) all took shifts there last year, but if one of the CBs goes down with an injury, a makeshift backline will be in the works again. With Zimmerman having only played in 17 total games (13 starts) in his two seasons in MLS, asking the young CB to go an entire year injury free might be too much to ask so soon.
MLS Player of the Month in March, Mauro Diaz also spent a lot of time on the sidelines having only played in 17 games (9 starts) as well. Dallas did eventually figure out how to win points without their magical unicorn of a playmaker, and switched to a more direct counter attacking style of attack, but Diaz offers a vision and passing ability that no one else in the league can match at the moment.
The outlook for 2015 is hard to determine at the moment. We've seen teams like DC United go from worst to best in the East in the matter of two consecutive seasons and we have seen teams like the San Jose Earthquakes go from Supporter's Shield winners in 2012 to whatever you want to call them last year. I'm cautiously optimistic that Dallas will be even better in 2015 but the history of the league has shown us that predictions are entirely a crapshoot at this point.