FC Dallas undeterred by loss of Fabian Castillo
FC Dallas has maneuvered admirably through its Fabian Castillo headache, reeling off five games without defeat since July 20, when the Colombian attacker jetted off without warning to Turkey hours after his stoppage-time winner sent the Hoops past archrival Houston and into the U.S. Open Cup's final four.
The two-week saga, which closed Aug. 4 with an agreement to loan Castillo to Trabzonspor for the rest of the year (with an option to buy in January), barely made a blip on the field. Dallas rallied for a draw at Colorado, its closest pursuer in the Supporters' Shield race, and shut out Vancouver while the drama played out. The team then opened its CONCACAF Champions League campaign with a victory on the evening the deal was sorted.
The Hoops followed with an overtime triumph at LA to reach next month's Open Cup final. Last weekend, the team claimed a point at home against Sporting Kansas City, a game it had ample opportunity to win.
Castillo, maybe Major League Soccer's most electric player, might have prodded the Hoops (13-6-6) to better results at times, but Dallas is not the same team as it was last year, when Castillo was the pivotal figure in the team’s run to 18 wins and the West’s top spot. Michael Barrios has taken on a bigger role, Maximiliano Urruti's arrival has given the attack a different look, and the acquisitions of Ecuadoran holding midfielder Carlos Gruezo and Honduran left back Maynor Figueroa have strengthened things at the back.
Castillo's departure might have crippled Dallas a year ago. Now, the team just rolls with it.
“We're not [a different team without Castillo],” head coach Oscar Pareja told FourFourTwo USA this week. “We are a team [that has] proven many times that the team is bigger than any person, any individual.”
Perhaps, but Castillo's qualities -- the skill, the speed, the endless inventiveness -- aren't easy to approximate. Dallas remains young, fast and dynamic, just not as fast nor dynamic as it was a month ago.
The affair was clearly a distraction. Castillo went AWOL after the Open Cup triumph at Houston. Next thing anyone knew, he was posting photos of himself in Turkey on social media. His agent, Raul Ramirez, worked out a transfer deal with Trabzonspor that fell apart when the club was unable to come up with $4 million. Dallas told Castillo to come home. He ignored the request.
“He didn’t want to come back,” technical director Fernando Clavijo told media at the CCL opener against Nicaragua's Real Esteli. “He left without permission and never gave us an opportunity to bring him back. Our conversation was always with the club, not Fabian. With the club and his agent. ... We could have kept delaying everything else, but I think that would have been not a good situation for the club. We deal with people that want to be here.”
A deal with finally struck, with Trabzonspor paying a reported $3 million for the next six months. The Turkish club would spend another $1 million, possibly more, to complete a full purchase at year's end.
“The team has been adjusting to his absence,” Pareja said. “It's difficult to replace Fabian. He's got characteristics in the field, the way he plays and that natural speed he brings into out team, that is difficult to replace, but we have committed to other characteristics that can gel into the team. The players that have been acting in that position, they have been helping in a different way. It's a collective effort.”
It's mostly been Ryan Hollingshead in Castillo's spot, but he’s more of a two-way midfielder who provides far better defensive structure than did Castillo. Brazilian forward Getterson, brought in last week on loan from J. Malucelli, offers an attacking option, and he impressed in his first start on Saturday against K.C. Urruti or fellow target man Tesho Akindele can play on the flank, and there's always Mauro Rosales, who, at 35, is strictly a substitute these days.
None of them can do what Castillo does, but that's OK. Here are five reasons the Hoops will be fine without Castillo:
Diaz is the boss
Dallas' attack didn't revolve around Castillo. He was a superb asset, capable of pulling off the miraculous, but it's Argentine playmaker Mauro Diaz who holds the reins and best influences the Hoops' fortunes. Everything flows through him, and his ability to connect teammates and to open space and create chances is what makes everything click. Does anyone in MLS deliver a better through ball?
The 2016 Castillo hasn't been as sharp, as consistent, as last year's version. Instead, Barrios has been Dallas' most consistently dynamic attacker. He's neither as fast nor tricky as Castillo, but he's got good speed, great instincts, and has a preternatural connection with Diaz. He'll need to take on more responsibility, perhaps more so than anyone else, but he already was.
Diaz and Barrios, both 25, have grown immensely in the past year, as has Akindele, and the additions of Urruti and Rosales provide the Hoops with greater depth and a more varied attack, one that increasingly emphasizes possession. Urutti's defensive prowess has redefined Dallas' offense to some extent, and there's greater balance when Hollingshead is on the field. The team still loves to counter -- that's where Castillo was most deadly -- but it can beat you in so many more ways.
The new guy
Getterson, 25, made his debut off the bench in last week's Open Cup win over the Galaxy then got a start Saturday night. He's not Castillo -- not as fast, not as dynamic -- but early impressions are strong. Pareja describes him as “generous,” and he showed off great energy and desire in an hour-long stint against K.C. He's still figuring out his teammates, but he gets in behind and combines well: He and Urruti nearly connected at the left post not quite 20 minutes in, and he did fine work to create two of the Hoops' best chances.
Gruezo has transformed things in midfield, adding needed bite in the trenches and teaming with Victor Ulloa or Kellyn Acosta to provide strong cover for a good backline. The Hoops have had a few atrocious performances -- 17 of the 33 league goals they've conceded came in four games -- but have been otherwise tight at the back, much more so than last year. It’s a more balanced group, one that's given Diaz a better foundation to work from.
Scott French is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJFrench.