Setting the Scene
The 2011 season was a roller coaster for FC Dallas. After a slow start, 2010 MVP David Ferreira fractured his ankle, ending his year. Inexplicably, Dallas responded with a nine-game unbeaten streak to surge atop the conference standings. But a busy schedule and untimely scoring drought ultimately doomed the club down the stretch, as they crashed out in the Wild Card round of the MLS Cup Playoffs at the hands of New York.
Latin invasion sets Dallas apart
However, the team that will open the season against New York on March 11 will look very different than the one that bowed out in October. The club reloaded this offseason, bringing in Panamanian forward Blas Pérez to lead the attack. Though the versatile Jackson and fan favorite Marvin Chávez were shipped out of town, the return of Ferreira should provide yet another boost to a suddenly dangerous Dallas offense.
Without the international travel of Champions League play, the club will welcome a much calmer and restful 2012.
In and Out
IN: F Blas Pérez (1/3: free/Indios de Ciudad Juárez); D Hernán Pertúz (1/3: free/Independiente Medellín); D Matt Hedges (1/12: SuperDraft); D Alex Lee (1/17: supplemental draft); F Walter Hines (1/17: supplemental draft); D Ian Kalis (1/17: supplemental draft); D Carlos Rodríguez (1/20: Tauro FC)
OUT: D Edson Edward (11/23: waived); D Jeremy Hall (11/29: trade to Toronto); F Maykel Galindo (12/12: option declined); F Maicon Santos (12/12: option declined); M Marvin Chávez (12/16: trade to San Jose); M Jackson (1/18: loan to Cruzeiro)
Star Attraction: Brek Shea
The 22-year-old American midfielder took MLS by storm in 2011, scoring 11 goals en route to a third-place finish in the league MVP voting. After a brief training stint with Arsenal this winter and numerous appearances with the US national team, Shea’s stock has never been higher.
But like last season, 2012 will present a physical challenge for Shea, who will be forced to delicately balance his MLS campaign with international duty surrounding Olympic qualifying. However, unlike last season, less responsibility will likely be placed on Shea to jumpstart the Dallas attack. With the addition of Pérez and the return of Ferreira, don’t be surprised to see a drop in his goal scoring total – but his 2011 total of four assists should be quickly surpassed.
Unsung Hero: Zach Loyd
American soccer fans are beginning to take notice of the 24-year-old defender, who recently joined the US senior squad for January camp. But Loyd has long been a consistent and critical part of the Dallas defense, starting 47 games over the past two seasons. Though only 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, Loyd possess plus strength and quickness for an outside back. His willingness to join the attack was also apparent last season, as the former Tar Heel recorded four assists and a goal. Playing opposite Jair Benítez and with the addition of Panamanian Carlos Rodríguez, the outside back position is one of strength heading into the season.
Ready for Primetime: Blas Pérez
Goal scoring has never been an issue for Pérez (pictured right), who has amassed over 150 career goals in stops including Panama, Colombia, Spain, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. He has also proven deadly on the international stage, collecting more than 20 goals for his native Panama – including two against the United States in Gold Cup play.
Manager Schellas Hyndman promised to make a splash at the position this offseason, so the expectations are high for Pérez in his MLS debut season. If the goals don’t come, the Dallas faithful might get anxious – and rightfully so. His supporting cast should provide plenty of opportunities for him to become the finisher he was brought to Dallas to be.
Storylines to Watch
1. How healthy (and dangerous) is David Ferreira? Ferreira has come alive in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic in Orlando. After going the full 90 vs. Swedish side BK Häcken, the Colombian played the first half of a 4-0 thumping of Orlando City, scoring a PK goal and assisting on another. But the physicality of the first half took its toll on Ferreira, who is now sporting a bruised Achilles tendon. MLS play won’t be any different.
2. Is Pérez the lone answer up top? Hyndman sure believes so. There’s no doubt that the 31-year-old striker has talent, having had successful campaigns with Tigres UANL in 2008 (eight goals) and Pachuca in 2009 (nine goals). But will he regain his scoring touch with Dallas? If not, will a second striker join the attack?
3. Where’s the depth? Few teams boast the talent that Dallas possess in their starting XI. After that, it’s unclear what to expect from the club’s reserves. Many of the reserves that will be leaned on this season have little to no MLS experience, including Rodriguez, Hernán Pertúz and Andrew Wiedeman. But as international call-ups and injuries deplete the roster this summer, things could get interesting.
What He Said
“Any team you go to, you feel some kind of pressure – you don’t have to be a professional. But I’m the type of player that’s ready to step up to the challenge, and that’s what I am going to do here. But the main thing to do is to come together as a team. I’m ready to do what they ask me to do.”
– FC Dallas striker Blas Pérez
If Everything Goes Right:
Few can match the elite talent that FC Dallas possess in their starting XI. The club was just two points shy of the league-leading Galaxy at the midpoint last season. Add a healthy Ferreira back into the mix and a legitimate striker in Pérez, and things are looking up in Dallas.
Now that George John has returned from West Ham United, the defense will be identical to the one that had a league-best 531-minute shutout streak last season. And few question 37-year-old Kevin Hartman’s ability to have another stellar season in his storied career.
If Pérez continues to score and Ferreira returns to form, the Dallas attack will be among the best in the league. The wildcard could be 19-year-old Colombian Fabián Castillo, whose speed and moves on the ball place him among the best young attacking players in the league. The youngster is a leading candidate to start at right midfield, but also projects as a dangerous second striker beside Pérez. With Shea attacking on the left side, the goals could pile up this season.
Without Champions League play, many of the veterans on the squad should have ample time to recover and stay healthy. For players like Daniel Hernandez and Ferreira, this could be critical. If everything goes right in 2012, expect Dallas to be in the thick of the Western Conference race late in the season. And it’s possible this team could be significantly better than the one that came up just short at MLS Cup 2010.
WATCH: Hyndman Hopes to Avoid the Wall with Shea