Fabian Castillo

FC Dallas 2017 Season Preview by Phil Luetchford

US Open Cup. Supporters’ Shield. Coach of The Year. Defender of the Year. You might not believe it, but Dallas will be even deeper and scarier in 2017.

2016 Review

Finally, some hardware! In 2016 FC Dallas ended a 19-year trophy drought by winning the US Open Cup and the Supporters’ Shield, but fizzled out in the playoffs without the magic of Mauro Diaz, who went down due to an Achilles tendon tear. Interesting how the injury occurred against Seattle and then it was the “#NotMyMLSCupChampion” Sounders that benefited in the playoffs, isn’t it? Real fútbol fans know that the team at the top of the table is the true league champion (eds note: we puked a little in our mouth, too. The homerism dies down from here, we promise).

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2016 ASA PREVIEW: FC DALLAS by Jason Poon

The 2015 campaign was a mixed bag for FC Dallas. On one hand, we saw a young club defy the odds and make a serious claim to be trophy contenders, matching New York Red Bulls on points for the Supporter's Shield only to lose out on goal differential. Then in the playoffs, the Hoops made a strong run, knocking off Seattle in penalties in the semi-finals, but ultimately withered under the pressure of the Portland Timbers in the Conference Finals. In both instances, real, actual silverware was a realistic possibility but ultimately the club fell short and the trophy barren run continues to haunt this franchise. (Last and only significant trophy was the 1997 Open Cup.)

While the club failed to claim any silverware, there were plenty of significant positives from their 2015 campaign that Oscar Pareja and company hope to build on for 2016. FC Dallas is known to have one of the best academies in MLS, which has regularly promoted and integrated academy graduates into the first time. Most notable was the emergence of both El Tri U-23 starting keeper Jesse Gonzalez, who wrestled the starting position from two MLS veterans (Dan Kennedy and Chris Seitz) and USMNT prospect Kellyn Acosta in the midfield. The academy's shining moment was on Sunday, September 6 at Mapfre Stadium against the Columbus Crew when Pareja started four homegrowns across the midfield (Alex Zendejas, Acosta, Victor Ulloa and Coy Craft) along with Gonzalez in net and produced a stunning 3-0 road win.

A look at the goalkeepers after the jump.

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Darlington Nagbe And The Very Good Season by Harrison Crow

A couple of weeks ago, while listening to Major League Soccer Soccer dot com's very own podcast, Extra Time Radio, Alexi Lalas provided some insight to the emergence Darlington Nagbe. The newly-minted US International and always-minted Portland starlet's blossoming can simply be chalked up to "more touches." It's not that I disagree with that synopsis, but I feel that is too simplistic.

Nagbe has been excellent for years. We've seen him time after time change matches with moments that are breathtaking. His biggest problem has always been consistency, going multiple matches without directly being the influence that should be expected from his talent. Of course, "consistency" is just sports fans' code word for "he's not good enough often enough."

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MLS Semifinals Tactical Preview by Coleman Larned

There are a multitude of tactical questions facing each remaining team in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Can New York's retooled wing-backs be relied on to defend capably? Can the Crew maintain a consistent attack with Federico Higuain's inconsistent performances? Can anything be done to stop Dallas' attack through Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo? And how will suspensions affect Portland's midfield? I'll examine each of these questions and provide a tactical preview of of the Conference Finals below.

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"Positions" are a lie. by Benjamin Harrison

By Benjamin Harrison (@NimajnebKH)

The idea of a player “position” is too inflexible.

We know – as fans – that that there are more than 11 different types of soccer players. We simply assign them titles which match a variety of on field roles, and some of those labels fit better than others. A “defensive” midfielder may also be a holding midfielder, is likely a central midfielder, and could even be a deep-lying playmaker. We may use the more nuanced terminology in a basic narrative description of game play – but there is no standard definition for how those roles might translate into measurable events. Soccer analytics is often left with a set of basic positions to categorize play on the field. These are reflected fairly well in the most basic statistics measured by OPTA. Consider a set of 209 players receiving starts over the 2014 season:   

The raw data here is collected from whoscored.com. Pass attempts per 90’ accordingly excludes crosses and set pieces. “Defensive actions” are all tackles (successful or not) interceptions, clearances, and blocks. Where deemed useful, I used the position selection option from whoscored (this is an extremely useful tool for reasons that will hopefully become evident over the course of this post) to restrict the player to a dataset which fit into an assembled 11-man lineup (only 11 starters- a potential lineup, were chosen from each team). Although positional differences are apparent in the basic biplot, the accumulation of passes and defensive actions also incorporates aspects of style – the pace of play – which vary considerably by team. To remove team context, I summed up the pass and defense rates by team and converted the axes to share of team actions for the 2014 dataset.

We’ll be using the 2015 dataset (raw data collected from whoscored as of April 23rd) through the remainder of this post. These 232 data points have been assembled using a slightly different approach – collecting all player statistics with a cutoff of 270 minutes game time, and normalizing individual numbers to the team average. Players who change positions between games should be expected to blur some position-specific distinctions, but major changes in player role are infrequent enough to be overwhelmed by the general trends. Despite the modest differences in method, the two plots exhibit predictably comparable values – there are a finite number of actions teams can take in a game, and a limited number of general tactical formations used in MLS (and soccer, in general).

The modified plot clarifies how the team uses the particular player as a share of its overall play. When the plot is constrained to a team-specific lineup, it can be a useful tool for visualizing average tactical setup, changes between seasons/games, and tactical adjustments to game state (check out the three links for some handy case studies specific to Seattle Sounders play). Positional differences remain apparent, but considerable overlap persists between categories, and their range implies poorly-matched roles. So long as a “midfielder” can have the same share of team actions as both a striker and a central defender, it remains a poor label. Overly broad player categories force the statistical comparison of different player roles having vastly different circumstantial difficulty (see, for example, this study of players with similar attacking midfield roles to Lamar Neagle). Often, difficult behavior is associated with exactly those aspects of play that lead to team success:

“Chances” are defined here as the sum of all assists, key passes, and shots. Offensive “touches” are the sum of basic passes, cross attempts, and shots. Evaluating player performance based on skill-dependent statistics is dependent upon a thorough assessment of player behavior. We need player typing to be as diverse as on-field roles, and as indifferent to nominal “position” as possible. The statistics used to characterize type should be characteristic of role and as far removed as possible from player quality/skill (e.g., shooting rate should discriminate attacking players, but the ability to generate shots is descriptive of quality, so it is not useful as a role-dependent statistic). Finally, we shouldn't use so many statistics in constructing a model of roles such that the result becomes overfit to specific players or contains redundancy (e.g. including two different types of basic passing rates – say, short passes and long passes – would exaggerate role difference specific to distribution).

For now, with the 2015 dataset, I assessed pass and defense share as described above.Goalkeepers have been excluded (it is interesting to include them in team analysis, but their position label is relatively effective). I also calculated and recorded dribbles/touch (measuring attacking style on the ball) and crosses per touch (wide vs. central play). I then relativized each of these four role indices to its 210-player maximum and performed a hierarchical cluster analysis on the resulting data matrix:  

I chose a position for pruning the tree (dashed line) that identifies 15 discrete player clusters grouped by role similarity by the four indices (this step is arbitrary this time, but will be automated in the future). Alongside each, I’ve roughly characterized the differences picked up in the analysis on a scale of --- (well-below average) to 0 (average) to +++ (well-above). Notice, if we move the cutoff line to the left to define only 3 groups, these would be primary defenders at the top, wide players in the middle, and central attackers at the bottom. Running a principal components analysis on the same dataset, let’s take a look at the differences between nominal position and cluster identity on the two first axes of variation. 

The overlap problem with position is considerably reduced (though not absent) with cluster identity. To be useful, the cluster identities must also exhibit superior discrimination of role difficulty. Short pass accuracy is a skill-dependent statistic, but highly variable depending on situation:  

Here the short pass accuracy by position is compared to that by cluster (cluster 11 is excluded, since it is simply Fabian Castillo – the point guard man who never encountered a ball he didn't want to dribble past an opponent). Many clusters exhibit a substantially tighter range of values than for the position counterparts – remember that these categories have not been defined by any values that explicitly measure skill or quality. Within clusters (or between closely related clusters) players should show similar statistical performance unless otherwise influenced by skill (as shown with the previously linked example concerning Neagle). No matter how well we characterize situational difficulty (e.g. how far from goal a shot is taken, or the direction, location and length of a pass), constraining the performance of peers provides a more complete characterization of expected result.

Providing context for player evaluation is only part of the value of this approach. The performance of individual players is strongly controlled by myriad factors even beyond team and role context. Grouping similar players may allow us to address questions that would be otherwise complicated by sample size. Take, for example, the question of whether any player can be considered to overperform or underperform expected goals.  

If a style-specific skill in finishing exists, the grouping of similar players – with the resulting increase in sample size – might allow its detection more readily than would be the case measuring goal records for an individual player subject to seasonal noise, team context, and age-related development trends. However, the modest differences between xG and G in the data above should probably be considered a vindication of the model, if anything. Attackers with substantially different on-field roles and shot selection still exhibit predicted finishing success. Still, this approach may warrant further testing in the future with more refined role discrimination and a larger dataset.

The four-index model above warrants more work. Some player groups are very effective, but others clearly could benefit from different weighting prior to clustering and/or additional indices. Take, for example, cluster 15 which mainly incorporates central attacking players with fairly average pass share. The cluster also picked up Vancouver CB Pa Modou Kah, who has exhibited abnormally low pass and defense shares for his role so far in 2015. The present dataset may also suffer from limited sample size (any set of a few games may lead to some very unusual game states and corresponding performance). Nevertheless, preliminary work suggests player typing may be a useful analytical tool.

2015 ASA Preview: FC Dallas by Jason Poon

*xG = expected goals, xA = expected assists, xGD = expected goal differential. For more information see our xGoals by Team page.

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. 

Silly Reds

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.

Defensive Spine

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.

Health

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.

5 Reasons Why You Should Watch Major League Soccer by Harrison Crow

So you’re excited about the US Men’s National team breaking through the group stage? It may even be that you find yourself liking this whole soccer thing. That’s not surprising; most Americans you talk to that follow soccer, including myself, have had that specific moment that sealed commitment, a moment often from a past World Cup. Whether that be the 2002 World Cup run in South Korea or the 2010 heart break against Ghana that brought you to the “beautiful game," because of the placement that soccer has in the standings of American culture, it’s just common to have these iconic moments associated with the sport. The thing that distinguishes people like us from the rest of the excited US supporters across the nation during this time is that, once the World Cup tournament concludes, we'll still want more.

Well, fear not because there is a serious and thriving league here in the US. If you are or have ever been called a ‘Euro snob’, then you can probably stop reading now. You’re going to argue and just generally disagree with most everything I have to say. So what’s the point? I’m not trolling you and it’s great that you like soccer in Europe. But we’re to talk to these new recruits about soccer in the United States. So here we go. Here are five reasons and examples about soccer in the US, and why you should follow it after the World Cup.

 

1)   Soccer in the United States is actually good.

Once upon a time Major League Soccer was viewed as a retirement league. A place where aged stars came for one last pay day once they were out of their prime. It was viewed as such simply because it was exactly that. It wasn’t that long ago, and because of that there some pretty common misconceptions about MLS.

“It used to be that just CONCACAF [The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football] internationals and retirees came here. In 2014 Brazilians, Spaniards, Englishmen (that just miss out), Australians, Persians (Iran), and Irish all play in MLS, and they also play roles for their home countries in the World Cup, or are of World Cup quality.”

Look, most people that don’t like MLS likely have not watched more than a couple of games; which is silly considering they base all their opinions on those few games. It would be like me basing the entirety of the NBA on a Cleveland and New Orleans games or New Jersey and Phoenix. Neither of which are what we would call riveting match-ups.

The quality of MLS is improving every year. If you believe MLS still to be a ‘retirement league’ or a ‘first division with watered down depth’ you haven’t really invested any time in getting your facts straight. Truth is most people are forming opinions based on a small sample size from years ago.

Looking at numbers produced by Dave Clark and the statistician known by the handle Sidereal, one finds strong indicators that MLS has just continued to improved over the last few years. The league is gaining traction to being near par with some quality European soccer leagues.

2) MLS is on the verge of getting even better and it starts with increased wages.

“Although not often addressed, there's no question that achieving that vision will require increasing MLS player salaries to attract more top players. It's just a question of how fast, and the salaries may need to increase much sooner than 2022.”

“…”

“What could the future MLS look like? Or what would it need to look like for the Don Garber to see his vision meet reality? Let's build the reality. Let's assume by 2022 the MLS will pay their players 50% of total revenues, in line with the current Bundesliga level. MLS won't need to reach revenues of the Bundesliga to be considered a top league in the world, but they will need to be close to be paying quality players closer to market rate. Let's assume that MLS can achieve Don's dream by reaching Ligue 1 revenues but paying Bundesliga salaries. Finally, let's assume that Ligue 1 revenues grow at a modest 4% per year until 2022.”

“…”

“The target MLS revenue growth of 16% is very aggressive but Don Garber has a good amount of low hanging fruit to pick. The new rumored TV deal is for about $100M in 2015 and would increase the 2012 revenues (the basis for these numbers) by nearly 15%. The next TV deal might fetch the same 15% growth or more. MLS has also announced a five-team expansion plan which will bring at least 26% growth as the teams come on. Without doing much, MLS can get almost a third of the way to the goal according to my calculations.”

Okay, I pray that Jared will forgive me for lifting so many of his brilliant words from his article. Go read the whole piece because it’s great. Unfortunately it’s a bit of an involved article, and I just wanted to frame a great thought from his head.

The United States first division is growing, and growing at a substantial rate. That is due to the injection of money and the fact they can start paying players what their worth. This brings in more players from all over the place that can use the league as not just a place to end their career, but really to start it.

A new Collective Bargaining Agreement will be negotiated this year after the season is over. I get that most of us sports fan are sick of labor talks and news of player strikes. I read you loud and clear. The thing that makes this different is simply that the league gets better with increase salary caps for clubs and the increase of minimum player wages. I don’t want there to be a work stoppage, but with the increased revenue from the TV deal that MLS just signed, they owe it to the players and fans to further the cause of soccer in this country.

 

3a) It’s not just about overpaying old guys to get eyeballs, MLS is acquiring young and exciting talent…

The main example you could probably point to for young guys coming into the league is Fredy Montero. Montero has transitioned over the last 18 months from one of the MLS top scorers to being a perennial talent in Portugal. Montero, who spent four very good seasons in Seattle, had the opportunity to make mistakes in a league that pushed his abilities enough even four years ago.

Montero’s arrival was followed by an influx of young international talent.

Darlington Nagbe, for example, is an international and former collegiate star at the University of Akron. He has been a critical piece for the Portland Timbers, is one of the most creative and eccentric talents in all of MLS.

Fabian Castillo, the Columbian winger with plenty of technical prowess, passed up opportunities in Europe for a stable playing environment and a chance for consistent playing time in Dallas.

Deshorn Brown is a high-end prototypical speedster from Jamaica. In his first season with the Colorado Rapids, he lead his club in goals scored and took them to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

For every Montero, however, there will always be a player that just doesn’t work out. The examples are many. In spite of that, MLS has begun the reverse transition from retirement league to what many would call a feeder league. While many, if not most, would not purpose to spend the prime of their careers in MLS (see point: 3b), they can still make a fine career for themselves and good wages because of how the league has grown to reward these players.

More and more young players are coming here in the vein of Montero, now viewing the US as an opportunity to get on the radar of European scouts and develop a pathway to launch a more lucrative career while still having stability and having the chance to prove them in a physical league.

“The increased visibility in M.L.S. is attractive to the players, who also benefit from the league’s financial stability compared with some leagues in their home countries.” (Leander Schaerlaeckens, NY Times)

It’s true that MLS still has more players retire at the end of the year from soccer than will transfer out of its league, but the players that are being transferred out are going to better and better clubs.

 

3b) ...and some of that league talent is even in its prime.

As I said, there aren’t many who look at MLS and think “gosh, I could have a good living in the US in the prime of my career." However there are a few where the stars lined up perfectly and they've chosen to play in America rather than going abroad with their talents. Such examples are:

Diego Valeri, the creative midfielder from Argentina, has been a force since arriving in Portland. And teamed with their young budding star, Nagbe, they're a spectacular pair just to watch.

Juninho, the Brazilian, is often glossed over in terms of the whole league, but his consistency in LA and his ability to play both ways centrally is fantastic. He could be earning much more abroad but the allure of being on an iconic franchise and coached by one of the best US coaches in the business, Bruce Arena, keeps him in LA... for now.

Osvaldo Alonso is a unique case. His heroic escape from Cuba and passport situation limit his options abroad, but believe me... he has them. Yet, he loves Seattle and MLS. He's easily a top-3 midfielder in the entire league and still has a couple prime seasons left in the tank.

Matt Besler, the Sporting KC and USMNT centerback has had chances to go abroad, and yet here he is in his prime. This has happened by way of MLS introducing retention funds to pay for... well, people whom they define as worthy of using it. His salary relative to the cap has been kept manageable because of those funds and he loves playing in Kansas City. He's possibly and probably the best defender in MLS.

 

4) It’s not just about foreign talent; we have a thriving league to grow future US national team talent.

Players like Shane O’Neil (Colorado), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Benji Joya (Chicago) and DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle) are just a few names that play significant roles on their MLS clubs, and they still can't drink legally in this country. You could almost have thrown Will Trapp (Columbus) on this list too, but he busted the beer-drinking landmark at the beginning of the year.

All four have been featured in U-23 matches gearing up for the Olympics, just two short years away, and all look to be prominent members of future World Cup teams. There are others worth mentioning also, but the point here is that MLS is starting to become a facilitator of growing US talent. That’s important.

That doesn’t even highlight players such as Gyasi Zardes or Jack McInerney, who are both big-time names in the league and may not qualify as members of the Olympic roster. It also doesn’t include 19-year old striking sensation Diego Fagundez, who just graduated from high school two weeks ago and just entered his fourth season as a member of the New England Revolution. Sadly enough, he is still technically not a US citizen…yet.

 

5)  There is parity, and possibly more so here than in any other relevant league in the world.

“The three factors above were weighted equally and assigned a standard deviation (either + or -) for each league and each metric. Add them up and MLS is indeed the most competitive league in this 15-league sample. Interestingly, Brazil was not far behind. Of course, there are multiple ways one can measure parity and competitiveness, and this is just one of many approaches.”  - Alex Olshansky

 

“This consistency, when combined with MLS’s overall lower variation, results in a lower proportion of the MLS’s points variation resulting from actual talent differences. The overall impact is that MLS table results are nearly a 50/50 split between talent and luck.” - Zach Slaton

Everyone hates the Yankees and yet wants to be them. It’s one of the greatest catch-22’s in sports. We all hate the winner---unless, of course, it’s us. MLS has developed a single entity program that just doesn’t lend itself to helping clubs that win, but it helps those that do not. In fact it’s worse to finish middle of the pack in the league than to finish at the back.

The league subsidies the salary cap of certain teams based on the order in which the teams finished. Teams towards the bottom get certain stipend (called allocation money) that assists in pay down contracts for cap purposes. Teams at the top also are awarded this money as a means of deepening the team for international competition in CONCACAF Champions League. This enables them to compete against the Mexican League teams that often tend to be superior in talent depth.

This all creates an environment on a yearly basis that creates volatility in casting predictions and makes the whole process rather difficult. A team can be good and have bad luck (see: LA Galaxy) or it can be mediocre with good luck (see: Real Salt Lake, according to Matthias), or it can have best of both worlds (see: Seattle Sounders). The beauty is that teams are never that far out of it, and never that far ahead.

The team that serve as the best example of this anything-can-happen league is DC United. Our readers had predicted prior to the season that they would miss the play-offs and would be generally sit near the bottom. In fact 15% thought they would end up dead last, opposed to the less than 1% that thought they would win the conference. Currently sitting nearly halfway through the season, they are in good position to fight for that very chance. And last year, this is the same club that nearly set all types of records for being anemic and generally pathetic in their overall performance.

There are few, if any, instances in which you can point to a club going from worst to best in a single season. The 1990 Atlanta Braves come to mind for me, but thinking abroad in the world of soccer, that seems improbable if not all together impossible. In MLS, it's a yearly event.

-------

These are just a few reasons on why you should turn your attention to Major League Soccer after the World Cup. I'm sure others could add to this list, and generally speaking I know I missed things that others would include. But in talking with so many people down here in the South, I felt compelled to at least try to provide a this motivation to get involved in a dynamic league right here in the United States.

Season Preview: FC Dallas by Drew Olsen

Over the past three seasons, fans of the Hoops have seen their team crash down from the high of a 2010 MLS Cup Finals appearance . In 2012, those same fans endured a 13-game winless streak, to be followed by another 11-game winless streak in 2013, resulting in Dallas missing the playoffs each of the past two seasons. What made matters worse was their red hot start to 2013, where they raced out to a 7-2-3 record and 24 points by the end of May, good for first place in the West. After missing out on the post season following such a hot start, Schellas Hyndman was shown the door (officially resigned), and former FC Dallas player and long time assistant Oscar Pareja was hired to right the ship. There is much optimism surrounding Dallas as they look to put the past behind them and get themselves back into the playoffs in 2014.
2013 Finish: 44 Points, 8th in the Western Conference, Missed MLS Playoffs FCDallasXI
Player Added Position Acquired from: Player Lost Position To
Ryan Hollingshead M 2013 SuperDraft Ugo Ihemelu D option declined
Adam Moffat M traded from Seattle Ramon Nunez M option declined
Brian Span M weighted lottery Erick M option declined
Hendry Thomas M traded from Colorado Jackson M traded to Toronto
Andres Escobar F Loan (Dynamo Kiev) Victor Ulloa M out of contract
David Texeira F Free (FC Groningen) David Ferreira M option declined
Kenny Cooper F traded to Seattle
Roster Churn: 77.97% returning minutes (12th lowest in MLS)
roster-dallasLots of optimism surround the Hoops after the theft appointment of Oscar "Papi" Pareja as head coach, and for good reason. The former Colorado Rapids head coach was highly regarded by the front office, was a contender for MLS DALINFOCoach of the Year after Colorado overachieved last season with their young roster, thanks in some part to Pareja's guidance.
 
While the optimism is high, there are also some concerns with the team, as they jettisoned off a few key pieces from last year (Captain David Ferreira, striker Kenny Cooper, and winger Jackson), and now FC Dallas must work through that awkward transition where new faces and a new coach try to get on the same page. Will the front office and Dallas fans be patient enough to wait for Pareja to work his magic, given they've missed the playoffs two season in a row now? His first season in Colorado was forgettable (11-19-4, no playoffs), but there were clear signs of improvement in his second year (14-11-9, knock out rounds). 
 
With the exception of Blas Perez, the Dallas attack is young. [Fabian] Castillo (21), [Andres] Escobar (22), and [Mauro] Diaz (22) make for a very dangerous trio if they can develop their chemistry together. Diaz has been handed the number 10 jersey and will hold the keys to driving the Hoops offense this season. Much like it was with his predecessor, Captain Ferreira, where Diaz goes, FC Dallas will follow. And while the short glimpses we saw of Diaz were promising last season, being the focal point and main man for the entire season in a new league is another thing to handle altogether. 
 
Last season's Achilles heel had to be the central midfield for Dallas. When holding midfielder Peter Luccin went down with an injury before the season began, FC Dallas was left without any adequate cover, and it lost its midfield bite and any real quality in linking the defense to the attack. That has been addressed strongly this off season with the acquisition of former Rapids midfielder Hendry Thomas (who is basically a tank on cleats) and former Sounder Adam Moffat (better link up player). Not to mention Luccin is back and healthy, and Andrew Jacobson got a good solid year of starter experience under his belt. Dallas' thinnest spot in 2013 has suddenly become their greatest depth in 2014.
 
The Dallas defense looks largely the same with everyone from last year who got significant playing time returning. The debate now is whether that's a good or a bad thing. Jair Benitez is now a year older, and while he provides help in offense (hello golazo!), his defending remains inconsistent. Zach Loyd had a subpar year by his standards in 2013. Whether he can regain his form that led him to be a USMNT call up waits to be seen. 
 
Finally, the last question mark for Dallas is what will Pareja do with homegrown standout Kellyn Acosta? His breakthrough 2013 was a huge step in the right direction for the Homegrown Player program, but where does he fit on this team? In 2013 he filled in admirably---at times better than Loyd at right back---but the teenage star has spoken that his preferred position is defensive midfield. Regardless of where he plays, Acosta is a talent that needs to see the field as much as possible. 
FC Dallas finished 2013 as the epitome of average statistically, posting the 10th best expected goal differential, as well as the 10th best shot attempt ratio. Hope rests in Pareja's ability to work with a team that has added six new players to date, and to inject this team with a little magic that worked for Pareja's former team last season.
 

Crowd Sourcing Placement: 8th place in Western Conference; 107 of the 406 8th-place votes (26.35%), and 321 of 404 (79.5%) of voters felt that FC Dallas would not make the playoffs in 2014.

*ExpGD is the same as our metric xGD.