There’s something wrong with FC Dallas. The reigning Supporters’ Shield winners’ current issues are not just a blip or a cold spell anymore. The team is facing a legitimate problem, and it’s threatening to derail their playoff hopes after entering the season as legitimate MLS Cup contenders.
FC Dallas is winless since July 22, a span lasting eight matches that include five losses. Those losses have seen the club tumble all the way back to sixth in the Western Conference. Suddenly, FC Dallas is in danger of missing the postseason and there are several reasons why.
The first is a simple one, and it’s one that would doom pretty much any MLS team: stars aren’t performing. In a salary-capped league like MLS, teams rely on top players and lean on them a bit more heavily. Toronto FC wouldn’t be what they are with Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore playing at a certain level. The same applies to FCD.
FC Dallas’s stars are mainly a bit deeper. Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, Jesse Gonzalez and Kellyn Acosta are generally regarded as the team’s best players. Hedges hasn’t been the same since the Gold Cup shook his confidence a bit. Zimmerman has been in and out of the lineup due to injury. Gonzalez hasn’t looked himself in recent weeks. Acosta has been far from the level he enjoyed earlier in the season.
With the stars floundering, the defense has taken a beating. Through the winless run, the defense has allowed a whopping 19 goals. Sporting KC, another contender out West and the league’s best defensive teams, has allowed just 21 all season. In MLS, you don’t need to be in Sporting KC’s defensive stratosphere to compete for an MLS Cup, but there isn’t a single team in the league that could overcome FC Dallas’ level of defensive calamity. From bad turnovers to individual mistakes, to simple lacks of effort, the defense just hasn’t been there, and they’ve taken a number of beatings because of it.
Then there’s the issue of goals, which always looked like it was going to be a problem before it wasn’t. To start the season, Maxi Urruti was somehow more than enough to fire FC Dallas to wins. With help from several stunning Kellyn Acosta free kicks and contributions from secondary scorer Roland Lamah, FC Dallas appeared to have just enough in the attack.
Wrong. The signing of Cristian Colman, one pegged by many (including this writer) as a strong one, has probably been the flop of the season. Acosta’s newfound attacking ability has been relatively quiet. Lamah hasn’t built off a solid July. Urruti has scored once since July 4. Mauro Diaz, the team’s primary playmaker, has been in and out of the lineup since returning from his rehabilitating injury.
So how do you fix it? Well, you could go into the transfer window, which is very un-FC Dallas-like. FCD didn’t, although it did shut down potential big-money moves for Urruti and Michael Barrios. It was a move that showed that the club still had every intentions of figuring it out and that it was confident that this group was still very much a contender.
Well, if you don’t improve from the outside, you have to improve from within. FC Dallas has always done a great job at bringing youngsters into the fold and integrating them seamlessly. But this season, there’s been a relative lack of young blood earning meaningful minutes. It doesn’t help that the team’s top academy prospect in recent years, Weston McKennie, is shining in Germany, but players like Paxton Pomykal and Jesus Ferreira have yet to fully make the leap.
With all of that in mind, now what? The thing to keep in mind is that this FC Dallas team is talented and capable of being a good soccer team. The Hoops have big players, strong defenders and timely goalscorers. They didn’t simply forget how to play and they didn’t suddenly become bad players overnight.
There are just seven games remaining. Two are against the Seattle Sounders but the other five are against teams that are already all but eliminated from the postseason. If FCD can simply take care of business against the league’s lesser teams, reaching the postseason is clearly possible.
From there, who knows? If the defense can find its way, FC Dallas will have a chance against anybody, but to get there, they’ll need to tighten up and find some confidence. There isn’t a team in the league that wants to run into an in-form FC Dallas, but to get there, the team’s big players will need to step up and reassert themselves.