We've had some time to process things and it's time to come to the sad realization that the 2014 season is over. It was an incredible season, but it has sadly come to an end.
Fear not, however! Planning and roster building for the 2015 season begins almost immediately. Here's a rundown of what to expect over the next six weeks as we head towards 2015:
NCAA College Scouting - Now through December 12
It's the business end of the college soccer season as conference tournaments take place across the country this weekend before the NCAA tournament. Not only will the FCD coaching staff be looking at players they could potentially select in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, but they'll also have an eye on potential future FC Dallas Homegrown signings like Boyd Okwuono at North Carolina and Mikey Ambrose at Maryland. Stay tuned as we'll have plenty of info coming up in the next couple days on how our academy alumni are doing as NCAA soccer hits tournament time.
Chivas USA Dispersal Draft - Wednesday, November 19
Sadly, Chivas USA is no more in MLS and while LAFC will be taking their place in a few years, the task to allocate Chivas USA's players will be settled next Wednesday with a dispersal draft. CLICK HERE to read the full information on the draft. We will know the order on Friday and there is certainly a chance that FCD could add a player through this mechanism. It is important to note that any player added must have his 2015 contract option exercised, so it is doubtful that too many players will be selected, but given the fact that Chivas USA had 11 players age 23 or younger on their roster, there is certainly a chance FCD adds one of Chivas USA's former players.
MLS Cup Final - Sunday, December 7
Yeah, yeah I know it's a little tougher to watch when FCD could easily be in it, but c'mon it's the league's championship game. Will Landon Donovan go out on top? Can New England, New York or Seattle achieve their first championship in league history?
Half-day Trade window - Monday, December 8
Immediately after the season ends, the wheeling and dealing begins. MLS is opening a half-day trade window on Monday, December 8 for teams to make moves before the Expansion Draft. You wouldn't expect much but could see trades made with NYCFC or Orlando City before the Expansion Draft.
MLS Expansion Draft - Wednesday, December 10
This is a big one. With New York City FC & Orlando City FC coming into the league in 2015, that means one of the dreaded expansion drafts. We will discuss the rules in much more detail as we get closer to the date, but teams are allowed to protect 11 players plus their Homegrowns and can lose as many as one player to each team.
That's the FC Dallas radar from now until the end of the year. There is also the MLS Draft Combine and MLS Superdraft on January 15 before preseason 2015 gets going in late January. It'll be here before you know it!
Oscar Pareja is known as a manager for his tactical tweaks and there were a couple that caught my eye in the last week of playoff games that I wanted to bring up.
Tesho's two very different roles
Rookie of the year frontrunner Tesho Akindele's role with FC Dallas varied over the last two months of the season as the rookie, who had started 14 straight games, appeared in the starting XI just three times over the last eight games of the regular season.
However, the Colorado School of Mines product has started both of FCD's playoff games, though his roles were very different in the two matches.
Against Vancouver, Akindele was played on the right side of the 4-2-3-1 formation and was a relatively purely offensive player in the match. As you can see from the game's OPTA Chalkboard, Akindele's defensive efforts were mainly simple clearances from set pieces looking to get up the field as quickly as possible to add to the attack. He and Castillo switched sides to effective results during the match and Tesho had the fantastic effort to open the scoring just before halftime.
The OPTA Chalkboard showed 10 "defensive" actions for Akindele in Wednesday's match with six of those coming in his defensive third and four of those in the box, presumably off set pieces. His heat map to the left showed he roamed around the field for the most part looking to combine with Castillo, Diaz and Perez up front.
The relatively direct attack of Vancouver was, by and large, snuffed out by the excellent center back duo of Walker Zimmerman and Matt Hedges with outside backs Zach Loyd and Je-Vaughn Watson cleaning up anything from the wings.
FC Dallas didn't need a huge defensive effort from their wingers against a Vancouver team that does not really rely on their outside backs to provide offense.
Oscar asked for a much different role from him star rookie against the Seattle Sounders, a team with arguably the most offensive outside back in Major League Soccer.
We'll talk about its effectiveness in a moment, but first I want to simply look at the role Tesho played against Seattle. Oscar asked him to sacrifice his offensive opportunities on Sunday night to work in conjunction with Moises Hernandez in slowing down the Sounders' right side of Yedlin and Lamar Neagle, the guy who unleashed a rocket-shot goal in their previous meeting.
As you can see from his heat map to the left, Tesho's role was much more defined in Sunday's game asking him to play a high defensive pressure game against the Sounders' right side duo. His actions are, for the vast majority, in one 30% area on the left side of the midfield, also in the 4-2-3-1 though not as defined as the one with Mauro at the #10 role.
As mentioned earlier, Tesho had 10 "defensive" actions in Wednesday's match mainly in the defensive third of the field where defending is a necesssity. Against Seattle, Akindele had 13 "defensive" actions, but they were almost exclusively in that middle third left side of the pitch where you see the heat map defining.
Tesho was asked to combine with Moises Hernandez to shut down DeAndre Yedlin and Lamar Neagle, something Dallas did extremely effectively. Pareja praised Tesho's efforts after Sunday's match.
Now let's talk about just how well the Dallas defense did against Yedlin
Slowing down the best attacking outside back in MLS
DeAndre Yedlin's star has risen faster than perhaps any young player in MLS history. The 21-year-old earned a big-money move to Tottenham Hotspur on the back of a great performance in the World Cup and while his defensive talents can certainly be scrutinzed, there is no doubt that he is absolutely dynamic going forward and when he plays well, really good things happen for Seattle.
As mentioned before, FCD dispatched a two-pronged defensive of the ultra-athletic Tesho Akindele with Moises Hernandez to stick with Yedlin all evening and it worked wonders.
First, let's look at the last time FCD played Seattle. Dallas played a straightforward 4-4-2 with two left backs, Jair Benitez and Hernandez, and it wasn't the most effective thing ever. As you can see from Yedlin's heat map and stats from that first game, he pretty much had his run of show in the first matchup back in September. 45 completed passes up and down the right side of the pitch, five crosses, etc...
Being the amazing coach that he is, Pareja knew they'd need better results against Yedlin in the second match, so he put in another thoroughbred that could contain Yedlin in Tesho Akindele. As we mentioned earlier, Akindele hung with Neagle and Yedlin every step of the way combining with the excellent Moises Hernandez to make the Sounders' left side ineffective and practically non-existent in the first leg.
As you can see, Yedlin's heat map from Sunday tells an extremely different story from the match back in September. Yedlin completed 80%(45/56) of his passes in September's game compared to just 46%(14/30) of his passes on Sunday. According to the OPTA Chalkboard, Yedlin had 18 attemped or completed passes in the Dallas half in September's match compared to just six on Sunday and Yedlin had just one attempted pass in the FCD final third in the entire match. The stats on Neagle are very similar and it says enough that he was subbed out in the 65th minute.
The numbers are even more impressive when you look at Yedlin's previous matches before Sunday's playoff game.
OPTA Chalkboards of Yedlin's last five matches vs LA, at LA, at COL, vs CHV, at FCD show that Sunday was by far the lowest completed passes he's had in quite some time, his lowest percentage of completed passes and by far his most conservative heat map of the previous month showing FCD did a fantastic job of both keeping him pinned in his own half and limiting his crosses.
The flip side to all of this is, of course, the fact that Seattle seemed pretty content to sit back for most of the game. Much more than they typically do on the road, a team that by far led MLS in road goals scored this season.
It'll be a huge task to do it again in Seattle, but Dallas certainly was able to do it in their own house.
Hear from Tesho, Loyd & Pareja on Sunday's big showdown with Seattle in FCDTV's Quick Kicks:
Scott and Daniel break down the first leg of FC Dallas' Western Conference Semifinal series against Seattle Sounders FC.
On Wednesday night, FC Dallas clinched their spot in the MLS Western Conference Semifinals with a 2-1 win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the wild card round match and with that brings a new playoff format.
Those of you who are UEFA Champions League die-hards will know exactly what a "two-legged aggregate" playoff means, but for those of who you follow FC Dallas either casually or fanatically, we're here to explain the ins and outs of the system.
Two games, one winner
Over the next week and a half, FC Dallas and Seattle Sounders FC will play twice, at Toyota Stadium on Sunday, November 2nd at 8:00PM and at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Monday, November 10th at 9:30PM. The two games will be normal 90-minute MLS matches, but it's the combined score of the two matches that will determine who moves on to the Western Conference Finals. Let's go through a few scenarios:
FC Dallas wins the "first leg" in Frisco 2-0 and loses the "second leg" in Seattle 1-0. FCD would advance to the conference finals because the combined, aggregate score is 2-1 FC Dallas.
FC Dallas and Seattle Sounders FC draw 0-0 in the "first leg" in Frisco and Seattle wins 2-0 in the "second leg." Seattle would advance to the conference finals with a 2-0 aggregate win.
That make sense? Well let's talk about ties.
Should FC Dallas and Seattle be tied in aggregate score after the games in Frisco and Seattle, one of two things will happen.
First off, let's talk about "away goals." Again, those of you who watch the UEFA Champions League are familiar with this rule and basically it means if the game is tied after 180 minutes, two games, whoever scored the most goals in the other team's house will advance to the conference finals. Again, let's go through a couple scenarios:
FC Dallas wins the "first leg" in Frisco 2-1 and loses the "second leg" in Seattle 1-0. Despite being tied 2-2 on aggregate, Seattle would advance to the conference finals because they have one "away goal" to FCD's zero.
FC Dallas and Seattle draw 1-1 in the "first leg" in Frisco and draw 2-2 in the "second leg" in Seattle. Despite being tied 3-3 on aggregate, FC Dallas would advance to the conference finals because they will have two "away goals" to Seattle's one.
Extra time and shootout
If the teams are tied after both games and also tied on away goals, the match will go to 30 minutes of extra time and if it is still tied, we will go to penalty kicks. You saw both of those scenarios in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup semifinal against Philadelphia Union earlier this year. Away goals is not in effect once you get to overtime. Basically, if both games finish with the same score, we're going to overtime.
Again, let's go through scenarios:
FC Dallas wins the "first leg" in Frisco 2-1 and Seattle wins the "second leg" in Seattle 2-1. The teams would go to 30 minutes of extra time after the second game in Seattle as the teams are tied on score and away goals. If neither team scores in overtime, it goes to penalty kicks.
FC Dallas wins the "first leg" in Frisco 3-1 and loses the "second leg" in Seattle 2-0. The Sounders would advance despite being tied 3-3 on aggregate as they lead 1-0 on away goals.
Does that all make sense? Score more goals than the other team over two games, you win. Score the same amount of goals and more goals in the other team's house, you win.
FC Dallas and Vancouver Whitecaps FC have played three hard-fought games in 2014 and they’re going to go at it one more time on Wednesday night in the 2014 MLS Cup Playoff curtain-raiser, a do-or-die wild card round matchup. Let’s take a look back at the three matches they’ve played this season:
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, FC Dallas 2 – Sunday, July 27th BC Place
Raul in Vancouver
Goals from Michel and Blas Perez saw FC Dallas take a 2-1 lead into the halftime break, but a controversial second half PK from Pedro Morales earned a point for the Whitecaps.
This match will be remembered, however, for some heroics from goalkeeper Raul “Superman” Fernandez. The Peruvian made seven acrobatic saves denying Morales who had an incredible 12 shots on goal.
FC Dallas 2, Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1 – Saturday, September 13th Toyota Stadium
FCD 2, VAN 1
Oscar Pareja’s side extended the Whitecaps hoodoo in Frisco as two goals from Blas Perez sent Vancouver’s all-time record at Toyota Stadium to 0-5-0 with a 2-1 win for FCD.
Perez’s first goal was a spectacular, if perhaps accidental, effort from nearly the corner flag. His cross/shot looped over the head of goalkeeper David Ousted and straight into the goal sending the Budweiser Beer Garden into raptures.
Perez won it late for FC Dallas, hammering home a rebound in the 78th minute to earn all three points for FC Dallas, a huge home win that proved vital later in the season.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, FC Dallas 0 – Saturday, October 4th BC Place
VAN 2, FCD 0
The Whitecaps earned their second-ever win over FC Dallas with a comprehensive 2-0 home win earlier this month. A five-minute double from Sebastian Fernandez in the first half was all the offense Vancouver needed as the Whitecaps were able to sit on the 2-0 lead for pretty much the entire match.
Despite having 24 crosses to Vancouver’s 5 and earning more shots, corners and possession, FCD was unable to seriously test Ousted in goal in this match.
A hard-fought match that saw 31 fouls committed, coaches from both sides were seen getting into a bit of a tiff at the final whistle adding a little extra spice to what should be an incredible match on Wednesday night at Toyota Stadium.
Here's your Keys to the Match pres. by Toyota for Saturday's regular season finale vs Portland:
Saturday's win at Colorado coupled with Real Salt Lake's draw at Portland has made the playoff picture pretty clear for FC Dallas with one week left to go in the season. Let's talk about it:
FC Dallas will finish third in the Western Conference if:
-Real Salt Lake loses or draws against Chivas USA on Wednesday night
-FC Dallas defeats Portland Timbers FC on Saturday night
If FC Dallas finishes third, our Western Conference semifinal playoff schedule will be:
WC Semifinal 1st leg - LA Galaxy/Seattle Sounders FC at FC Dallas - Saturday, November 1 or Sunday, November 2 Toyota Stadium
WC Semifinal 2nd leg - FC Dallas at LA Galaxy - 8:00PM - Sunday, November 9 StubHub Center
2nd leg - FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders FC - 9:30PM Monday, November 10 CenturyLink Field
FC Dallas will finish fourth in the Western Conference if:
-Real Salt Lake defeats Chivas USA on Wednesday night
-FC Dallas draws or loses to Portland Timbers FC on Saturday night
If FC Dallas finishes fourth, our Western Conference playoff schedule will be:
Wild Card Round - Vancouver Whitecaps/Portland Timbers at FC Dallas - 7:30PM Wednesday, October 29 Toyota Stadium
If FCD wins the Wild Card Round, our WC Semifinal schedule would be:
WC Semifinal 1st leg - LA Galaxy/Seattle Sounders FC at FC Dallas - Saturday, November 1 or Sunday, November 2nd
WC Semifinal 2nd leg - FC Dallas at LA Galaxy - 8:00PM - Sunday, November 9 Toyota Stadium
WC Semifinal 2nd leg - FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders FC - 9:30PM Monday, November 10 CenturyLink Field
For those not familiar with the MLS Cup playoff format, the top five teams in each conference make the playoffs.
Fourth place hosts fifth place in a one-game wild card playoff with the winner playing the top seed in a two-leg semifinal while second will play third also in a two-leg playoff. The two-leg playoff rounds will feature home games at both stadiums and whoever has the highest combined score will advance. The lower seed will host the first game while the higher seed will host the second match.
The winners of the semifinals will play each other in a two-leg conference final and the winners of the conference finals will play in the one-game MLS Cup played at the home of the remaining team with the most points earned in the regular season.
Just two weekends remain in the MLS regular season. Can you believe it? FC Dallas clinched the playoffs with last week's heart-stopping win over Los Angeles and now they turn their sights to earning the #3 seed which would ensure not having to play in the 4th vs 5th wild card game. Here's the playoff breakdown:
1. Seattle Sounders FC
60 points(+13 GD) - 2 games remaining - Last match: 1-0 loss vs Vancouver - Next match: 10/19 at Los Angeles - Last 5: L-W-W-L-L
The Sounders surprisingly fell to Vancouver at home, a result that puts their Supporters Shield aspirations very much in doubt. They end the season with back-to-back games against LA and will clinch the Shield with a win in either match.
2. LA Galaxy
60 points(+34 GD) - 2 games remaining - Last match: 2-1 loss at FC Dallas - Next match: 10/19 vs Seattle - Last 5: L-W-W-W-D
The Galaxy lost their first game of the season after scoring first in a 2-1 loss at FCD on Sunday. It was really a missed opportunity with Seattle having lost earlier in the weekend. They'll host the Sounders on Sunday and need four points from their two games against Seattle to clinch the Shield.
3. Real Salt Lake
52 points(+13 GD) - 2 games remaining - Last match: 2-0 win vs San Jose - Next match: 10/17 at Portland - Last 5: W-L-L-W-L
Jeff Cassar's side stopped a slide with a much-needed win against San Jose at home on Saturday. They've got a tricky test at Portland on Friday night and need a win to keep off hard-charging FCD and stay in control of their own destiny in the race for the third seed.
4. FC Dallas
51 points(+11 GD) - 2 games remaining - Last match: 2-1 win vs LA Galaxy - Next match: 10/18 at Colorado - Last 5: W-L-W-L-W
FC Dallas got a huge win against Los Angeles that took a ton of pressure off Oscar Pareja's side. They need one point to clinch a home playoff game and could leapfrog RSL for the third spot, though they'll need to ensure three points against a Colorado team that hasn't won since July. **NOTE** The first tiebreaker is wins and FC Dallas currently has one more than RSL with 15, so a tie in the standings would see FCD jump RSL.
5. Vancouver Whitecaps FC
46 points(+1 GD) - 2 games remaining - Last match: 1-0 win at Seattle - Next match: 10/18 at San Jose - Last 5: W-W-W-L-L
The Whitecaps scored another hugely impressive result winning at Seattle last weekend to stay above Portland for the final playoff spot. The Whitecaps have their toughest test left on Saturday with a tricky trip to San Jose. Two wins from their final two will ensure a playoff spot for Carl Robinson's side.
6. Portland Timbers FC
45 points(+4 GD) - 3 games remaining - Last match: 3-0 win vs San Jose - Next match: 10/17 vs Real Salt Lake - Last 5: W-W-L-W-D
Caleb Porter's men easily dispatched San Jose 3-0 to keep pace with Vancouver for the final playoff spot. They have a tough test against RSL on Friday before finishing the season at FC Dallas. Things look pretty difficult for the Timbers when you compare schedules between the two sides but Porter's side has shown amazing resiliency.
FCD PLAYOFF SCENARIOS:
FC Dallas will clinch a home playoff game if:
-Vancouver fails to defeat San Jose
-FC Dallas wins or draws at Colorado
IF THE SEASON ENDED TODAY:
If there were no games left and we were looking forward to the start of the playoffs, here are the current matchups:
WILD CARD GAME
Vancouver Whitecaps FC at FC Dallas
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
Seattle Sounders FC vs FC Dallas/Vancouver Whitecaps FC
LA Galaxy vs Real Salt Lake
Here's your Keys to the Match pres. by Toyota with Scott & Daniel breaking down Sunday's game: