>By Evan Ream, with help from the Intern
Last Year: 12-4-14 50 points, 3rd in West, 4th overall. Beat Real Salt Lake 3-2 in Western Conference Semifinals, Beat LA Galaxy 3-0 in Western Conference Final, Lost to Colorado Rapids 2-1 in MLS Cup.
Key Losses: Heath Pearce, Jeff Cunningham, Dax McCarty, Atiba Harris
Key Additions: None
Projected Starting XI: FC Dallas probably plays the most unique formation in MLS. It can be best described as a 4-1-4-1. Their back four consisting Benitez, John, Ihemelu, and Loyd is pretty much your stereotypical back line, though the outside backs are allowed to get further forward due to Daniel Hernandez playing in a deep lying midfield position in which he is always providing cover. In the midfield, Brek Shea and Marvin Chavez do a lot of the creating, but also have defensive responsibilities. Eric Alexander will try to take over the linking role that Dax McCarty performed so well last year. David Ferreira may be listed as a forward by some, or a midfielder by others, but he really doesn’t have a position. Ferreira, last year’s league MVP, has the license to roam. He drifts in and out, here and there, gathering the ball deep and distributing it, or creating goals up top. So many teams can’t guard him because he is moving so often off of the ball. Ferreira creates most of their goals, usually from different positions, and he is always the key to the Dallas’ team attack. Milton Rodriguez is a classic target forward who seems to be a somewhat limited player. Rodriguez hasn’t really impressed me, but the team was still successful last year without him making major contributions, so they should be alright without relying on him this year.
Prognosis: Dallas should still be a playoff team this year, but they lost a lot of good players, and thus their depth will be tested when players inevitably get injured. Zach Loyd may be as good as Heath Pearce, and Eric Alexander is a promising young midfield player, but Daniel Hernandez turns 35 this season, and they lost Jeff Cunningham’s off the bench spark as well as Atiba Harris’ versatility. Many young players need to contribute this year. If Kevin Hartman has the same sort of season he did last year, I can see them matching their success, but it just seems like they have lost too much depth and didn’t really try to replace it with anything. They still have their core of players, but losing Dax McCarty will cost them ultimately. I see this team being a lower playoff seed that can upset teams, but due to a lack of depth will not be able to find the consistency they had last year.
The Intern’s Take: The losses up top of Jeff Cunningham and Atiba Harris, who together scored over a third of Dallas’ goals last season, will be a hard to fill for FCD. Once again, the key to Dallas’ success will rest with David Ferreira. More so than last season, the reigning MVP will need to lead this team if they are to secure a spot in the playoffs. The youth and inexperience of some of the midfield behind Ferreira will be an interesting part of FCD to watch and I expect them to improve quite a bit as the season progresses. Brek Shea will need to increase his role in the team, becoming more reliable and a smarter player (no more of these). Although Eric Alexander will likely struggle to fill the gap left by Dax McCarty, he is a promising young player and will have a lot of pressure upon him in his sophomore season. Daniel Hernandez is getting older and had to undergo knee surgery in the offseason for an injury he played through during last year’s playoffs, but will still be able to provide an effective leadership role for the rest of the midfield, assuming he can stay healthy. FCD’s greatest strength will be its defense, and despite the loss of Heath Pearce, they should be strong again. Without as many goal-scoring threats, Dallas will rely heavily on their defense to keep them in games. As previously mentioned, the lack of quality depth on the Dallas roster will not make this season easy for them, especially considering they will be playing in CONCACAF Champions League as well. Despite Dallas’ success last year, they simply got rid of too much talent to repeat what they achieved last season in my opinion. I do think that this slimmed down squad will still be competitive and that Dallas will make the playoffs, but possibly because of the decision to include ten teams in the postseason instead of eight. I can easily see FCD finishing somewhere between the sixth and ninth spot in the standings.