By Ridge Mahoney
The transfer of midfielder Brek Shea to Premier League club Stoke City dominated the offseason headlines for FC Dallas yet is only one of myriad changes implemented in the wake of a sixth-place finish.
Playmaker David Ferreira, who still led the team with nine assists despite playing only one-half of the 34 games because of lingering injuries, struggled as did many of his teammates. The cost of missing the playoffs was steep. Swept out were veteran goalie Kevin Hartman, Designated Player Julian de Guzman, midfielder Ricardo Villar, and highly touted Ruben Luna and Bruno Guarda as Coach Schellas Hyndman re-tooled after a 9-13-12 season that trailed fifth-place Vancouver by four points.
Off the field, instability reigned after the season ended. Former captain Daniel Hernandez was hired as an assistant coach, only to depart shortly thereafter. CEO and president Doug Quinn took a leave of absence in November in the wake of being arrested for domestic abuse. He formally resigned earlier this week.
To help out Blas Perez (a team-high nine goals) and also provide backup when he’s playing for Panama, Hyndman and technical director Fernando Clavijo swung trades to bring Kenny Cooper back to Dallas and snag Eric Hassli from Toronto. Cooper finished second in scoring with 18 goals for New York but never shook the stigma of Thierry Henry being the main reason for his prowess.
Shea’s departure opens up a slot at left mid that can be filled by Jair Benitez, Fabian Castillo or Jackson, and when Hassli gets healthy, he’ll add the aerial presence – from a different position – that Shea sometimes provided. Hyndman has sent out FCD mainly in a 4-4-2 formation during preseason with varying combinations and alignments in midfield.
The team’s fortunes are heavily dependent on Ferreira, and Hyndman is tinkering with methods that maximize his influence. In a 1-0 preseason win over Portland on Wednesday, Hyndman moved Ferreira to the left side and deployed central midfielders Andrew Jacobson and Bobby Warshaw in support of the playmaker and dual forwards Cooper and Perez.
An Achilles’ injury and broken foot suffered during preseason last year sidelined Ferreira until July and he looked gun-shy when he did return. FCD can’t afford a rerun of that production in 2013.
KEY PLAYER MOVES. The return of Cooper to Dallas serves several purposes: he’s a huge threat in the box, he grew up in Dallas and has a long history with Hyndman, and hopes another strong MLS season will get him back on the U.S. national team. Hassli showed in his first season (10 goals for Vancouver in 2011) that he’s a powerful force who gets on the end of crosses and final balls, and he arrives with something to prove. Keeper Raul Fernandez shared time in the nets during preseason with incumbent Chris Seitz. Ex-Dynamo Je-Vaughn Watson gives Hyndman a stabilizing presence in the center of midfield, and MLS newcomer Michel, a Brazilian who has played in Greece and Belgium, adds experience to the back line: he’s an alternative at left back and can also play in the middle.
WHY BE OPTIMISTIC? Another subject of transfer rumors, defender George John, is staying put for now and alongside Matt Hedges can neutralize a lot of the opposing attacks that yielded goals-against last season. With more options around him, Ferreira can exploit the spaces to goal for goal himself as well as provide incisive service. Not many teams feature as much pace as that supplied by Jackson, Benitez, and Castillo.
WHY BE PESSIMISTIC? The departure of Hartman, who wasn’t great last year yet still played solidly, leaves a very big hole in goal. Quinn’s departure has nothing to do with soccer but is a public-relations disaster as well as an organizational nightmare. Defender Ugo Ihemelu isn’t doing well with post-concussion problems, which makes the SuperDraft selection of Walker Zimmerman with the No. 7 pick all the more necessary.
WHY WATCH THIS TEAM? FCD would consistently rank near the top if MLS clubs were ranked by EQ (entertainment quotient). A healthy Ferreira unhinges defenses with slashing runs and explosive dribbles, and both Jackson and Benitez are blessed with the speed and boldness to blow past opponents. John is a commanding presence in the box and could find more opportunities on set plays with other big targets to draw attention.
MLS PREVIEW SERIES:
Eastern Conference: New England | Philadelphia | Toronto FC
Western Conference: Chivas USA | Colorado | Portland