If my calculations are correct, and they certainly might be off, FC Dallas is exactly one third of the way through the 2010 season. 10 games played, 30 game season, ok yeah, that's one third. A third of the way seems as good a point as any to break down how FCD is doing. A 2-2-6 record, only two wins, but only two losses. That's good for 6th in the west, and better yet, 9th overall, one point out of a playoff spot.
Perhaps more importantly though, FCD needs 30 points from 20 games to hit the hypothetical 42 point playoff target (I upped it to 42 this season with the increased amount of teams). That's 1.5 PPG when FCD has been playing at a 1.2 PPG clip. Ok, so they need to improve just a little to make it. Thankfully they are in a good position to do so, which we'll get to.
First a note on last night's game against Chicago. I'm not usually one to grip about the referees, you get what you get in MLS. And I'm not actually upset about the two blown offside calls that cost FCD the win. (Brek Shea was on side and McBrde was off. Go watch the ESPN recap if you don't believe me, they break it down well.) those kinds of blown calls happen and it's the nature of the beast. I'm sure both assistant refs will hear about it from MLS and or the ref evaluators.
So that's not what made me angry, bad refs are part of the game. What made me angry was the general thuggery, clutching, grabbing, fouling, and general rough play that was going on. This kid of referee, letting that kind of stuff go, kills the beautiful game. And I'm not just talking about Chicago, both sides were equally guilty. This is a overall philosophical question the league must address. MLS has a reputation as a hack league, and it's no wonder. This game was a perfect example of it. None of the creative, tricky, exciting, beautiful players could do anything. Any time a Ferreira touched the ball he was spun, grabbed, pulled, and fouled. Anytime McBride got any where near anything he was arm tackled and hacked. It made for a slugfest, exciting yes I suppose, beautiful? No.
Frankly I was disgusted watching it.
You want to know why Eric Avila doesn't get into games? Cause he wouldn't be able to do jack squat in this kind of match. It's why you get big, physical Jason Yiesley who can at least muscle someone around to get maybe grab a goal. You want to see Eric Avila? Get MLS to clamp down on this ugly garbage.
Ok, rant over. On with the season opinions.
I've chosen to start with the bad, cause I think the season has been ok so far. This way I can finish with the positives that FCD can build on.
No Tan Bueno (Not So Good)
Some of this may seem a little harsh given FCD's mid table placement.
- Jair Benitez is having a horrible season by the standard he set last year. Endless turnovers, poor marking, and maybe not as fit. The LA Galaxy game was particularly brutal. Chicago was his best game yet, and he still wasn't very good. With Heath Pearce in town Benitez better bring it up fast or he'll be sitting on the pine.
- Jeff Cunningham is a mess, mostly it's mental. His timing is off, his touch is off, he can't find the game or the ball (that one may not be his fault), he's not as mobile, nor is he working as hard as last year. That's all mental. Unfortunately he also looks a step slower. That one may not be mental. Bottom line he's not getting it done and he knows it.
"We worked for the last two-and-a-half to three weeks on mobility, movement off the ball and I don’t think we’re getting a lot of that. It’s just not getting it done. You put up with a lot of stuff if they’re productive." - Schellas Hyndman
- Which leads me to this, the biggest and most massive mistake of the year was not replacing Kenny Cooper and brining in someone, anyone, to challenge Cunningham. Yes, FCD signed Milton Rodriguez, but by the time he gets here it will be a year, give or take, since Cooper left. Cunningham isn't good when he is comfortable, he gets complacent. He needs to be challenged, maybe even offended and pissed off, to be at his best. So for me, Cunningham's poor form is the coaching staff's fault. Yes, Hyndman needed a TD to take some of the load off now that there is no General manager. None the less, it was a massive mistake.
- The second big mistake of the winter was letting Dave van den Bergh go. Wait, that's not right, let me rephrase that. The second big mistake of the winter was not replacing van den Bergh's possession and savvy in midfield. I actually buy into letting VDB go, age, cap, not being on the bus, etc, etc. I get it, he's gone (you notice no one has signed him). The problem is the missing possession, culture, smarts, understanding, and vision. Here's why.
MLS teams have figured out FCD to a certain extent. Opposition plays a high defense, and a deep set of forwards that don't pressure the FCD back line. This does two things. 1. It compresses the midfield and makes it almost impossible for McCarty and Hernandez to build through the middle to Ferreira. 2. It forces FCD to bring the ball out from the back when they're back line consists of some not very good passing players. Ugo and John are average at best and might be called poor. Loyd is a rookie and it still making reading mistakes on speed and space. Benitez, well we've covered that. It all forces FCD to play long ball and try and counter.
"I think, yeah. What is happening is they’re letting Zach [Loyd] get the ball and they’re letting our fullbacks bring the ball up. What’s happening is we become much more predictable and we’re unable to get through the middle. When we try to go through the middle, they’re either intercepting or winning the first tackle off the ball. It leaves us vulnerable for the counterattack." - Hyndman
- With Cunningham being off and not holding the ball well this long ball tactic is a disaster. FCD is built with two big, aggressive, flying outside players in Brek Shea and Atiba Harris. In order for them to get forward and play off Cunningham, Jeff has to hold it up and lay it off. That's not happening. With the middle clogged Ferreira is running out of time and isn't finding players either. This is where the missing savvy and skill of van den Bergh is really a problem. With Cunningham on form it wouldn't matter as much. Without vdb's skill this team is very one dimensional and easily shut down.
Could Eric Avila do it? Possibly, but given the aforementioned MLS thuggery I'm not sure he's quite savvy enough yet to survive it without a bunch of turnovers. Worth a shot maybe.
- All of that leads to FCD not being good enough. Hyndman says he wants his mids to keep 3 in 4 balls, 75%. He mentioned a couple weeks ago they are keeping 3 in 10. Bottom line, not good enough. That needs to be better. Again missing a possession element from one wide mid or the other.
- What has happened to Marvin Chavez? He got injured, but he certainly looks poor in the time he has gotten since returning from injury. How long before he is in form and challenging Harris or Shea? Or is he a bust? Does he just not have enough to be a starter? Is he just a bench threat? Maybe that's enough, there is a role for bench danger attackers. Eric Avila has that role now. For a player of Chavez's resume I certainly expected more. He had won the right mid job outright in the spring. Would he solve the trouble in midfield?
- In MLS, good teams don't stand pat. Good teams make moves every year. Bad teams sit still and get passed by. FCD stood pat this winter and even dropped a few pieces. That's not a good indicator that things will improve. Right now it's hard to say this team is even as good as the one who finished last season on a roll.
El Camino Central (Middle of the Road)
- George John is still playing a bit to much like a rookie. He's making some mental errors, like the goal he gave up in the LA Galaxy game. One thing I do love about this kid though is his mental toughness and willingness to stand up and take responsibility. Accountability matters, and this kid has some serious mental balls.
"I take responsibility for it, no excuses. It was a bozo play on my part trying to pull offsides so far up the field. I don’t know if he was offsides or not. I was thrown off a bit by the linesman. I thought he was going to raise his flag but he didn’t. It was a bad play on me. I need to follow him there. It doesn’t matter if it’s offsides or not. It was just a mental mistake there that cost us the game." - George John after the LA game.
- Zach Loyd is showing some real promise. I expect him to start the rest of the year. He's got touch, can pass, and likes to get forward. Quick enough to recover and can play good one on one defense. But he's still a rookie. He's still making mental errors and turnovers. That's the nature of being a rookie. He will get better though and the progression is already there.
- Break Shea has been ok, with flashes of serious potential. 1 goal and 1 assist in 8 games, he should have more on a couple of misses, and also on a couple bad ref calls. He's right about where I thought he would be. Is he part of the aforementioned savvy and possession problem? For sure. He needs to improve for FCD to improve. I think he will. And if he doesn't at midseason Hyndman will find someone else.
El Bueno (The Good)
- Even with all those problems, FCD is still playing some solid soccer. 1.1 goals against is 6th best in the league, and as we mentioned there is room for improvement. This stat can and should improve with FCD in the top four perhaps by year's end. FCD can become one of the best defending teams in MLS, they are already in the top half.
- While FCD is 10th in goals scored with 1.1 GPG, they are first in shots with 133 (LA -124) and 2nd in shots on goal with 52 (KC - 53). So again despite what I see as some real problems in the team concept and play area, the chances are there. The finishing just isn't good enough. (see Cunningham form)
- Dax McCarty is having a terrific season. He's playing some wonderful ball and is one of the main reasons FCD is in the position they are at mid table. He's showing savvy and vision, having picked up a lot of the van den Bergh slack. If FCD can create him just a little more space, perhaps with some tactical adjustments, he could be lights out and MLS Best XI material.
- Speaking of MLS Best XI form, David Ferreira has been sparkling. His touch is right on, he's even tougher than last year, and he's scored some key goals. If Cunningham was on, Ferreira might have eight assists already instead of just three. You can not ask for more from a player than FCD is getting from Ferreira. Now he just needs to hold and up and stay healthy till the cavalry arrives. It's a long season around these parts.
- Here's where we find out of Hyndman is smarter than me. I am a guy who wants a team to be good all year, I don't like the playoffs and the "get in, get hot, win a title" mentality. I want moves made in the winter to see a team win the Supporters Shield, that for me a better measure of the "best" team.
But maybe Hyndman knows that MLS, and therefore job security, is about titles. Maybe he has it right. Stand pat over the winter, make one or two moves in the second window, peak in the second half, make the playoffs, and win a title on the run. Maybe that is the better way to go about it.
- Which brings me to the last point. We know Milton Rodriguez is coming in. If Hyndman got it right, that will be a great add. But I expect another signing to happen. FCD doesn't have a ton of cap room but they do have allocation money, and they can make roster moves to clear a spot and some space. Hyndman, I imagine, will look at his team, find the weakest spot, and bring someone in. Shea still not getting it done? How about Demarcus Bealsey? Atiba Harris not working out? Maybe a Kenny Cooper? (I stick by my prediction Cooper returns to FCD this year.) Hyndman will shuffle the cards if he's not happy. You can count on that.
Perhaps it's not shocking, but this season has been some good, some bad. There is room for improvement, and said improvement should see FCD move up the table. Shea, Loyd, and John play in some. Cunningham or his replacement starts scoring. Add an additional move... It might just all come together like last year.
But right now the status quo isn't good enough, yet fans I think can expect to see more. Stand pat though and the season is a waste.