Arguably, there has never been a collapse in MLS like what we just witnessed in 2017 from FC Dallas. Supporters Shield winners in 2016, US Open Cup winners 2016, and tied for most points in 2015 (losing out on the shield on a tiebreaker); FC Dallas was in first place as of July 27thbefore embarking on what is almost certainly the greatest 2nd half meltdown this league has seen.
To recap what Peter Welpton broke down earlier this week, over the last 15 games of the season the Huntsmen earned a record of 2 wins, 7 losses, and 6 draws. For comparison sake, the “worst expansion team of all time” Minnesota United FC started the first 15 games this season with 4 wins, 9 losses and 2 draws.
And to think, FCD still tied on points for the 6th and final playoff spot, losing out on the first tie breaker. That’s how far ahead they were.
Side note: the first MLS tiebreaker is wins. Perfectly reasonable choice really, although right this minute I wish it was goals. #NotBiased
So what went wrong for FC Dallas?
Honestly, when you’re talking about a collapse like this the answer is, well, a whole bunch of things. It was a perfect storm of issues that created this downfall.
Let’s break it down.
Stats: Offense and Defense Both Stunk
Through the first 19 games this season FC Dallas scored 1.68 goals a game and allowed 1.0. For comparison, the previous two 60-point seasons were 1.47 and 1.53 goals for, 1.18 and 1.15 goals against. So first 19 games of the season FC Dallas looked exactly like we expect. Things were good, Dallas was in first place.
FC Dallas’ Michael Barrios (21) maintains focus after turning around Vancouver Whitecaps FcC player Marcel de Jong (17) during first half action. The two teams played their MLS game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco on July 29, 2017.(Steve Hamm/Special Contributor)
Then the wheels came off. The 4-0 loss versus Vancouver on July 29thwas the beginning of the end. Over the last 15 games, vs. the Whitecaps till the end of the season, the Toros averaged a paltry 1.07 goals for and 1.93 goals against.
That’s a horrific combination, offense dropping off half a goal a game and the defense giving up a goal a game more.
Let’s start big picture, I want to go back to the offseason.
FC Dallas has for the last few years under Coach Oscar Pareja embraced the play ’em young and build philosophy. I’ve mentioned on twitter how this works, citing several example of young players breaking in and becoming core starters. Acosta has been getting games for 5 years and he’s just now 22; Diaz, 5 seasons and he’s now 26; Zimmerman: 5 seasons and he’s now 24… to name a few.
But this year FCD was making a run in the CONCACAF Champions League. This manifested in FCD keeping some older players and they signed a couple veteran players with experience playing in some tough environments to either become starters of provide reliable depth. Unfortunately none of these moves seem to have panned out.
Javier Morales was brought in to replace Mauro Diaz, until he returned, and back him up after. FCD actually played better without Morales early in the season with a formation change. Hernan Grana was brought in to solidify the right back spot. He was ok defensively but offered little going forward.
Anibal Chala posing with Dan Hunt when he first signed with FC Dallas. Chala has been loaned to L.D.U Quito until the 2018 MLS season.
On top of that, the young Latin American players FC Dallas brought in, just like in they have successfully in the past with Michael Barrios and Fabian Castillo, were this time all a bust. Anibal Chala, intended to challenge for the left back spot, was lost for the year leaving FCD with 34 year old Maynor Figueroa as the best choice left back. As a long season progresses, how much fall off did we see in two 30+ year old outside backs?
Carlos Cremeno, Cristian Colman, and Luis Gonzalez (mid-season) also didn’t pan out. Leaving Pareja to relay on 32 year old Atiba Harris to spot start and come off the bench, as both an midfield and defensive option, and Tesho Akindele up top.
Plus the next generation of FCD academy players or draft picks were either too young or just didn’t progress enough to really challenge. Coy Craft, Jesus Ferreira, Aaron Guillen, Jacori Hayes, Walker Hume, Paxton Pomykal, Adonijah Reid (season long loan), and Bryan Reynolds all failed to make a serious push for time beyond emergency fill ins.
Although he never got it, credit to Reggie Cannon for at least making a real push for time at right back.
All of which makes for about 9-10 spots on the FCD roster that weren’t really in the mix each week. That’s not even counting 3rd keeper Eduardo “Pollo” Cortes who was signed late in the season.
And yet with such a limited roster, only one time this season did FC Dallas field the same line up in back-to-back games: April 22nd vs Sporting Kansas City and April 29th vs Portland Timbers
Consistency is something that we have not had this year. For many reasons, but consistency… including the coaching decisions… but consistency is something that we have not had. We are in the last game of the season and we are still thinking about “what can we be?” – Oscar Pareja
For many reasons; call ups, injuries, and coaching decision; FC Dallas really struggled to put the same team out week to week. Pereja takes some of the blame on this but some of it is also happenstance and bad luck on injuries.
Kellyn Acosta came back from the Gold Cup with some tightness in his groin and as a consequence needed to be rested some. Mauro Diaz, after his return from his Achilles injury, had some tightness in his hammy that caused him to miss a few games and delay his return to form. Walker Zimmerman returned in July from a month layoff but hasn’t been the same.
United States’ Matt Hedges, left, and Kellyn Acosta, right, during an international friendly soccer match against Ghana at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, Saturday, July 1, 2017, in East Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
International call ups also wreaked havoc in the line up. Among the starters Acosta, Matt Hedges, Akindele, Zimmerman, Figueroa, Jesse Gonzalez, and Carlos Gruezo all missed time with their national team. Paxton Pomykal and Bryan Reynolds spent time with US Youth teams. Reynolds was hardly ever in FCD camp due to prep for the U17 Worlds.
Yes, injuries and call ups are something all teams struggle with. But it certainly compounded things for FCD and made slump recovery harder than it might have been.
And herein lies probably the biggest problem. MLS is a league of parity, small things can tip the scales. And a player’s mindset isn’t a small thing.
Over the previous two seasons, and early this season as well, FC Dallas was a team that fought for every point. Any time the team went down it just felt like they would find a way back. How many deficits did they club fight into draws? How many draws were battled into wins?
And in the last 15 games this year how many times did you get that feeling? How many wins and losses were blown, how many early goals with no chance to come back?
Hedges, 2016 MLS Defender of the Year, came back from the Gold Cup out of sorts and arguably hasn’t played the same since.
Zimmerman, as I mentioned earlier, post MCL injury has been tentative. That’s understandable with a knee injury, but his confidence is clearly down.
Diaz, coming back from a potential career ending Achilles injury, then having a hold up with his hammy problem… perhaps only in the last few games getting his form back.
Acosta, vocally talking about heading to Europe midseason. According to FC Dallas no offer comes in. Combine that with the tightness in the groin and his play suffers.
Carlos Gruezo, dropped from Ecuador in what turns out to be a failed World Cup campaign. He’s not even called into the last camp. Which came first, drop in form or drop in Ecuador starts?
Maxi Urruti and Michael Barrios were wanted by San Lorenzo in Argentina. The $5 mil offer turned down by FC Dallas. While we’re hearing Barrios is quite happy here, Urruti was interested in the offer but was even more upset with how the whole thing went down. Particularly with Dan Hunt putting words in his mouth.
If I didn’t leave, OK then, I didn’t, but do not go and say things I didn’t say. – Urruti to Al Día
Any wonder Maxi didn’t score again after that? That’s basically 2 months without a goal for a striker who set his career high this season. While I don’t doubt his effort, faith and confidence matter.
All of which leads me to…
There is a vibe these days around the club and first team. It’s a vibe I don’t like. The players are feeling it and if you’re around the club enough I think you would feel it too.
There is a vibe that the first team is almost an afterthought. A nuisance.
You see, FCD at best breaks even on the first team and more likely loses money. The Academy, player sales, and ancillary events/concerts at Toyota Stadium, even the “coming soon” Hall of Fame, are where FCD gets its revenue. Those are the things the FCD Front Office pays attention to. Those areas are perceived as to be what matters.
And the first team picks up on that. They pick up on the vibe that they are a burden on the franchise when they should be the core of the franchise. The players are left with a feeling that they aren’t supported as they should be.
Now don’t get in a huff, it’s not lack of support from the fans. I know for certain that the players at this club love the support they do get from the fan base that they have.
“Fan base that they have” being the key. The problem, if you will, is the size of the fan base. One only has to look at what’s happening in places like Atlanta with 71,000 in the stands and you begin to see how the first team could feel a lack of support from their own franchise.
Look at it from where they sit, two straight 60 points seasons and nothing is any different around Frisco. That weighs on the players’ minds.
It means a lot to have them give us notes and encouragement. We appreciate it, and for them to have our backs through the game, and this season, that’s what you need as a team. You need a fan base that’s strong and makes it difficult for opponents to play in. We expect to fill up our stadium, we expect to have support, and in return they can expect us in return to put in 100% effort every game. It’s a mutual relationship, we need them just as much as they need us- Walker Zimmerman
And that’s on the Hunts and the Front Office.