George John

George John undergoes season-ending knee surgery

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As FC Dallas’s season has progressed, defender George John, once the centerpiece of the team’s back line, has become an afterthought, an unfortunate state for a player who once seemed destined for Europe.

Struggling with right knee problem throughout the year, John has yet to play a minute for head coach Óscar Pareja, a state that won’t change any time soon. After undergoing surgery today, John was placed on the disabled list, ending his 2014 season.

FC Dallas made the announcement on its website this evening:

“Dr. Michael Nguyen performed an osteoplasty of the medial femur to repair the knee, which has sidelined John throughout the 2014 season. Recovery from the procedure will keep the veteran center back out for the remainder of the season and he will be placed on the season-ending injury list.”

While John’s obviously been missed this season, FC Dallas has managed to survive without him, with a back line led by new captain Matt Hedges allowing the team to enter the weekend tied for third in the Western Conference. Despite that standing, FCD has allowed 31 goals in 21 games, with only Portland and Chivas USA conceded more often among teams in the West.

In light those numbers, it’d normally be tempting to ask how much better Dallas would be with John. Unfortunately, there’s never been a sense that the center back was improving. As Pareja has had to rely on the likes of Stephen Keel and Walker Zimmerman, John’s name has remaining in the background, with few giving the impression his return was even imminent.

When that return does happen, John will also have to recover from a prolonged time away from the field, with his last MLS appearance coming on Oct. 5 at Real Salt Lake. Though Dallas didn’t quote a timeline in today’s announcement, even a return for the 2015 season opener would mean 18 months between Major League Soccer appearances.

About those MLS retention funds: They have already been put to significant use

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KANSAS CITY – The MLS “retention fund” mechanism that wandered slowly into public awareness last month has already been put to significant use. It looks like MLS got this one right; just look at how many terrific players have already been tied up to longer deals using the fund established just this year.

So far, 14 MLS men are retention fund kids, including Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler (pictured) and Graham Zusi, FC Dallas center back George John, young New England livewire attacker Diego Fagundez and New York Red Bull midfielder Dax McCarty. (The full list is below.)

The mechanism was designed to allow clubs to re-sign key players to new deals without pricing them into Designated Player territory. It was an effort to avoid damaging attrition, losing players we might classify as “above-average,” or a few we would call “great” or perhaps “potentially great,” to European clubs that might not look glamorous but could offer substantially greater compensation.

Todd Durbin, the league’s VP of Player Relations and Competition, talked to a small group of journalists at Wednesday’s All-Star game on several topics, including the retention fund creation. He said it was a reaction to fears (somewhat unfounded in his mind) that MLS was losing a group of important players to leagues no better than MLS, such as the Scandinavian leagues.

“We decided we needed to come up with a program, or a way of managing that,” Durbin said.

Clubs in salary-capped sports consistently face a push and pull that pits long-term vs. short-term interests. When it comes to high-quality fan favorites, they can always renegotiate contracts in efforts to keep the player around for the long-term. That’s good, right?

Of course – unless it dents the short-term ability to sign additional talent, which can help the here and now of results. The retention fund established a tool that allowed clubs to marry those interests.

Clubs also sought greater personnel stability, talent that added quality on the field and helped keep familiar faces around for the fans.

Zusi and Besler were textbook cases, Durbin said, under contract but in jeopardy of gazing overseas. They were both MLS All-Stars but not, perhaps, quite into DP territory. (Some of that is about positions they play, especially in Besler’s case; center backs are typically not DPs.)

By using some of the retention funds (reported previously but not confirmed to be around $225,000 per club), Sporting Kansas City tied up the two U.S. internationals without hamstring themselves in terms of signing other players, potentially even DPs.

Apparently, this thing is working. From MLS, here is the list of players who have already been re-signed using the new Core Player mechanism, where a portion of the player’s salary does not count against the salary budget:

  • Tony Beltran (RSL)
  • Matt Besler (SKC)
  • Sam Cronin (SJ)
  • Diego Fagundez (NE)
  • Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (SEA)
  • George John (DAL)
  • Juninho (LA)
  • Gershon Koffie (VAN)
  • Dax McCarty (NY)
  • Drew Moor (COL)
  • Chris Pontius (DC)
  • Chris Schuler (RSL),
  • Marvell Wynne (COL)
  • Graham Zusi (SKC)

Looking at value in two key MLS men recently back from injury: George John and Osvaldo Alonso

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Backward as it may seem, the true measure of individual value in sports is often in how the team goes in the tank without their key men.

Sure, it’s more fun for supporters to gauge value in what the key elements actually bring when they are around.

But to truly know their value, look at how things might fall completely to pieces without them.

One we talked about a little earlier is Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso. As we told you in the preview of Seattle’s match today, the Sounders record is measurably better with their Cuban ball hawk around. Seattle is a fairly sickly 2-4-1 without Alonso in the lineup, but a rather healthy 5-3-2 with him.

And what about George John (pictured) and Dallas? The big center back was having a fantastic season around FC Dallas Stadium before a hamstring issue began exacting an ongoing toll.

He missed games in May, returned  shortly in June but has been out for the last four contest. Dallas’ record during that time: 0-2-2 with seven goals allowed.

Big D Soccer did the digging here, reporting that Dallas is 9-2-4 with 14 goals conceded when John is in the lineup. That record is how Dallas climbed to top of the West for much of the late spring. When he doesn’t play, the goals concession total shoots up to 13 in seven games, or about double the rate of strikes allowed. And that’s how Dallas has fallen so quickly lately.

That report goes on to talk about John’s ability to organize the back line. But perhaps understated is that Dallas’ other starting figures in defense are either quiet, steady type (Matt Hedges and Zach Loyd) or figures still quite limited in their English speaking abilities. As good as goalkeeper Raul Fernandez has been this year, he speaks very little of the language, and that is hardly ideal.

John is expected to be back in FC Dallas’ lineup tonight when the Texans go north of the border to face Montreal.

ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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Our weekly re-ordering of Major League Soccer teams, following 20 rounds of play:

19. D.C. United – What is in the water around Washington, D.C.? United is at 744 minutes and counting without an MLS goal in the run of play. But the women’s team there, the Washington Spirit, has gone even longer without such a goal. So for United, there is that, I suppose.

18. Toronto FC – One day Darren O’Dea is your captain and defensive leader. The next day he’s gone with very little notice but more than a few questions, sold to a club in the Ukraine. Yes, it frees up cap space, but it’s fair to ask about the plan around BMO Field. Specifically, is there one?

17. Chivas USA – After three games on the road, the Goats are finally back at home. In fact, this is one that a recently re-organized side, now showing a little more structure and soon to benefit from Carlos Bocanegra’s leadership could certainly win. Toronto FC is the opposition.

16. Columbus – New England travels to Colorado for a Wednesday match and then finds itself in Ohio for a contest three nights later. That is what you call a “prime opportunity,” and any team with real playoff ambitions must be able to take advantage.

15. San Jose Earthquakes – As inconsistent as the Earthquakes have been, with as many things as have gone wrong around little Buck Shaw Stadium this year, the side is just six points out of a playoff spot. The ‘Quakes have played at least one more match than most clubs, but there are some thin rays of hope.

14. Chicago Fire – Mike Magee has gone so far towards solving the Fire’s attacking issues – but Frank Klopas’ team isn’t going anywhere until the defense gets better. Latest evidence: Sunday’s 3-1 loss at Vancouver.

13. New England Revolution – Monday’s terrific news, that Kevin Alston has rejoined the team and is traveling for a mid-week match at Colorado, helped wash away the bad taste of a home loss to Houston.

12. Colorado Rapids – Anyone else get the feeling the Rapids’ season could go either way? They could climb steadily into a playoff spot or they could tumble down to the wrong side of Seattle and San Jose. If a climb is in the cards, they have to win the home games against mid-level teams, and a match like that is up Wednesday as New England visits.

11. Houston Dynamo – It took a holding midfielder to score two goals – OK, he was only officially credited with one, but he was directly responsible for one recorded as an own goal – to get the Dynamo a huge road win. Still, no Dynamo forward has scored since early May. Yikes!

10. FC Dallas – The team has tumbled from first to fourth lately in the Western Conference standings, unable to score and not nearly as secure in the back. (And that is unlikely to change until center back George John gets healthy enough to join the starting lineup again.)

9. Seattle Sounders – Osvaldo Alonso was back in the starting lineup last week, but the Sounders still fell, this time at Buck Shaw Stadium to San Jose. Now, they’ll be without Alonso again following his late, weekend ejection.

8. LA Galaxy – The Galaxy has allowed eight goals in stoppage time and 15 after the 75th minute. You read it here: there will be no three-peat if center backs Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza and goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini cannot sort out things back there.

7. New York Red Bulls – The weekend’s 4-0 win over Montreal was one of the best yet under young manager Mike Petke. For those wondering whether Thierry Henry could still manage the job (and the significant weight of expectation) at age 35, he leads the team in goals (7) and assists (4).

6. Philadelphia Union – Even Union fans seemed to feel a little badly about the way their team won over Chivas USA. But by season’s end that will be just another three points in the standings, and the Union is looking pretty good for a playoff spot.

5. Montreal Impact – The team is headed the wrong way, now having conceded 12 goals in the last three matches. The latest loss, 4-0 at New York, was a defensive fiasco.

4. Vancouver Whitecaps – No doubt about it now: Brazilian attacker Camilo (pictured above) has displaced Chicago’s Mike Magee as Major League Soccer’s hottest player. With two more strikes Sunday, he has 10 goals in the team’s last nine matches and a league-leading 12 strikes overall.

3. Sporting Kansas City – Looking for a swell game to watch this weekend? Sporting KC’s visit to Utah to meet Real Salt Lake looks like a real crackerjack. RSL is unbeaten in 11 matches across all competitions, while SKC is unbeaten in five MLS matches, now scoring with a forceful regularity.

2. Real Salt Lake – They got a bit fortunate early as FC Dallas misfired in Texas, but Javier Morales’ wonderful goal helped turn the night. A team missing four important leaders won for the first time in Texas, 3-0, at FC Dallas Stadium.

1. Portland Timbers – What a night at typically rocking Jeld-Wen Field, a stoppage time win over the two-time defending champion Galaxy that was easily the top match of Round 20 in Major League Soccer.

Slow fade for FC Dallas; depth issues are apparent

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Six weeks ago FC Dallas led the league, was running away with the West, cruising in the U.S. Open Cup and couldn’t be blamed for wondering about a first-ever Supporters Shield.

Today the club is winless in five league matches, has been booted from the Open Cup and couldn’t be blamed for wondering this: is the team even capable of holding serve long enough to remain among the playoff graced?

By building so many points through the season’s first three months, Schellas Hyndman’s team gave itself some wiggle room – which has all but been tossed away now.  A midweek tie at home to Chivas USA and a loss late last night to complete Major League Soccer’s busy 19th Round closed off an awful week for the Red Stripes.

Hyndman said the Galaxy “basically outworked us,” in a fairly dominant performance by the Galaxy at the StubHub Center, one that saw the home team outshoot Dallas, 23-6. But there’s a deeper issue at work here for the team from Texas.

It’s depth. A debilitating lack of it at certain spots, specifically. FC Dallas went into the season stacked at striker and at goalkeeper, and OK at center back, although quite young at the position. That’s about it. A serious lack of quality depth throughout the midfield and at outside back was always the clear and present danger – and it’s affecting the bottom line now.

FCD is OK at those positions for the first 11, but devoid of reasonable options behind them. A certain amount of good fortune with injury allowed Hyndman to keep most of his first-choice men on the field through March, April and May, which is why Dallas built its comfy cushion.

But the wear and tear began taking its toll, and an injury to invaluable center back George John has weakened the back line by a considerable margin.

When Hyndman talks about being outworked, he’s also talking about the inability to give certain players sufficient rest. But what choices does he have, unadorned by squad men capable of answering the call?

The answer: he doesn’t have enough of them – adequate options, that is. And that’s down to a roster that wasn’t developed adequately in the first place.