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PREVIEW: Return of Pareja boosts confidence
by Ridge Mahoney, March 3rd, 2014 8:06PM

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TAGS:  fc dallas, mls

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[MLS 2014: Western Conference] Not many teams have plummeted from first place to near the bottom in an MLS season, but that is what FC Dallas endured in 2013. An 11-game winless skid dragged it out of the playoff tier and by losing five of its last seven it ended up behind every Western Conference team except bottom-feeder Chivas USA.

The steep fall prompted technical director Fernando Clavijo and team management to pursue former FCD midfielder and Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja as a replacement for Schellas Hyndman. One of the most popular figures in team history, Pareja played eight MLS seasons for FCD and served as an academy coach and assistant coach prior to being hired by Colorado two years ago.

2013 FC Dallas
Record: 11-12-11
Finish: 8th in Western Conf.
Playoffs: did not qualify.

After initially being rebuffed, FCD persevered and eventually got its man. “He was a fantastic player, so right away every player hopes to be as good as he was and whenever he speaks, you listen,” says midfielder Andrew Jacobson, who while growing up in Northern California and attending Cal admired Pareja’s play. “He understands the game from the players’ perspective and knows where they stand. He relates to players well. I think it’s going to be good times ahead in Dallas, for sure.”

Clavijo began the makeover before Pareja officially came aboard in January. FCD finally cut ties with former MLS MVP David Ferreira, who had battled injuries since recovering from a fractured ankle suffered in 2011. Jackson and Kenny Cooper have departed in trades.

Nine new players have arrived, led by forwards David Texeira (Uruguay) and Andres Escobar (Colombia), and former Rapids midfielder Hendry Thomas. The forwards will add options to, and perhaps put pressure on, Panamanian striker Blas Perez, who led the team with 11 goals and also picked up two red cards. Thomas adds bite to the midfield, as does veteran Adam Moffat, who helped Houston reach two MLS Cup finals.

Western Conference Preview:
Chivas USA | Colorado

WHY BE OPTIMISTIC? The team’s skill players should relish the tutelage of Pareja, who in two seasons transformed Colorado from a kick-and-run squad into a possession team infused with flair. In his previous stint with FCD, Pareja brought Fabian Castillo into the fold, and during preseason Castillo’s impressive play has triggered speculation he’s ready for a major showing in 2014. The new coach’s philosophies and methods should mesh well with the abilities of Argentine playmaker Mauro Diaz, who after signing in July of last year recorded three goals and two assists while starting only five of 10 games.

The addition of Thomas is expected to bring levels of toughness and distribution in central midfield not seen in FCD since the departures of Jason Hernandez and Dax McCarty, who were important contributors when FCD reached its only MLS Cup final in 2010. Some sharp preseason games from 18-year-old right back Kellyn Acosta, a Homegrown signing who started 11 of his 13 appearances last year, suggest he could be a significant contributor this season.

WHY BE PESSIMISTIC? Pareja said a foot injury caused the absence of George John from competitive play during preseason yet uncertainty regarding John, whose European ambitions are well known, clouds the back-line prospects. Matt Hedges is solid enough but at 24 (on April 1) still has much room to grow and fans would be nervous if Hedges were to be paired long-term with Moises Hernandez, 21, a Homegrown signing who just returned from a loan spell in Costa Rica.

Recovery from sports hernia surgery kept keeper Raul Fernandez out of action during preseason. Aside from a few shaky moments he played impressively in his first MLS campaign but like the team didn't finish all that strongly.

PROJECTED FINISH: 6th-8th place. FCD has enough talent to contend for a playoff spot but Pareja might need another year, as was the case with Colorado, to crack the top five in a very tough Western Conference.



PROJECTED LINEUP: 4-2-3-1
Goalkeeper:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
18-Chris Seitz (26)/USA (4th season)

Defenders:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
23-Kellyn Acosta (18)/USA (2nd season)
24-Matt Hedges (23)/USA (3rd season)
3-*Moises Hernandez (21)/USA (4th season)
5-Jair Benitez (35)/Colombia (6th season)

Midfielders:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
2-Hendry Thomas (29)/Honduras (Colorado Rapids)
4-Andrew Jacobson (28)/USA (4th season)
11-Fabian Castillo (21)/Colombia (4th season)
10-Mauro Diaz (22)/Argentina (2nd season)
9-**Andres Escobar(22)/Colombia (Dynamo Kiev)

Forwards:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
7-Blas Perez (32)/Panama (3rd season)

First off the bench:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
26-Danny Garcia (20)/USA (2nd season)
31-Michel (32)/Brazil (2nd season)
David Texeira (23)/Uruguay (FC Groningen)
27-Je-Vaughn Watson (30)/Jamaica (2nd season)
FC Dallas: complete roster.

Note:
returning players in bold.
*spent 2013 on loan.
**on loan.

MARCH SCHEDULE:
March 8: Montreal, 8:30 pm ET
March 15: at Sporting Park, 8:30 pm ET
March 22: Chivas USA, 8:30 pm ET
March 29: Portland, 8:30 pm ET
FC Dallas: complete schedule.


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