FC Dallas and their head coach Óscar Pareja had a 2016 season that will be difficult to top. They won the Western Conference for the second year running, and secured a US Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield double. President Dan Hunt isn’t satisfied though. The Texas team wants to lift their first MLS Cup.
Three Questions for the 2017 FC Dallas Season
They’re also still after a CONCACAF Champions League title. They’ve invested heavily on talent and depth in the offseason. Will it be enough to capture these prizes? The answer to the following three questions will determine whether FC Dallas can realize their lofty title-winning ambitions.
Can FC Dallas Survive until June without Mauro Díaz?
Team captain and midfield maestro Mauro Díaz suffered a season-ending achilles tear near the end of the 2016 season. FC Dallas struggled to adapt, and the result was an early conference semifinal exit from the playoffs. Díaz is not expected to return until June, and even then he’ll need time to play back into form and fitness. Three months and possibly more of the 2017 season will be gone at that point. Can FC Dallas survive that long without their best player?
Pareja is a skilled team builder and Dan Hunt gave him license to raid the transfer market. FC Dallas brought in 11 new faces, including two central midfielders, Javier Morales and Carlos Cermeño. Thirty-six year old Morales is the most obvious replacement for Díaz while he’s injured. However, early lineups suggest that Dallas may instead play only with Acosta and Gruezo in central midfield rather than insert a like-for-like playmaker. Morales will surely play a role though. Multiple looks may be necessary to fill the void until their captain is healthy again.
Do They Have Enough Depth at Center Back?
Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman may be the best center back pairing in the league. Hedges is the reigning MLS Defender of the Year. Zimmerman just got his first U.S. cap and received accolades for his performance against Serbia. Trouble comes into paradise if one of these two gets injured. Last year’s third center back, Zach Lloyd, was snapped up by Atlanta United in the expansion draft. As a result, FC Dallas is short on depth.
Fullbacks Atiba Harris and Maynor Figueroa can provide cover at center back in a pinch. Beyond that, the only natural center backs on the roster are 23 year old homegrown Aaron Guillen and SuperDraft second-rounder Walker Hume. Those players have long-term potential, but are they ready for a run of first-team action? A sustained injury to the two starting defensive stalwarts could spell trouble for FC Dallas this season.
Can They Peak in November?
Last seasons’ FC Dallas team assembled a point total that no one in MLS could match. They did a lot of the work to collect those points during May, June, and July though. The last two and half months saw a mild dip in form, and an uptick in draws. Despite having a points lead in the West, they gave the Colorado Rapids a chance to catch them for the Supporter’s Shield on Decision Day. One has to consider that FC Dallas was competing on three fronts at the time though. They won the US Open Cup and qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals during that same late-season stretch.
In 2017, FC Dallas will have to manage a similarly packed schedule, and leave some in the tank for the MLS playoffs. Perhaps the secret to success is competing a little less successfully during the MLS regular season, and ensuring their best eleven is fit and in-form for a fall playoff run.
The FC Dallas roster is stacked. Even without Díaz, they have one of the most talented and deep squads in MLS. Talent is no guarantee of postseason success though. You have to peak at the right time. Óscar Pareja knows this. Dan Hunt knows this. Time will tell whether they have the roster, the durability, and the strategy to lift an MLS Cup at the end of their 22nd season in the league.