MLS ’12 Preview – F.C. Dallas

Note: If you’ve noticed, we have temporarily skipped DC United in our 2012 Season Preview. Our colleague and podcast specialist, Chris Riordan, is putting that together. He will have it soon, but until then we will move along with our series of preview articles.

Club: F.C. Dallas

Head Coach: Schellas Hyndmann

2011 Record: 15-11-7 = 52 points, 4th Place West, 4th Place League, Lost in Wild Card Round of MLS Cup Playoffs

Twitter Hashtag: #FCDallas

Bounce back will be the buzz around FC Dallas Stadium in 2012. One would think, “4th place in 2011? Who needs to bounce back?” But after an MLS Cup Final appearance, the Hoops were hoping for more. The untimely loss of David Ferreira to a broken ankle was a huge blow, but that seemed to initiate the development of Brek Shea from an average fullback to Jurgen Klinsmann’s first choice left wing for the National Team. Halfway through 2011, it appeared Dallas would be poised to make a second run at a Championship.

That was short-lived though, as the fixture congestion of league play, US Open Cup, and CONCACAF Champions League play took it’s toll on Shea and the rest of the squad. Late in the season the team also grieved the passing of one of its beloved alumni, Bobby Rhine. Their 4th place finish in the league table was hollow given the new playoff format. Their poor form translated to an early dispatch from the MLS Cup Playoffs, and the tumultuous follow-up to near glory was complete.

So what about 2012?

Coaching And Front Office: Hyndmann has already led Dallas to a Final, and was very resourceful by redeploying Shea into a position near the top of the formation. The fact Hyndmann could lose the league MVP early in the season and still extract a top 4 finish in the toughest conference is commendable. As far as front office, the Hunt family has been one of the long-term fixtures in American soccer. There are still some questions regarding the ability for the renamed Pizza Hut Park F.C. Dallas Stadium (Pizza Hut’s ties ended in January) to draw crowds, but the front office has put a quality product on the pitch, and it’s up to the city to embrace the team.

Key Losses: The highest-profile departure was George John, and that may not even be a departure. He is currently on loan to London-based West Ham United. The trouble for John is that he has yet to hit the pitch for the Hammers, and so he may return without terms being made permanent. One player who will not wear the hoops in 2012 is Jackson Goncalves, who has been loaned to Brazilian club Cruzeiro. Marvin Chavez was traded for allocation money to San Jose, while Maicon Santos moved intraleague to DC United as a free agent.

Key Additions: The full return of Ferreira will be a major step for Dallas to get back into the title fight in earnest. As far as new acquisitions, the marquee signing for Dallas was Panamanian striker Blas Perez. He should be an excellent addition up front, whether pairing with Fabian Castillo or sitting up top in a 4-2-3-1. To counteract the potential loss of John, Dallas also acquired Columbian center back Hernan Pertuz. They added another Panamanian, fullback Carlos Rodriguez. He could challenge Jair Benitez for the left back position. It’s unclear how long it will take SuperDraft 1st-Round Pick Matt Hedges to find the first team.

Projected Starters: From an attack standpoint, having both Perez and Castillo should give Hyndmann tactical options. He could go with the 4-2-3-1 shape from last season and put Castillo on the right wing with Perez as the lone forward. Alternatively he could use Castillo as another striker in a 4-4-2 system. In either system, Shea figures to be the guy making runs at the defense on the left, and in time Ferreira will return to attacking central midfield. Daniel Hernandez will be the first choice holding midfielder; in a 5-man midfield, Andrew Jacobson would also get time centrally. In the 4-4-2, Danny Cruz would likely be the right midfielder.

Defensively, Kevin Hartman will continue to be a steadying influence in goal. This will be crucial given the uncertainty surrounding George John. Ugo Ihemelu holds over from 2011 as a starting center back, and Pertuz should be a cinch to pair with him if John remains in Europe. The path forward is unclear for Dallas should John return from his loan spell. Jair Benitez and Zach Loyd should be locks to start at left- and right back respectively. One wild card could be the dearth of quality left backs available to the US Men’s National Team; with Loyd having a decent run out with Camp Cupcake on the left, it could impact Hyndmann’s decision on how he deploys his fullbacks.

Player To Watch: Whether you’re an F.C. Dallas fan or not, you should be keeping an eye on Shea. With World Cup Qualification and the Olympics looming, this is a huge year for the robust left winger. Don’t forget the prospects of a European club knocking on Dallas’ door for the youngster’s services. The term “make or break year” may be an overstatement, but in a way this could be one for Brek Shea. Depending on his performance under the intense scrutiny of American fans, his stock could well outgrow F.C. Dallas Stadium and force the team and MLS into selling him on to greener ($$$) pastures.

Best Case Scenario: We’ve seen this team when they get hot. With the addition of a lethal striker in Perez, this attack could be stiletto-sharp. If Ferreira can get back to full fitness quickly, Hyndmann’s squad could become a thorn in the LA Galaxy’s side – especially with the questions the Champions have at the back. A Supporter’s Shield challenge wouldn’t be that far out of the question if the stars align.

Worst Case Scenario: The Shea situation could be no-win for Dallas; if he regresses, the team probably is hurt by his lack of performance. If he is a vast success in 2012, they could lose his services to Europe outright. There are also reports that Ferreira is struggling to regain confidence in his ankle. The negatives surrounding those two situations would certainly hamper the lofty expectations mentioned above, but I can’t see Dallas finishing any worse than 5th in the West barring a major collapse.

Prediction: I’ll predict that Dallas earns an automatic spot in the Conference Semis, finishing in 3rd place in the West.

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