FC Dallas has gone from contender to trophy winner during the past couple of seasons. There is still some unfinished business, though.
The 2016 MLS season was a high point for FC Dallas. The club continued to find success with its identity of relying heavily on both young and old players, performing consistently during the course of the year en route to claiming both a U.S. Open Cup trophy in September and a Supporters’ Shield crown in October.
Still, FC Dallas fell short of its ultimate goal. Winning the club’s first MLS Cup proved too difficult of a task, as the club was sent crashing out of the postseason early for the second straight year. An untimely injury to star playmaker Mauro Diaz hurt FC Dallas’ cause, but the team as a whole did not deliver under the pressure of the playoffs again.
Looking to get over that final hurdle once and for all, FC Dallas has kept last year’s squad mostly in tact. Regulars like Matt Hedges, Kellyn Acosta, and Michael Barrios are back for another run at MLS’s top prize, and they have been complemented with some promising offseason additions that could push the club over the top and bring an MLS Cup to Dallas at long last.
Here’s a closer look at 2017 FC Dallas:
FC DALLAS PREVIEW
2016 FINISH: 17-8-9 (1st in Western Conference)
KEY ACQUISITIONS: Cristian Colman, Javier Morales, Roland Lamah, Hernan Grana
KEY LOSSES: Zach Loyd, Carlos Ruiz, Mauro Rosales
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Roland Lamah
While most observers are eager to see how Javier Morales fits into Oscar Pareja’s system in place of Mauro Diaz, it is Roland Lamah who could play a bigger role during the course of the season. Lamah was brought over from Europe this offseason, and is expected to help fill the void left behind by left winger Fabian Castillo. The 29-year-old Belgian has a wealth of experience from playing in some of the top leagues across the pond during his career, and could further enhance a talented FC Dallas attack if he proves to be a dangerous threat.
PRESSURE IS ON: Cristian Colman
FC Dallas reportedly broke open its piggy bank to bring over Cristian Colman back in January as a Designated Player, and the Paraguayan is expected to be the effective target striker that the club has long been looking for. Colman fits the mold of the type of young South American player that FC Dallas has leaned on since Pareja took over, but it is the 22-year-old forward’s height and nose for goal from inside the 18 that has the club salivating at the prospects of what could be.
FC Dallas has kept its trophy-winning core from 2016 in place, but the hunger for claiming titles has not been satiated. Head coach Oscar Pareja and his troops remain eager to win as many championships as they can this year, and believe their slightly-revamped roster has what it takes to do so despite the fact that the club has a loaded schedule that includes CONCACAF Champions League games that begin later this month.
“I’d say that it would be very normal to think that we would only focus on the U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup,” Pareja told SBI. “But at the same time it’s very hard with the competitive group that we have to tell them that we’re going to put less importance on other competitions. We’re maturing and getting better, and we’re here to win titles. That’s the responsibility that we have.”
Continuing to establish a winning tradition might be on the agenda, but it surely will not be easy. FC Dallas not only has to once again weave its way through the tricky obstacle course that is the Western Conference, but has to do so without one of it best players for a chunk of the season.
Attacking midfielder Mauro Diaz is expected to be out of action until early summer with the torn Achilles’ tendon that prevented him from participating in the playoffs last year, and he will probably need even more time to round out into form. That is why FC Dallas went and signed proven MLS playmaker Javier Morales this offseason, bringing the 37-year-old Argentine on board from Real Salt Lake with the hopes that he can both fill Diaz’s shoes temporarily and add quality depth to the squad for the stretch run.
Another new player who is being counted on to help make a difference is forward Cristian Colman. Reportedly signed via a $2 million transfer from Paraguayan club Nacional, Colman is being counted on to deliver goals and more goals. Maximiliano Urruti had a solid first year with FC Dallas serving as the lone striker in its 4-2-3-1 formation, but he finished with just nine goals during the regular season.
FC Dallas wanted more production up top, and believes the 22-year-old Colman might just be that missing piece.
“We were looking for a No. 9 that plays in the penalty area and gives the team a presence there,” said Pareja. “He can play off of Maxi or give us another look in terms of playing with two forwards. He gives us different options, different alternatives, but now he just needs to work so that everything that’s on paper translates to the field.”
In terms of the rest of the team, FC Dallas should look more or less similar to the 2016 unit. The defense will once again be led by the strong centerback tandem of Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman, and Carlos Gruezo and the versatile Kellyn Acosta should be directly in front of them in the heart of the midfield.
There might be some new pieces in the lineup like Hernan Grana at right back or Roland Lamah at left midfield, but expect FC Dallas to stay true to itself by continuing to play the same brand of soccer that has yielded so much success during the past couple of years.
Couple that familiarity with the club’s winning mindset, and there is a solid recipe there from which to build from.
“I felt like our mentality was always really positive (in 2016) and we always wanted to win,” Hedges told SBI. “I think that’s something, that did not surprise me, but to keep that same mentality the whole season was a very good thing. I think if we can keep that mentality going into the season that we will be just as successful as year.”
Then maybe they will finally be able to get over that postseason hump and claim that all-elusive first MLS Cup.
“Our goals this year are to keep winning titles,” said Pareja. “Winning MLS Cup is a strong dream of ours, and the CONCACAF Champions League is another strong dream that we have. We hope to continue on the same path that we’re on and that we take that next step as a club this year.”
2017 Projected FC Dallas Starting Lineup