Rarely do professional sports teams fall off the face of the earth to the extent that FC Dallas did this summer. On July 28, FCD sat on top of the Western Conference with two games in hand and an opportunity to face then-sixth-place Vancouver at home that week. By the end of the season, they were seventh and out of the postseason race. They had won just two of their final 15 games.
It started with a 4-0 loss at the end of July to the Whitecaps. It was a collapse of epic, unmatched proportions. This was the model MLS team, with the best manager in the league, talent all over the roster and a Supporters’ Shield trophy. Shocking was the only word to describe it.
Many of those talented players, once considered the best in their positions, saw massive drops in form and confidence. Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman, previously dominant in central defense, were error-prone; defensive midfielder Carlos Gruezo lost his starting job with Ecuador amid a sea of yellow and red cards; and USMNT contender Kellyn Acosta looked completely off.
In addition, attackers like Maxi Urruti suffered massive goal droughts, and all the squad players that had been solid for them, Maynor Figueroa and Hernan Grana, as an example, suddenly played like USL backups. Oscar Pareja (remember when he was the long-term US solution?) had no answer.
Those trying to figure what happened in Dallas have a similar task to the US Soccer fans sitting dumbfounded at the men’s team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup. Bringing that up again is painful, but they really are similar situations. It’s just that FCD have two and a half months or so to put a puzzle (not necessarily the puzzle) back together, in contrast to the USMNT, who have at least two years.
The process began for Dallas when they revealed their 2018 options (not much newsworthy there) and switched into full gear on Sunday, when they traded Zimmerman to expansion side LAFC for $500,000 in allocation money and the No. 1 spot in the allocation order. He was a cornerstone, albeit a disgruntled one. Needless to say, he was not thrilled with the late-season benching, so it made sense to flip him for a pile of MLS cash.
With Zimmerman gone, their 2018 picture is blurred further. There are a few names you can put in pen next year (Hedges, Jesse Gonzalez, Mauro Diaz, maybe Gruezo and/or Acosta), but it feels like spots are up in the air elsewhere. Pareja and co. desperately need to move away from Maynor Figueroa and Atiba Harris-type veterans in defense, and more than anything else, they need to hit on major acquisitions.
They will surely remember how disastrous last year’s moves were. Winger Roland Lamah, the anointed Fabian Castillo replacement, was largely ineffective. Striker Cristian Colman entered on a DP contract but was a catastrophe on the field, scoring just twice in 1,000 minutes (both came in one game) and finishing at the level of a regular season Nelson Valdez. It looked like a wall went up in front of the opponent’s goal the second Colman stepped on the field.
Hernan Grana, signed to take over for Harris/Figueroa at left back, started fairly well but tailed off significantly in late spring and never looked the same again. His option was declined.
This rebuild’s success is based around their ability to do a better job in the transfer market. They have plenty of talent already, talent that led them to two trophies in 2016. Diaz is one of best players in the league, Hedges is one of the best center backs, Gonzalez is a talented young keeper, and the midfield of Gruezo and Acosta has shown to be capable of dominating. Young players like Paxton Pomykal and Reggie Cannon, products of FCD’s state-of-the-art academy, should play a bigger role.
$500,000 of Targeted and General Allocation Money is a lot. Same goes for the $1.2 million of additional TAM given to every team this offseason. The No. 1 spot in the allocation order is valuable as well, with players like Tim Ream, Geoff Cameron and Rubio Rubin available.
The same mistakes they made last year can not be made again if they want to avoid another massively disappointing collapse. One of MLS’ best on-field organizations is primed for a remodel that should put them back near the top, as long as it’s executed correctly.