The 2018 season for FC Dallas feels like a lifetime ago, thanks in large part to massive changes the club undergone during the offseason. The face and heartbeat of the club, Oscar Pareja, left for a new challenge and after his departure the roster and coaching staff were overhauled in a matter of weeks. With the change comes a new wind of hope and optimism, especially when you hear the way newly minted head coach and former FCD Academy Director Luchi Gonzalez speaks so eloquently about his vision for Dallas in 2019, and how the newly formed North Texas Soccer Club will help bridge more FCD players from the Academy and the first team.Read More
FC Dallas, slowing things down
I don’t know how one would go about measuring a soccer team’s pace of play. It’s possible, even easy, in basketball, where you can measure possessions per 48 minutes and generally find out how fast teams play. Soccer does not have the defined possessions of basketball; every possession is not created equal, so there’s no easy way to generalize them.Read More
It was entirely predictable and avoidable. Houston fell flat on their face under the dreary command of Owen Coyle, collecting 11 points in 12 games. Under interim coach Wade Barrett, who wasn’t afraid to make big changes, there were glimpses of improvement. With Wilmer Cabrera taking the reins, and a number of intriguing South American signings, can Houston make the jump into the playoffs this season?
More after the jump.Read More
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.
If you are a fan of up-and-coming soccer talent, the 2013 Colorado Rapids were a squad who, seemingly out of nowhere, became a must-watch team. While the trend is for MLS teams to rely more heavily upon experienced and highly paid players to bolster their roster, Colorado, perhaps out of necessity, became a team driven by young, inexpensive talent. They used all available means to assemble their roster: trades (Edson Buddle and Nathan Sturgis), the SuperDraft (Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers), the NASL and USL (Chris Klute and Clint Irwin, respectively), and international signings (Vicente Sanchez and Gabriel Torres). By the time the 2013 season concluded, Oscar Pareja had lead the Rapids to 51 points and the 5th seed in the Western Conference, a sizeable upgrade over their 37 points accumulated in 2012.
2013 Finish: 14-11-9, 51 points; 45 GF, 38 GA. Fifth place in Western Conference. Lost in Wildcard round.
|Marc Burch||D/M||Re-Entry Stage 1||Diego Calderon||D||Loan expired|
|Marvin Chavez||M||Trade from San Jose||Jaime Castrillon||M||Option declined|
|Marlon Hairston||M||SuperDraft||Steward Ceus||GK||Option declined|
|Grant Van De Casteele||D||SuperDraft||Atiba Harris||F||Traded to San Jose|
|Joe Nasco||GK||Free||Jamie Smith||M||Retired|
|Jared Watts||M||SuperDraft||Tony Cascio||M||Loaned to Houston|
|John Berner||GK||SuperDraft||Hendry Thomas||M||Trade to FC Dallas|
Roster churn: Colorado returns 76.5% of its 2013 minutes, 9th most in the league.
My Kingdom for a Coach
Let’s start at the top.
Oscar Pareja has moved on to become the head coach of FC Dallas, returning to helm the club where he spent eight seasons as a player. Last year, Pareja assembled a young Rapids team that managed to sneak into the playoffs of the highly competitive Western Conference. Pareja was lauded for his ability to identify and acquire young talent. Though that should come as no surprise, considering that he served as the Director of Player Development for the FC Dallas Youth system from 2007 through 2011, fostering the growth of 11 players who have subsequently signed with the senior team.
When the Rapids were plagued by injury early in the season, Pareja was able to slot Sturgis, Klute, and O’Neill into the lineup, and the team continued to get results. Pareja, as coaches often do, made some questionable decisions over the course of the season. He showed unwavering faith in Atiba Harris all season long despite subpar performances, and took some heat for decisions he made in Colorado’s playoff loss to Seattle. Still, starting a rusty German Mera at centerback is not the same thing as, say, deploying Shalrie Joseph at forward. Pareja made some a personnel choice that did not pay off, but his overall tenure as Rapids head coach was a positive experience, one that has left the Rapids in much better position than when he arrived.
So where do they go from here? Well, we don’t know. With only a few weeks to go before the season, the Rapids have yet to name a head coach. But let’s assume that they will hire Pablo Mastroeni (hey, someone has to make a decision here), following the league-wide trend of elevating young ex-players into the head coaching ranks. Sometimes these new hires pay off (Peter Vermes, Mike Petke, 2012 Ben Olsen), but just as often they yield disappointing results (Curt Onalfo, Jesse Marsch, 2013 Ben Olsen). With no prior coaching experience, it is difficult to predict how Mastroeni will fare as coach of the Rapids. Though Mastro will take over a promising young squad, growing pains should be expected as he develops his own coaching personality.
This offseason, Colorado parted ways with only seven players (one of whom, Jamie Smith, will remain with the franchise as an academy coach). The two regular starters who will not be returning this season are Atiba Harris, who played in 29 games last season, logging a stout 2,012 minutes attacking down the right flank, and Hendry Thomas, who started 28 games in defensive midfield for the Rapids. The Rapids balked at Thomas’s request for a DP-level salary, and shipped him off to Dallas in exchange for some allocation money.
The other five players combined to tally just 1,463 total minutes. Tony Cascio, who led that quintet with 530 minutes, will spend the 2014 season on loan in Houston as part of the first intra-league loan in Major League Soccer history.* The three other departing field players—Diego Calderon, Jamie Castrillon, and Smith—were plagued by injuries throughout 2013, and were never able to gain a steady foothold in the starting lineup. The final departed player, goalkeeper Steward Ceus, got his 2013 season off to a promising start… for about 10 minutes. In the 11th minute of the season opener, David Ferreira sent a long pass toward the Rapids penalty area. Ceus raced out of his penalty area to clear the ball, only to watch helplessly as the ball—and his chances of keeping the starting GK job—soared beyond him. Clint Irwin would start game two, and Ceus would not see another minute for Colorado in the 2014 season.
*No, Matias Laba is not on intra-league loan to Vancouver. He was traded for pipe dreams and promises.
Clint Irwin: Act II
Nothing has changed in goal for Colorado this season. Clint Irwin will enter the season as the starting goalkeeper, with Matt Pickens—currently on trial in Norway—tentatively set to serve as his backup. The Rapids have signed Joe Nasco---who last season helmed the nets for Atlanta---and rookie John Berner, in case Pickens does depart. Irwin finished 12th in the league in save percentage last season, stopping 69% of shots on target. Though you should take this purely as a descriptive statistic, as it appears that save percentage tells you very little about the quality of a professional goalkeeper. Irwin also failed to crack the top ten in crosses claimed last season, and ranked only 9th in punches, though strong flank play from the Rapids could mean that Irwin had fewer balls from wide areas to deal with.
One aspect of play where statistics say that Irwin did excel was in his distribution: Irwin completed 73% of his passes—6th best in the league—despite his average distribution being 48 meters long. For comparison, average length of distribution of keepers in the top 10 accurate passers is only 38.8 meters. His distribution numbers are likely skewed by the fact that Irwin could hammer a 70-yard ball down the right side of the field and know that Atiba Harris (statistically the best aeriel duelist in the league) would get on the end of it (I guess we can look at Jon Busch’s numbers this year and see). Generally though, Irwin’s decision making and positioning, things not yet easily quantifiable, were solid all season; he looked and played like an MLS-caliber goalkeeper, which is impressive enough for a 24-year-old.
Moor: verb (used with object) … 2. to fix firmly; secure
For the sake of this preview, we will assume Mastroeni will not alter Pareja’s preferred formation of 4-3-3/4-2-3-1. Chris Klute and Drew Moor are locks to retain their spots on the back line. Klute will maraud down the wing and make life difficult for opposing midfielders. Last season he led the league in assists among defenders with 7, and was second (behind only Andrew Farrell) in successful take-ons with 39. Moor provides a solid veteran presence at the back, and provides excellent distribution to a team which often lacks patience in the defensive third. Preseason games would indicate that Shane O’Neill will make way at the other center back spot for either Marvell Wynne or Wake Forest rookie Jared Watts.
Despite a strong rookie season for O’Neill, his biggest shortcoming was his ability to assert his physicality in the air. Whereas Moor finished the season with 3.7 aerial duels won per game (8th in MLS, 5th among centerbacks), O’Neill had only 1.4 aerials won per game (79th in MLS, 34th among centerbacks). Moor won 68% of his aerial duels; O’Neill, 52%. But if you’re the kind of person who prefers their evidence anecdotal, here’s him being completely schooled by Chris Wondolowski (not the most physical specimen himself) on a corner kick. O’Neill should remain a starter, but he will shift to the right side of the field, either in defense or midfield.
Who? What? Where?
The midfield is a much bigger quandary. Hendry Thomas is gone, Nathan Sturgis has spent a considerable amount of time this preseason at right back, and Dillon Powers’ health is in question: not only was he only just cleared to return to game action on February 20 after recovering from a concussion last season, but he is battling tendinitis in his knee. The talent level drops precipitously as you move down the depth chart.
First-round draft pick Marlon Hairston could be the man to replace Thomas. But Thomas is a Premier League and World Cup veteran, who averaged 3.3 tackles per game last season, 7th in MLS, and Hairston is a 19-year-old who, in spite of his physical gifts, was labeled by one college coach as a “lazy” defender, not the ringing endorsement you want for a player who will be shielding your back line. Nick LaBrocca is another option to replace Thomas, but the 29-year-old Rutgers grad lacks the size and athleticism that either Thomas or Hairston can bring. LaBrocca also has the potential to step in for an injured Powers, but with a glut of forwards on the team, Gabriel Torres might find himself deputizing for Powers in the event that he misses time, playing a more direct role in the offense (and leaving Edson Buddle as the center forward).
The Designated Player and Deshorn
If and when Powers returns to full health, Torres will spearhead the attack for Colorado. The first designated player in Rapids history, Torres was signed in August of last season, and immediately demonstrated his value. He notched 3 goals and 1 assist on 15 shots in 507 minutes. The shot total is low for a DP level striker, but so is the sample size. Still, flashes of brilliance like this make it difficult for Rapids fans to keep their expectations tempered.
Deshorn Brown will start to the left of the center forward, in a more advanced role than the typical wide player in a 4-2-3-1. This is because Brown’s speed and size far outshine his technical skills. Last season, Brown notched 10 goals, solid enough on its own, but it should be noted that of the 18 players who scored 10 goals or more last season, Brown had the lowest scoring chance percentage, converting a mere 10.3% of his shots. Though that seems like bad news on the surface (and it may be that Brown isn’t a crack finisher), it comes with a big silver lining.Finishing rates are less predictive of yearly success than Expected Goals, which are determined by number and location of shots taken.
On the right, the Rapids have a choice between Marvin Chavez and Vicente Sanchez, two left-footed players who bring different assets to the table. Chavez is a versatile player who has the speed to stretch the defensive line (as he did with his time in Dallas) and an accurate cross that allows him to play as a more conventional midfielder (as he did in his 12-assist season with San Jose in 2012). Sanchez, who spent most of his career in Mexico, is a more technically savvy (and to be fair to Chavez, slower) player, who in his limited time with Colorado last season provided some of the cerebral play that was often missing from the lineup.
Last year, Colorado’s depth enabled them to overcome a spate of injuries and make the playoffs, bringing a new generation of players to the league’s attention. This year, without any wholesale roster changes, those same players will bear the weight of expectations of a franchise. New coach or not, progress will be expected from this young team, and it will be interesting to see how they will fare in the 2014 season.
The readers of American Soccer Analysis don’t seem to think that Colorado will make any progress this season. The plurality (20.2%) of our 406 voters think that the Rapids will drop to 6th place in the Western Conference, with the vast majority (78.1%) anticipating them to finish in the 5th-to-8th-place range.
|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|
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.