photo by Brad Smith/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
A red-hot start. A faltering finish. Brek Shea's dominating season. David Ferreira's season-long injury.
For FC Dallas, the 2011 season was a year full of high and lows. Led by Shea, the U.S. men's national team winger, FC Dallas looked a serious contender for the MLS Cup before a heavy schedule that included MLS regular season, U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League games took its toll on the team.
With no Champions League action for them this season, FC Dallas has addressed some of last season's areas of concern, including adding a reliable goal-scorer in Blas Perez.
The team is also the healthiest it has been in quite some time. With playmaker Ferreira nearly at full health, the Hoops have added to an already-potent attack and they are looking to return to the form of 2010 in which they advanced to the MLS Cup game.
"A big part of our success and a big part of the way we want to play is having David Ferreira on the field," said Schellas Hyndman. "I think we've made some good additions on the team. Now we need to play the way that we're capable of playing."
Here is a closer look at FC Dallas ahead of the 2012 MLS season:
FC DALLAS SEASON PREVIEW
2011 FINISH: 15-12-7, 52 points (fourth in Western Conference)
KEY ACQUISITIONS: F Blas Perez, D Carlos Rodriguez, D Hernan Pertuz, D Matt Hedges, F Walter Hines, D Ian Kalis, D Alex Lee
KEY LOSSES: M Marvin Chavez, M Jackson, F Maicon Santos, D Jeremy Hall, F Maykel Galindo, D Edson Edward
FC Dallas lost a pair of talented midfielders during the offseason in Marvin Chavez (traded to San Jose) and Jackson (sent on season-long loan to Brazilian club Cruzeiro), two players who combined for 52 starts during the regular season last year.
Ferreira's return should offset those losses as FC Dallas attempts to battle the Los Angeles Galaxy, Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders for Western Conference supremacy, especially if he can get back to the level of play he was at in 2010 when he was named MLS MVP.
One area FC Dallas will need to improve if they hope to be successful in 2012 is the play of their reserve players. When the grind of playing in three major competitions started taking its toll on the team, the results started to falter. FC Dallas lost five of their last seven regular season games before falling to the New York Red Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.
"Once fixtures start to pile up towards the central portion of the season, we're going to need guys in that second group to be able to come in and fill in a role," said goalkeeper Kevin Hartman. "I think that is probably going to be the most important thing for us."
In those final eight matches of 2011, scoring was an issue. FC Dallas and Shea, arguably the club's best player in 2011, were held scoreless five times during that stretch.
To try and prevent that from happening again at any point in the upcoming season, Hyndman went out and acquired Perez, the crafty and experienced Panamanian striker who many American fans know from watching him terrorize CONCACAF defenses over the years.
"He's certainly a big guy, a good finisher, he's sharp around the goal," said Hartman. "I think his mobility is something I've been surprised by. I certainly look forward to seeing him up top with some of the speed of Fabian and Brek and some of the other guys. We'll probably have a potent (attack) and it's just really how much we can see that on the field and how much he is going to help orchestrate it."
Perez is just another experienced player on a team that is returning several veterans. Daniel Hernandez remains with the club after signing a three-year player-coach deal in November, Jair Benitez is back and George John just rejoined the team after a loan stint with West Ham United.
That talent combined with Shea and Ferreira's playmaking, and the added defensive depth in Carlos Rodriguez, Hernan Pertuz and Matt Hedges, has FC Dallas dreaming of an MLS Cup.
"We certainly have the players to do it," said Hartman. "We have a consistent group. I think that Blas brings a lot. … We've had some good additions in Carlos and Hernan, so they'll be able to fill in roles for us."
Hyndman is not ready to make such bold proclamations about his team just yet, saying that the focus should be on getting into the MLS playoffs and taking it from there. He did mention, however, that anything short of a championship would be a letdown.
"Once you get to the playoffs then you're in a new season and hopefully you're playing your best soccer and competing for an MLS Cup," said Hyndman. "We did that a couple years ago. If you shoot to win an MLS Cup and you don't get it, you have to look at your season as being disappointing."