It says a lot about FC Dallas that the club’s season-ending loss to the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference final was such a crushing disappointment. So committed to youth that they stand out above the rest of the MLS pack in that regard, they weren’t necessarily expected to contend for a place in the biggest game of the year when the season began. Over the course of the campaign, however, Oscar Pareja’s charges showed that they had no intention of waiting for the moment the rest of the world decided they were ready.
So 2016 arrives with FC Dallas among the favorites in the Western Conference. That’s the price of early success; the world presumes you’ll do it again, never mind the breaks that need to go your way for it to happen again. But this team appears ready to carry the mantle of favorite, with so many young players a year older and with the experience of last year’s run behind them.
The Big Question
Will youth be served again? With so much of the story in North Texas revolving around the number of young and homegrown players FC Dallas used to lead the way in the West and make into the final four of the playoffs, the only question that bears asking for 2016 is whether those same young players will again put in the type of seasons the club will need to repeat the feat (and go further). FC Dallas lost out on the Supporters Shield to the New York Red Bulls (while playing in the tougher Western Conference) through the goal difference tiebreaker, an achingly close call that will no doubt drive them to do better this season.
Kellyn Acosta, Jesse Gonzalez, Victor Ulloa, Michael Barrios, et al will again be key to Pareja’s plans in 2016. The heavy lifting will be done by the likes of Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo, but the supporting cast of youth will again determine the fortunes of FC Dallas this year.
Just about nudging out Fabian Castillo, Mauro Diaz was FC Dallas’s best player last year... when he was on the field. Try as they might, the club can never seem to keep the Argentine playmaker healthy for an entire campaign. Over the course of his two-and-a-half years in Dallas, Diaz has missed considerable time with a variety of injuries, both explained and unexplained.
His creative abilities in the middle of the field – particularly when FC Dallas is using its considerable speed up the flanks to their advantage – put him in the MLS elite. A full season of a player capable of eight goals and 10 assists in 24 games (some of those played at less than 100% fitness) probably makes Diaz an MVP frontrunner in 2016.
Watching FC Dallas at their best is can be both thrilling and hypnotic. The buzzing maelstrom that is the wings is counterbalanced by Diaz’s calm composure in the center. Diaz has that most intoxicating of talents, the ability to draw defenders to him as he dribbles towards goal only to flick a toe at the last moment and play a perfectly weighted ball for a streaking teammate. Diaz is indeed the key.
From The Dugout
The Texas club fell agonizingly short of MLS Cup in 2015 and have moved aggressively with several acquisitions this winter in hopes of pushing themselves over the final hurdle. The philosophical focus on speed, width, dynamism and tactical versatility remains.
“I wanted to give us options,” said head coach Oscar Pareja, “players who can compete for spots on the first team in [important] positions; in the middle, for example. The youngsters have done a tremendous job but at the same time, they need to be competing with someone else in those positions.
“Obviously, expectations from the club are always high. We want to aim for the best, and that's what we work for. We have been working on signing players that we want to be part of this project, and we're looking forward to getting better from what we did last year.
“With the expectations that we're creating, I think everything needs to improve. Every department, every piece of the puzzle just needs to set the bar a little higher. That's not to say that we want to change our mentality or the way we do it or the way we play, but we all have space to perform better. And at the end, that's going to give us a collective result.”
Although the collective is all-important, Pareja is looking forward to getting the best out of playmaker Mauro Diaz, a likely MLS MVP candidate if he can stay healthy. “He did such a good job with the work that we put together for him in the offseason, we are really excited about having him at full speed,” said the coach. “Hopefully he can take his game, and his team, to the next level.”
From The Locker Room
Fabian Castillo is part of the youthful brigade that got Dallas just a step short of the MLS Cup Final. He performed well enough that some expected him to make a move abroad during the MLS offseason, but Castillo denied that was on the cards, at least for 2016. “I’m very happy with FC Dallas and thankful,” said the Colombian striker. “I’d like to leave one day to try another league, but I’m happy to stay.”
Like FC Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, who is now representing Mexico for their youth teams, Castillo dreams of his club success translating into international action: “It’s a goal this year, to represent my country.”
Castillo can be confident of playing time partly because coach Oscar Pareja has proven that he has faith in young talent. “Oscar started with the Academy players and that’s why he trusts these young players,” Castillo explains. “His philosophy is to give young players opportunity and let them earn.”
For Castillo, the goal this season is clear. “We want to win championships. I’ve played a lot of seasons and still haven’t won a championship, and I think that’s what our whole team wants.”
This Is Home
- TOYOTA STADIUM
- CAPACITY: 20,500
- OPENED: August 6, 2005
- LOCATION: Frisco, TX
Fan’s Insider Tip
Daniel Crooke (@Crooke86): Located in the suburb of Frisco, Toyota Stadium is a 30-minute drive from Downtown Dallas. Before a short trip up the Dallas North Tollway, you can spend your morning enjoying the floral spectacle of the Dallas Arboretum, immersing yourself in the story of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, or simply spent in line at Pecan Lodge for some world-famous BBQ.
After you head up to Toyota Stadium, pregame the right way in the stadium's east lot, where the Dallas Beer Guardians start their tailgates four hours before each game. Try not to overindulge on the fantastic themed food, DFW craft beer, or tailgate favorites like cage soccer! The Beer Guardians occupy the Budweiser Beer Garden, sandwiched between Lone Star Legion and the Dallas Football Elite on the north side of the stadium.
If Latin flair is more your thing, El Matador provides a carnival atmosphere in the southeast corner. Toyota Stadium will be without its south side in 2016 as the stadium undergoes a $39m redevelopment, with the addition of the US Soccer National Hall of Fame. Following the game, enjoy any of Frisco Square's bars and restaurants, including plenty of Texas' other culinary export, Tex-Mex.