By DAN ITEL
It was going so well for FC Dallas in 2013.
An 8-2-3 start saw FCD jump to the top of the table come summertime, but a 13-game winless streak that soon followed resulted in missing out on the playoffs and the parting of ways with head coach Schellas Hyndman at season’s end. In comes a new – yet familiar – face to lead Dallas to what they hope is renewed prosperity: longtime former player and assistant coach Oscar Pareja.
The winds of change arrived even before Pareja was named to succeed Hyndman when the Dallas front office cut ties with playmaker David Ferreira, the 2010 MLS MVP. Kenny Cooper’s second go-around with the team was terminated after one season when he was traded to Seattle for midfielder Adam Moffat, predicated by the departure of Brazilian midfielder Jackson Goncalves, who appeared in 30 games for FCD last season.
It’s clear the reigns are being handed to the next generation: led by Colombian speedster Fabian Castillo and Argentine playmaker Mauro Diaz.
Diaz, who turns 23 two days after Dallas’ season opener March 8 against the Montreal Impact, will likely be relied upon to be the creator that Ferreira once was. And while he’s lacking MLS experience, having only started five games last season, he has been a professional since 2008 with famed Argentine side River Plate.
Pareja will also expect a jump in production from winger Castillo, 22, who has never quite lived up to the high expectations from when he signed as an 18-year-old out of Colombia.
Here is a closer look at FC Dallas ahead of the 2014 season:
FC DALLAS SEASON PREVIEW
2013 FINISH: 11-12-11, 44 points (8th in Western Conference)
KEY ACQUISITIONS: M Hendry Thomas, F David Texeira, M Andres Escobar
KEY LOSSES: M David Ferreira, M Jackson, F Kenny Cooper
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Hendry Thomas. The Honduran international was one of the best defensive mids in the league last year, and Pareja knew just what he was getting when he swooped in on the inability of Colorado to meet Thomas’ salary demands. He was a force for the Rapids last year and a key reason for their surprising run to the MLS Cup Playoffs, and his acquisition addresses one of Dallas’ key weaknesses from last year: midfield defense.
He may not provide the flash of the additions of Texeira or Escobar, but he’s the most important component to FCD’s potential turnaround this season.
THE PRESSURE IS ON: Blas Perez. Castillo and Diaz, Dallas’ expected playmakers for the coming season, are young and haven’t proven anything in MLS. Cooper, a veteran presence at the very least, is gone. So it’s up to Perez to provide the leadership in the attack and something Dallas lacked in 2013: consistency. When healthy and in the lineup – he missed a big chunk of time last year while on international duty with Panama, something that won’t eat up as much commitment this season – he can be one of the best at his position in the league.
OUTLOOK: As important as the off-season acquisitions of forwards Texeira and Escobar were, FC Dallas’ most important personnel decision of the winter was the hiring of Oscar Pareja as head coach.
The long-time FCD player and assistant coach is home, comfortable and knows what he wants to see from his group, as evidenced by the unheralded moves for players like Thomas and Moffat.
And the thing is; he may already have his Jermain Defoe, Gilberto and Michael Bradley already on the team in the form of Perez, Castillo and Diaz. They may not quite be on that level, but the potential is there.
Rather than completely overhauling the lineup, Pareja has been very targeted with his moves (i.e., the transformation of their previously spineless midfield).
With the second most goals allowed in the Western Conference in 2013, Pareja will be hoping Thomas is a major plus there. Dallas will also hope and pray on the health of star center back George John, who has been in and out of the lineup due to injuries the past couple of years and has already picked up a knock that has kept him sidelined for most of the preseason. If John struggles to stay healthy, Pareja will need young central defender Walker Zimmerman to step up.
Throw in the additions of Texeira, a Uruguayan youth international signed to a young Designated Player contract, and Escobar, on loan from Ukranian power Dynamo Keiv, and there’s certainly a reason to be excited if you’re a FCD fan.
There are a lot of ifs, ands or buts scattered throughout the lineup, and the Western Conference just keeps getting stronger and stronger, so the playoffs are far from a sure thing for FC Dallas, though having Pareja on the sidelines should provide a considerable boost.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP