Better know a rival: FC DallasBy: Dieter Kurtenbach | March 19th, 2011
In a league that is short on rivalries, FC Dallas and the Chicago Fire try hard to maintain whatever semblance of a rivalry once existed between the two teams. Names have changed, conferences have realigned, but the Fire and the club formerly known as the Burn still play for the Brimstone Cup each year.
The rivalry, while competitive on the field, was always a battle of the haves and the have nots. While FC Dallas made the playoffs annually (it’s nearly impossible not to do so in the MLS), the team frequently dropped out after first-round games. Meanwhile, the Fire were consistently amongst the class of the league.
But in 2010, that changed. After finishing third in the Western Conference, FC Dallas upset the defending MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake on it’s way to the club’s first MLS Cup birth. The Fire meddled with the mediocrity FC Dallas made an annual habit.
Form in the 2011 debut will be vital to both teams, not just because a win starts off a campaign successfully, but also because of the questions both rosters carry into the season.
Roster turnover was significant for both squads, and the replacements make expectations indeterminable.
For FC Dallas, the roster changes veils the team in ambiguity.
Gone are Dax McCarthy (DC United, via Portland), Heath Pearce (Chivas USA), Atiba Harris (Vancouver) and Jeff Cunningham (Columbus). Those losses equivocate the Dallas roster, as all players were acquired without player compensation coming back to the Lone Star State. The changes increase an already significant onus on the team’s two best returning players.
Lucky for Dallas, one of those players is the reigning MLS MVP, David Ferreira. The 31-year-old Columbian attacking midfielder will again by the fulcrum of the Dallas attack, and roster attrition for his supporting case will force him to match or improve upon an eight-goal, 13-assist 2010.
While, Ferreira has no choice but to regain his MVP form, midfielder Brek Shea will will be learning on the fly. Shea will move to centerback for the 2011 season, with the expectation he will be the rock of the FC Dallas defense. By all accounts Shea, who had a breakout campaign in 2010, is more than capable of moving back. The question still remains, Can a player that has been attacking his entire life merely flip a switch and start to defend? There might be some growing pains for the young American national, and FC Dallas by proxy.
Shea will have little room for error, though. His partner in central defense (great band name, btw), George John is still recovering from offseason ankle surgery and has been rusty in preseason play.
Jackson Goncalves, most recently of Brazil’s Sao Paulo FC and the versatile Zach Loyd will be the likely fullback starters against Chicago. Jair Benitez is still serving his suspension for a spitting incident in preseason.
Retaining veteran midfielder Daniel Hernandez was vital to FC Dallas keeping it’s 4-1-4-1 formation. Hernandez fills the defensive midfielder role as well as anyone in the league and his toughness on the pitch leaves no questions as to why he is the team’s captain.
The midfield is young and built around Ferreira. Martin Chavez will flank out wide opposite 23-year-old Eric Avila. Another Eric, this one of the Alexander variety, will play next to Ferreira.
Alexander’s play is part of the reason Dallas let Dax McCarthy go in the expansion draft — his form is vital to the team’s success. Without a capable partner, Ferreira, already the most fouled player in MLS, will be an easier target. Strong play from Alexander creates room for Ferreira to work his magic in the open field.
Up front, Dallas has a striker conundrum. Milton Rodriguez is the elder statesman of the group and had a strong showing after being brought to Dallas during last season. Alas, an injury kept him out of the MLS Cup playoffs. Young gun Ruben Luna was a supersub last year and has made clear that he’s gunning to be the team’s starting striker. His form is preseason backs up his words.
Luna, only 19, is young, but recently signed Designated Player Fabian Castillo is even younger, at 18 years old. Singed earlier this month, FC Dallas has not made apparent how they plan to use Castillo, but his talent will likely make it hard to keep him off the field.
And then there’s 14-year veteran goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, coming off one of his finest seasons in MLS. If the team itself is a work-in-progress, Hartman provides enough experience and fortitude to cover up some mistakes. But if the team doesn’t find chemistry early, Hartman will have to be the team’s best player to hold the squad over.
It’s a mystery as to what teams will take the pitch in Frisco on Saturday, but at least there will be a team — not just an abstract theory of a squad. If both teams are works-in-progress, then both teams will have a baseline of progress to start from after their tie.