FC Dallas had a strong start to the 2017 MLS season, going undefeated in their first nine games. Expectations are high for the back-to-back Western Conference champions. They won a Supporters Shield and US Open Cup double in 2016. Many marked them down as preseason favorites to win the West again and capture MLS Cup. Despite continued strength in defense, the goals have dried up. FC Dallas has lost twice and tied once in their last three matches. Is it panic time for FC Dallas and Óscar Pareja?
Panic Time for FC Dallas?
The short answer is no for three reasons.
First, FC Dallas has arguably the best defense in MLS, anchored by young standout center backs Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman. Hedges is the reigning MLS Defender of the Year. Zimmerman is making headway and getting caps for the US Men’s National Team. Their young top-level talent in the center is bolstered by experience at the wide positions. On the left is Honduran National team captain Maynor Figueroa. He is a wall of a man. He’s also solid defensively and can contribute goals. Hernan Grana joined this season from All Boys in Argentina and is an upgrade a right back. Homegrown goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez has captured the first choice spot, and currently boasts the best Goal Against Average (GAA) in MLS. Their stingy defense has conceded only nine goals in twelve matches, the fewest allowed in MLS.
Second, they are well positioned in the West, despite the recent dip in form. FC Dallas boasts the best points-per-game (PPG) average in the Western Conference. They’ve tallied 20 points from 12 matches played. That averages to 1.67 points per game, which is third best in MLS behind Toronto FC and the Chicago Fire. They sit third in the West having played less games than Sporting KC or Houston, and are positioned favorably to reclaim the top spot. However, FC Dallas doesn’t need to win the West this year. They’ve done that two years running and it hasn’t led to postseason success. They simply need to finish with a decent seed and save their best for the MLS postseason.
Finally, Mauro Díaz is back. FC Dallas’ feature Designated Player, team captain, playmaker, and talisman played 14 minutes against Houston on Sunday. Diaz was sidelined with a season-ending Achilles injury last October and hasn’t seen action since. Their best player is now back and will join Kellyn Acosta and Carlos Gruezo to make up a fearsome central midfield.
Offensive Worry and Pareja’s Challenge
Any thoughts of panic at this point in the season are surely premature. The offensive productivity is a worry however.
Only one team that currently occupies a playoff spot has scored less goals than FC Dallas. New striker and young designated player Cristian Colmán seems jinxed and is still searching for his first MLS goal. Maxi Urruti hasn’t scored in his last three starts despite a red-hot start to the season.
Díaz’s return should help create more chances. No other manager in MLS will face the challenge that Pareja faces of integrating such a critical player one-third of the way into the season. As their star DP returns to full fitness, Pareja must decide how to best mold a team around him that includes some new faces. He must do it in a fashion that produces more goals if FC Dallas is to live up to their lofty expectations, and earn more silverware in the 2017 season.