120 Fahrenheit: Bugging Me

It’s not like it’s been a good season.

Let’s face it, this is going to be a long year.  FCD is firmly entrenched at the bottom of the standings, and while there is some small hope, it’s not likely at this point FCD will make the playoffs.  It’s a 30-game season and FCD is almost to the halfway point with only 10 points.  40 is the normal target to make the playoffs and the odds FCD can get 30 points in 17 games is slim.

I still think FCD is better than San Jose and New York.  They really should be in that 15-17 point pack with RSL, New England, and LA Galaxy.  But FCD has blown some games and points along the way to make it tougher.  If the Red Stripes were at that 15-17 spot (as I wrote five game ago) they would have a shot.  But now there isn’t much chance.

Back in the spring, I felt FCD would start a bit inconsistent, maybe be around .500.  Then I expected a signing or two in the window and a push into the playoffs.  There were, I felt, some signs for optimism, but also some trouble spots. 

So what went wrong?  Frankly almost everything I pointed out as a concern has gone wrong, plus a few things on top of that .

The System

“But wait, you said Hyndman had a system in place and that was a good thing?”  Yes, I did… in the long run.  The problem isn’t the system itself, it’s that now, despite talking all winter about wanting to emulate Houston and have a firm system in place for years to come (a good thing and something that should be sought), Hyndman has changed the system multiple times.  After working all winter to get ready to play a certain way, FCD now plays a different way.

Yes, it has helped the team play better, but changing systems in mid season is what bad teams do when they are trying to salvage things.  This season, as bad as it is, could have been used to build toward the system the gaffer wants, right now it’s not.  It’s a symptom that Hyndman gave up his beloved diamond 4, a sign that it wasn’t working.

So why did the system fail?  Because…

Team Halfway Built

Hyndman wants to play a diamond 4-4-2.  Unfortunately, the roster is only halfway transitioned to the right player mix to play that way.  Right now, despite McCarty’s terrific play of late, there is no holding midfielder capable of playing the deep spot in the diamond four.  It requires immense range and work rate like that of Ricardo Clark in Houston, a Maurice Edu, or Osvaldo Alonso.  The main reason Hyndman went 4-1-4-1 is because of this problem.

Also missing is a real right-side midfielder.  You can tell Hyndman knows this by his use of Cunningham wide right and the trial this week of Tom Parratt, a wide right player. 

Hyndman never got the right back he wanted, and if forced to use a player wide right he thinks is better central.  Not that Moor is a bad right back, he’s not, but it still affects the coach’s thinking.

Plus two other positions, the first of which is…

High Striker – a.k.a. NOT Kenny Cooper

Kenny Cooper isn’t a high striker, stop trying to make him one.  (You notice I didn’t say target striker.)

In Hyndman’s desired system there are two strikers, a high one and a withdrawn one.  When the year started Cunningham was the high striker and Cooper the second.  All well and good, except no one was scoring.  After that Hyndman went with Cooper as the high striker and Ferreira as the second.  Now in the 4-1-4-1 Cooper is all alone as the high striker.

The problem is Cooper isn’t a high striker.  Every coach that has some through Dallas has tried to make him one.  All of them eventually give up cause Cooper isn’t changeable.  Clarke even moved him to wide mid eventually and he had a high striker in Carlos Ruiz.  

Cooper instead plays side line to side line, drops back to midfield to work the ball forward, wants to dribble at people and shoot from range.  Stylistically he’s a pure second striker.

So just accept the fact Cooper isn’t going to be in the box all the time, Cooper isn’t going to be playing back to goal, Cooper isn’t going to be pushing the defenders and keeping the line high, and Cooper isn’t going to stay high center channel.  Instead, go find a pure high striker (Houston seems to have no trouble finding them… Ching, Jaqua, and now Weaver) and let Cooper play second.  He’ll be happier and the whole thing will work better.

The second missing positional player is a veteran leader at center back, which is why Hyndman went with…

Defense by Committee

Rather than going out getting a player he felt was the answer to solve his problems in the middle, Hyndman went with a committee approach.  He wanted someone tall, strong, quick, physical, and a vocal leader. (A player that costs a couple mil probably, which might be why he couldn’t find one.)  Instead, it was quantity over quality.  Aaron Pitchkolan (since traded), George John , Steve Purdy, Daniel Torres, Drew Moor, and now as an emergency solution Pablo Ricchetti.  Even newly acquired Kyle Davies has gotten a run.

At beast it was going to take time for whoever won the job quite a while to gel and settle in.  Even if Hyndman stuck with the same four it might have taken till mid-season for them to reach top form.  Instead via injuries, caching choices, and formation changes we’ve rarely seen the same set of players twice.  There is no way that kind of chaos can lead to a solid defense.

Since FCD is having trouble holding scoring down, they need to be scoring themselves.  Unfortunately…

No One Else Can Score

Thankfully at least Cooper can, although even he had a short drought.  But past Cooper?  Nada.

Hell the second leading scorer on the team is Drew Moor.  When your second leading goal guy is a defender and not a tall one at that, that’s not good.  Moor’s got a knack for header on corners, that’s great.  But it clearly shows that no other forward has done jack squat. 

Whether it be would be starter Jeff Cunningham or guys off the bench like Brek Shea and Peri Marosevic, or even midfielders playing up top like David Ferreira or Tom Sanchez…  no one is getting it done.  There’s not even another player with double digits in shot on goal!

When you’re giving up goals, you either gottta score a ton to keep the Goal difference positive… or you stink.  And FCD stinks.

Too Many Injuries

Part of the problem in the defense from early on, and now even in midfield, has been the rash of injuries.  Losing Sala for a long chunk of time rattled the defense and required a lot from unproven Ray Burse.  Ray has got great potential, but he’s still raw and does make mistakes that cost games occasionally.  In turn this unsettles the defense even more and they play worse.

On top of that is the seemingly endless parade of injured center backs.  John, Purdy, Torres… everyone that was supposed to help fix the back has missed extended time.  We have little idea if Steve Purdy, FCD’s best defender in the spring, can really play cause he was playing hurt to start the season and hasn’t been back since.

Now midfielders are starting to drop.  Leading off was Bruno Guarda, who while no fan favorite had at least put in a solid effort filling in for Ricchetti.  Now Sanchez, just as he was really coming on, is lost.  Then in the last game FCD’s most consistent player Dave van den Bergh goes down.  On top of that we today read that Ferreira seems to be knocked up. 

That doesn’t even begin to touch on Andre Rocha who seems to have been mailing it in all year after he showed up a month late and out of shape.  Imagine where FCD might be if McCarty wasn’t playing lights out in midfield?

Fit Enough?

Frankly, these kind of rampant injuries leads me to think FC Dallas may not be fit enough.  Sometimes injuries come from lack of fitness (also sometimes from overwork, it can go either way).  But add in the FCD tendency to fade in the second half and lose tied games, or tie game they are leading and I begin to wonder.  Through their first eight games I think it was, FCD was leading or tied in seven of them.  

The heat used to be an advantage here, now teams come into Dallas and bunker.  They make Dallas move the ball over, and wear themselves out.  The opposition sites deep, counterattacks, scores, and wins.

Missing Balls

Good teams win when they should win and bad teams find a way to not win. 

Exhibit A, the San Jose game.  San Jose missing 5 or 6 key players.  San Jose with zero points on the road all year.  San Jose with only three goals scored on the road all year. San Jose who FCD can essentially eliminate from the season.  And FCD lets them score twice and gives up a tie.  To me, that game is the #1 glaring example of why FCD isn’t good.   FCD on that night had far more talent on display… and didn’t win.

Exhibit B. Houston against FCD…  FCD is a team Houston should beat every time, so the standings say.  Even when Dynamo are missing key players it doesn’t matter.  Houston knows how to win and win they do.  They have guts, balls, and a killer instinct.  FCD does not.  Houston takes care of business.

Last but not least…

FCD Corporate Structure

Yes seriously.  This has bugged me for some time. 

When Michael Hitchcock was hired, he was named President and General Manager.  Right about the end of his first year hear, I believe it was, John Wagner was named President of FCD with Hitchcock remaining the General Manager.  It was at that time the first employee(s) started to report to Wagner rather than Hitchcock.

Each year since then Hitchcock has had areas of the franchise shifted from him to Wagner.  Now we have reached a point where Hitchcock runs the team (except we all know Hyndman really runs the team) and the youth club, but little else besides international partnerships.  New VP of Marketing and Sale, Kelly Weller (who I am impressed with) reports to Wagner.  Exec-VP of Business Operations, Damon Boettcher (who basically runs PHP, including concerts, and all the corporate stuff) reports to Wagner.

I could probably live with all that, except Wagner doesn’t have his main office at Pizza Hut Park and he still runs HSG.  Sure he is often at PHP and often offices there, but he’s got other things to do.  So what you end up with is a bunch of employees at Pizza Hut Park who don’t really know who is in charge of what.  At least that is the impression I am getting talking to many of them. 

You wonder why it sometimes seems like one hand isn’t talking to the other when it comes to things with FCD?   In my opinion, this is why.

Wagner also doesn’t talk to the media, as near as I can tell, isn’t seen doing press conferences, and has nothing to do with the team.  Hitch does all that, except Hitch isn’t really running the show anymore.  Hitchcock was at least a top sales guy at one time and has a real passion for soccer.  Wagner is an accountant and from his own mouth, knows little about the game.

All of which affects the attitude around the team and the atmosphere at the club.  You think it’s easy to play in front of an empty house then go on the road and see 20k or more?  You think the players don’t notice that things are chaotic?  You think the players don’t know no one is really in charge?  You’re damn right they do.

Now What?

Frankly, I’m not sure.  At this point, there’s not much chance of a salvaged season.  Hyndman should probably start working toward 2010.  He’s got some work to do to get the roster where he needs it, but some trades and a few signings are certainly in order.

Hopefully, that won’t make things worse.

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