Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.
No. 7 in the West is FC Dallas:
Significant additions and subtractions: The team immediately put the proceeds to use from Brek Shea’s $4 million sell to Stoke City. That started with Kenny Cooper, who packed up his 18 goals from last year in arriving from New York in one of the league’s most newsy offseason exchanges. It fell within days of Dallas acquiring Eric Hassli, who was the centerpiece of Vancouver’s attack at this time last year.
Elsewhere, is Peter Luccin the holding midfielder that Julian de Guzman couldn’t quite be last year? (The Canadian international de Guzman is gone, by the way, now back in Europe in the 2.Bundesliga). We may be waiting to find out; Luccin has been out injured through most of the preseason. A late February trade with Houston brought Jamaican international Je-Vaughn Watson to help reinforce central midfield.
Daniel Hernandez, the team’s previous midfielder strong man, has retired.
Peruvian international goalkeeper Raul Fernandez has huge shoes to fill in replacing Kevin Hartman, whose high salary was deemed surplus by FCD management. It was a bold move considering how many times Hartman as turned no points into one, or one point into three over the past three seasons at FC Dallas Stadium.
CEO Doug Quinn is out; he’s part of the team’s “competition committee,” which makes player personnel decisions, but that should not affect the actual team on the field.
Strengths: A team that hasn’t had two top-level strikers in years now suddenly has three of them, with Cooper and Hassli joining Panamanian star Blas Perez.
How the team shape looks remains to be seen as manager Schellas Hyndman continues to experiment with various looks in preseason. They won’t need to make any hard decisions yet on which two strikers to deploy ( … or how to deploy all three?) as Hassli continues to nurse his way back to full health.
George John and promising sophomore Matt Hedges form a solid central defensive pairing.
Pressure points: Hartman was creeping up toward $200,000 in salary, which is heaping helping for a goalkeeper in MLS. On the other hand, Hartman was generally worth it.
Shea’s departure leaves FCD perilously thin on the flanks, with Fabian Castillo and Jackson set to start (and that’s not bad) but curiously little behind them. (Check out the depth chart and you’ll see.) Aren’t there still some nickels, dimes or dollars left over from the Shea profits?
Left back Jair Benitez isn’t the attacking force he was before, and his risky, combative defenders tends to put FCD in holes. And still no word on Ugo Ihemelu, who has been out since mid-year 2012 with concussion-related issues. Darn shame, too.
Difference maker: If playmaker David Ferreira can’t be large and in charge, this team isn’t going anywhere. And if we’re honest, he simply wasn’t the same influence upon return from injury in 2012. Perhaps asking him to be the 2010 Ferreira once again is asking too much, but that’s where it is for FC Dallas right now. They need their Colombian creator to be massive.
Potential breakout player: By mid-season 2012, Castillo was starting to figure it out. The decision making remains frequently dubious, but he’s so fast and talented that defenses are forced to pay attention. Just 20 years old, Castillo (pictured right) can deliver so much more than last year’s sum of 6 goals and 3 assists if Hyndman and Co. can get him pointed in the right direction.
Bottom line: Injuries crunched the team in 2012, but a lack of depth along the flanks threatens to be the team’s undoing this year. There’s ample offense; this team’s playoffs hopes will live and die on whether FC Dallas management has stockpiled enough defense.