Just a few days after losing to Colorado in the 2010 MLS Cup final, FC Dallas made news by leaving starting linking midfielder Dax McCarty exposed in the Expansion Draft. It wasn’t a big shock when McCarty was taken by Portland and then summarily traded to DC United.
The move brought an interesting reaction from FCD fans and media types. Many felt the move was puzzling considering that McCarty was one of the club’s longest-tenured players having been with the team since 2006 and when healthy, had been a key part of the club’s success last season as a rock in the middle of the yard.
But as the team’s rationale for leaving Dax unprotected surfaced, it was quickly learned that one player’s emergence was the big reason why McCarty was allowed to walk basically for nothing, Eric Alexander. The 2010 third-round pick from Indiana had performed well while filling in for McCarty during a lengthy absence with a leg injury last summer, a performance that caught the eye of US national team head coach Bob Bradley, who invited him to the team’s January 2011 camp in Los Angeles.
FCD also brought in Brazilian-born Ricardo Villar, who played for club TD Barry Gorman at Penn State, early in preseason. He was expected to vie for the starting spot with Alexander but now the position looks like a pretty big question mark. Here’s a closer look.
No doubt that the ex-Hoosier’s emergence in the second half of the season was a big story last year. Alexander also earned a well-deserved invite to the US national team’s January camp. But it’s time to ask the question, what has he done lately? The Michigan native hasn’t been very sharp either in games or practices during preseason and has quickly gone from being a guy many felt they could count on in 2011 to a major question mark going forward.
But if you look at Eric’s rookie season, there is some precedent for what's happening now. He got some minutes early in the year but then disappeared and didn't get any more PT with the first team for several months. As it turns out, Hyndman pulled him inside in the middle of the year and the two had a heart-to-heart chat about him hitting the proverbial rookie wall.
The Dallas gaffer basically told Alexander that he had to step it up and to his credit, he responded. Have Hyndman and his young midfielder had a similar chat already this preseason? If not, then that conversation could be nigh. And if Alexander responds in similar fashion, then he could be the answer in the wake of McCarty’s absence.
But if he doesn’t find his form before the end of preseason, is there any reason to expect him to find it during the regular season?
With Villar still on the shelf due to his leg injury, Avila has been getting some runs in the linking spot. He spelled Alexander in the game with Houston last Saturday. Avi also played a more central role in several earlier preseason games and honestly, the results were far from pretty.
It’s abundantly clear that Avila is more comfortable as a wing midfielder. When he did get some time inside, he displayed a tendency to drift to the flanks, which isn’t all that unexpected considering that’s where he has played for most of the last few years.
In fact, after the Houston Baptist scrimmage two weeks ago, Hyndman commented on Avila’s performance in the middle and the always brutally honest gaffer basically said the California native would best serve the club as a flank player.
One player who could be the wildcard in all this is recently-acquired defender/midfielder Andrew Jacobson, who came over from Philadelphia just prior to the SMU game. Jacobson is a defensive midfielder by trade who can also play center back. Is it a huge stretch to think he could maybe slide over and play linking mid if the need arose?
Jacobson has good size at 6-3, considerably bigger than the smaller stature that McCarty brought to the position, but there is the question of his experience, or possible lack thereof, at that particular position and how long, or short, his learning curve could be there.
Jacobson was brought in primarily to be an insurance policy should captain and starting d-mid Daniel Hernandez not be ready to go for the start of the regular season. But now that Hernandez looks like he’s almost up to speed and back to 100 percent, why not take a serious look at Jacobson in the linking role? After all, that’s what preseason is for, trying new things, and Hyndman has been known to throwing on the mad scientist hat and throwing something out there to see if it sticks.
As was previously mentioned, Villar was brought in after an interesting run abroad, most recently in Germany’s third division, to be the likely answer for McCarty at the linking spot. He did play in the first few preseason games and looked OK but it was clear that fitness was an issue.
Hyndman even alluded to that fact and said it would likely take as long as a few weeks for the Brazilian-born midfielder to get his fitness where it needed to be. From what he’s shown thus far, there is little reason to doubt his ability to fill the role on the field but with the March 19 season opener now less than three weeks away, but with the current injury time is truly running out for Villar to make his push to start the year in the first 11.
Villar was held out of the SMU scrimmage and also didn’t play in either of the two games in Florida. Who knows what his status will be for FCD’s current excursion out to Arizona, but if he’s not back in the mix and with just one preseason game left after they get back, it isn’t inconceivable to think he starts the year on the bench, a far cry from the role many thought he’d fill when he came to Frisco not that long ago.