While the MLS offseason can often seem like an afterthought, how a team spends its time in between games can also be the most telling sign of what is to come.
It’s a delicate balance that every team must juggle when considering offseason acquisitions, signings, and reconfigurations. Too many moves can seem like desperation while not enough moves can suggest a lack of desire. In assessing FC Dallas’ offseason, I believe they fell somewhere in the middle of this continuum, which, as the middle of continuums usually are, is a very good thing.
FC Dallas began the offseason in strong fashion with the acquisition of Dan Kennedy from Chivas USA. This allowed FCD to release Raul Fernandez and stick with two solid keepers in Kennedy and Chris Seitz. While the Peruvian performed well with Dallas in 2013 and 2014, there’s no denying Dallas is a better team with Kennedy in between the sticks.
Another signing that immediately added quality to the FCD roster was Kyle Bekker. With the loss of Adam Moffat, Dallas needed another player that could step in and be an enforcer in the middle of the pitch. Bekker, while not as physical as Moffat was, is a more gifted passer that still has the ability to break up opposing attacks.
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More importantly for me than adding any one particular player, Pareja and the rest of the FC Dallas organization managed to keep the right players in the squad heading into the MLS regular season. Players like Bekker and Kennedy aren’t always readily available in the transfer market, so keeping the vital players you already have is crucial to building a strong team.
Fabian Castillo, whose breakout season in 2014 certainly caught the eyes of many, many other MLS teams, was signed to a long-term deal in the offseason. While I haven’t always been the biggest Castillo fan, almost all my grievances can be accounted for by the fact that the little winger is still so young.
Besides, if he scores more goals like the one he did on Friday night, he can stay as long as he wants.
Throw in Mauro Diaz, Blas Perez, Matt Hedges, Zach Loyd, and Tesho Akindele, and you end up with a strong core group returning to the FC Dallas squad. Even players like Ryan Hollingshead and Walker Zimmerman, who didn’t reach their full potential last season, are showing early indications in preseason matches that they will play vital roles moving forward.
With all this said, there are still a few concerns left to be addressed before I can be too confident in where this team is heading in 2015.
Who is going to play right back? Pareja seems to be grooming Atiba Harris to slot into that role. He has performed okay in preseason matches, but he is no Je-Vaughn Watson and doesn’t have the speed of Kellyn Acosta. If Watson ever re-signs, which I’m very hopeful of, this question will be answered and I can move on. As for now, I still have concerns.
How will the midfield stack up? If you ask me, the best combination involves a 4-2-3-1 with Castillo, Diaz, and Akindele comprising the attacking midfield. These three interchange superbly and offer FCD the best threat moving forward. Will Pareja use them in this formation? Time will tell. Everyone seems to be all about the 3-5-2 these days. Meh.
Can Zach Loyd stay at center back? The defensive pairing of Zach Loyd and Matt Hedges worked masterfully in 2014. When Loyd was forced to slot over into right back due to injuries, he played well, but the center pairing suffered in consequence. If strong, healthy right back play can be a staple of this team, FC Dallas will benefit from keeping Loyd in central defense.
All this said, I still believe FC Dallas has a strong and well-knit team with only two weeks to go before the opening round of fixtures. A strong offseason has ensured that FC Dallas has 1) signed the right people, 2) gotten rid of the right people, and 3) kept the right people in the squad. Well done, Pareja and company.