Some recent constants held for FC Dallas in 2007: lead the Western Conference in the early-mid part of the season – check; head into the post-season like a pack of whipped dogs – check; consequently, lose in the first round – check; have at least one offensive player enjoy a stellar season, Arturo Alvarez’s 2007 to Kenny Cooper’s 2006 – check; have the work of the offense compromised by a shaky defense – check…well, sort of. A lot of similarities tied the campaign just past to the one that came before and upgrades in personnel, changes to the coaching staff, none of it seems to matter.
It’s got to be the grand narrative – the whole pattern of “succeed…choke…repeat,” familiar since 2005 – that most pains Dallas fans and players. It’s like the definition of insanity – e.g. doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results – except Dallas should have a choice. You’d think the coaching staff would order the players to take it easy during the first half of the season, have them rest through August – something – to switch it up. But the pattern persists and has over the past couple seasons.
For all the similarities, some changes did occur on the detail level. Combining an exciting offense with a dodgy defense has been part of Dallas’ reputation since Carlos Ruiz joined the club. That was definitely part of what I expected to discuss when I sat down to type this review. Even knowing Ruiz had an off-year and that Cooper went down after June 9, seeing a meager 37 goals still came as a shock. What about Juan Toja’s arrival? Alvarez’ breakout season? It’s not until you get down to individual stats (all available here) that it adds up, beginning with the fact that Ruiz’ seven goals led the team. This team, possessed of so many well-known weapons, finished fourth from last overall in scoring.
The story on defense is a little trickier. Their 44 goals allowed may sit comfortably in the middle of the pack, but the write-up for a late May loss to Chivas USA included an interesting stat: that game “marked the 17th consecutive match in which FCD was unable to hold an opponent scoreless.” That streak continued to 19 games before Dallas managed a clean-sheet against the mighty Real Salt Lake offense (OK, the same team who set a league record in 2007 for shitty starts). That boils down to six clean-sheets on the season, which may or may not be unusual (didn’t think to check till now), but this amounts to requiring your offense to score twice to make every W. It also bears noting that not a few clean sheets came against Major League Soccer’s (MLS), um, lesser lights (Toronto FC and the Colorado Rapids…twice).
The funny thing is that, unfortunate stats and maddening patterns aside, Dallas had a decent, if trophy-less, year. Before tailing off late, Toja easily looked like the foreign acquisition of the season; a little more consistency and fewer nagging injuries he might have been MVP. And Alvarez, when you get past his somewhat thin numbers, absolutely terrified the opposition’s defenders; the term “slashing run” gets thrown around too often, but it applies to Alvarez’ upfield sallies in spades. On top of that, the team unearthed a couple solid defenders in Drew Moor and Clarence Goodson – the latter of whom will, for some inexplicable reason, go to San Jose in 2008 (or abroad, which makes this less puzzling). And to single out a moment Dallas’ comeback from a 3-goal deficit against DC United – in DC no less – made reasonable the hope that this year’s team might break the pattern. Then again, maybe that tie said it all – e.g. you can have pride, but not victory.
Amid all the signs of hope, however, came the cruelest twist of all: Denilson. It’s arguably unfair, and generally not wise, to pin the failures of an 11-man team on one player, but, for whatever reason, Dallas’ form, organization, maybe even their confidence, left the building when the Brazilian arrived. This whole thing could be no less coincidental than a thunderstorm arriving during your mother’s death…well, I’ll leave it to all y’all to do the math.
– Is it just me or is Dallas streaky? They rattled off three straight wins to start May, which made for a 7-3-2 a pre-All-Star run.
– The second half of Dallas’ season doesn’t look too bad at a glance, especially if one includes the pair of positive results from the U.S. Open Cup. But Dallas won only twice in league play from September 1 until the playoffs and those came against Toronto FC (holy shit! Denilson did something?!) and the Columbus Crew. Coming as those did as part of a 2-5-2 run only further lessened their significance.
What Went Right
– The names I’ve mentioned cover it: Toja, Alvarez, and Goodson (I didn’t have the same man-crush on Moor). Alvarez, especially, played at a higher level by the end.
– Coach Steve Morrow, while still learning, looks like he’s off to a good start. His willingness to reassess errors (think the Ramon Nunez saga and benching Denilson by season’s end) strike me as particularly gutsy.
– There’s some good, young talent on this team, which should help going forward. I didn’t even mention Dax McCarty, who led the team in assists. Ray Burse looks good in goal, etc.
– Stupid mistakes bite this team: I believe Chris Gbandi had a couple incidents, but Alvarez, who otherwise comes off really good in this review, really screwed up in the Western Conference semifinal series against Houston through a gratuitous swing at someone’s pills.
– Denilson. That they pay that lump DP money only makes it hurt more.
– Scoring and, by translation, Carlos Ruiz. If I had to choose between the 2007 version of “el Pescadito” and his understudy, Abe Thompson, I’d go with Thompson.
– Kenny Cooper’s injury really seems to have hurt. If you read the early match reports, his name is everywhere. While that could be a hangover from Cooper’s solid ’06, he gave them something vital: another kind of forward and, therefore, the ability to switch up the attack.
Key Men (as in the Ones You Want Back)
Juan Toja: A force in midfield till injuries got the better of him.
Arturo Alvarez: I don’t think there’s a player in MLS he can’t get around, which makes his improved crossing and shooting that much more deadly.
Ray Burse Jr.: One hell of a ‘keeper given that he started 2007 third in line.
Dax McCarty: Under-utilized this year; I’d change that.
Kenny Cooper: Hope the injuries end along with 2007; he’s a good one.
Abe Thompson/Dominic Oduro: About as well as you can do for back-up forwards. I think Roberto Mina is better than Oduro, however, so a decision may be necessary.
Anyone Who Ought to Leave
Denilson: I don’t need to explain this one.
Carlos Ruiz: The disciplinary issues are enough to make him a distraction; the possibility that he’s past it means it’s time to drop him.
At least one more defender: Make room for someone better; Serioux isn’t it.
What They’re Needin’
– A serious focus on defense – as in making this the off-season priority – specifically getting someone in there to ride herd. Dallas’ defense needs guidance more than fresh talent.
– Still, pick up a defender or two – preferably one with professional pedigree – just be sure. Don’t be shy about trading (say Ruiz) to get them.
– If nothing else, a new, top-drawer forward to pressure Ruiz. Yeah, I’m looking to replace him.
– A new third-string ‘keeper…or, actually, someone to push Burse and Dario Sala. Sala struggled from time to time in ’07; I like him and I hope that’s behind him, but Dallas could go from “good” in the ‘keeper category to “great” with one addition.
Filed under: Arturo Alvarez, designated player, FC Dallas, Kenny Cooper, Major League Soccer, season reviews | Tagged: Abe Thompson, Carlos Ruiz, Clarence Goodson, Dax McCarty, Denilson, Juan Toja, Ray Burse |