Soccer America
Friday June 20th, 2008

This latest coaching move by FC Dallas had better work out. Otherwise, short of spending tens of millions to lure Jürgen Klinsmann or Fabio Capello to these shores, or a few mil to drag Bruce Arena back into the MLS fold, I don't know what else the franchise can do.

In this decade, the club has employed American-born coaches (Dave Dir, Mike Jeffries) and gone with British ex-pros (Colin Clarke, Steve Morrow). It has won a lot of regular-season games and faltered in the playoffs. It has built a superb facility (Pizza Hut Park), fielded some excellent international players (Óscar Pareja, Juan Toja, Ronnie O'Brien), and signed a complete clunker (Denílson). It has been home to one of the best American players in league history (Jason Kreis).

And it hasn't even reached MLS Cup, much less won it. Why?

What it hasn't done is opt for stability and continuity, supposedly the staples of success in pro sports, and especially when it comes to coaching. Morrow lasted less than a season and a half, and his .500 record (15-15-8) over that span didn't convince team executives Clark Hunt and Dan Hunt that he should have been chosen over their top choice, Schellas Hyndman, in the first place.

By exercising their power, however, the Hunts have wedged team GM Michael Hitchcock, who made the call to fire Clarke as well as hire his former assistant, Morrow, in a precarious position. Hitchcock followed predecessors Billy Hicks, Andy Swift and Greg Elliott in October 2005, and upon his arrival promised an MLS Cup to fans of the team formerly known as the Burn.

To deliver on that promise, Hitchcock must rely on Hyndman, the man he passed over in favor of Morrow, whose decision to anchor his back line with former Mexican international Duilio Davino and switch to a 3-5-2 formation has yet to take root.

Hyndman's career at SMU mirrors somewhat that of FC Dallas: an excellent record (368-98-38), yet just two trips to the final four and no championships in 24 seasons. And he's already expressed his preference for a four-man back line, which probably means more adjustments and changes to defenders and the midfield as well.

Where Hyndman might help FCD is mentally and psychologically. His training in martial arts (advanced degree black belt in karate) is steeped in mental toughness, as former SMU defender Ugo Ihemelu told me in the Galaxy locker room following its win in MLS Cup '05.

"The mental side of the game, concentrating every minute and every second, never losing your focus, that's where Schellas helped me the most to become a professional," said Ihemelu. "He's pretty intense, well, really intense, himself and he wants that in his players."

In recent seasons, FCD has not lacked for determined, zealous players, but it has suffered from frozen lobes at critical times, as per Chris Gbandi's red card in the 30th minute of the Western Conference semifinal second leg against Colorado in 2006, and Arturo Alvarez's ejection last year early in the second half in the same situation against Houston.

Let's not forget, either, how Dallas fell to Colorado in the '05 playoffs, losing on penalties after a 2-2 tie during which is played with a man advantage for 73 minutes following the ejection of Alain Nkong. Carlos Ruiz could have won the series with a penalty kick in the 112nd minute but shot against the goalpost.

Bad luck or bad brains? You make the call.

The new boss ain't like the old boss, but it's his boss, not him, who's on the hot seat.

Hyndman, being the Hunts' choice, will surely get more time than Morrow unless he proves to be a complete debacle, so if FCD Dallas isn't at Home Depot Center this November for MLS Cup 2008, the next major change will be aimed a few rungs higher on the accountability ladder.

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