What's behind the nature of FC Dallas's extreme swings between good and bad? Alexander Abnos explores in his latest edition of the MLS Power Rankings.
HARRISON, N.J. – If there’s anything we’ve learned through 20-plus seasons of MLS, it’s that no result is entirely out of the question. Across the league, teams that should win don’t, and squads with long losing streaks and injury problems are somehow able to pull out a result.
So it says something that, even by MLS's skewed standard, FC Dallas has been by far the most confounding team in the league through the first nine weeks of the season. Oscar Pareja’s side has, at times, played like the MLS Cup contenders it rightfully should be with its balance of attacking and defensive talent. When it wins, it wins with style and a panache belying its young roster.
However, when FC Dallas loses in 2016, it loses hard.
That was the case on Friday at Red Bull Arena, as FC Dallas completely fell apart in the second half to lose 4–0 to the New York Red Bulls. It was Dallas’s third loss in its opening 10 games, which doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that it was shut out and beaten by at least three goals in every one of those defeats.
“I’m obviously not just responsible, but worried about it,” said Pareja after Friday’s game. “Very unbalanced performances this year.”
So, then, what is to blame for this massive disparity? The games’ locations could be part of it. In five games away from Toyota Stadium, Dallas has allowed 13 goals. In five games at home, they’ve conceded just four. All three of FC Dallas’ losses have come on the road, and midfielder Victor Ulloa admitted to reporters after Friday’s game that his team’s away form certainly must improve.
“We have to find a way to get results away from home,” he said. “This is a time we have to be united a a group and don’t let anything bring us down.”
Problem is, Dallas has done the exact opposite of that. The team’s three lopsided losses this season have been notable not just because of their final scores, but because of how quickly Dallas allowed its opponents to score in bunches. In Houston, Dallas allowed four goals in the span of 21 minutes. In Vancouver, it was three in 42. At Red Bull Arena, Dallas went into halftime down just 1-0 before conceding three in the space of 31 minutes in the second half.
Each of these collapses is made all the more frustrating by the team’s apparent ability to do the exact opposite. At Portland two weeks ago, Dallas blitzed the Timbers with a three-goal barrage in the opening 30 minutes. It has scored quick doubles against D.C. and Montreal. Dallas loves to push numbers forward, but also must learn how to manage games in difficult moments–especially with key center back Matt Hedges out injured–if it is to avoid more morale-shattering losses like it has experienced this season.
“We are a team that attacks, and then we get exposed at the back,” Pareja said. “It just tells me that the league is tremendously competitive.”
Here are a few more highlights from around MLS in Week 9 in addition to this week's Power Rankings:
Offensive player of the week: Didier Drogba, Montreal Impact
Drogba certainly didn’t have his best games in a Montreal Impact uniform this week, but he still found a way to make key contributions in both draws. First, against NYCFC, it was Drogba who delivered a perfect free-kick service to Dominic Oduro for Montreal’s last-gasp equalizer. He followed that with more dead-ball brilliance, this time scoring himself against Colorado.
Defensive player of the week: Sal Zizzo, New York Red Bulls
Zizzo had a difficult assignment this week, matching up with Dallas’ tricky forward Fabian Castillo on the right flank. He completely shut Castillo down in the Red Bulls’ big win. As a bonus, he earned an assist on the game’s first goal, heading down a perfect ball across the goal line as part of the Red Bulls’ smoothly-executed free-kick routine (which was eerily reminiscent to a 2015 effort vs. Orlando City).
The Galaxy scored on a classic Bruce Arena counterattack and held on for a 1-1 draw at Sporting Kansas City. Giovani Dos Santos was on the scoresheet again with another beautiful chipped finish. Ashley Cole’s 30 seconds of madness in which he picked up two deserved yellows was the only huge negative.
Real Salt Lake got right back into the groove after last week’s loss to the Galaxy, coming back for a 2-1 home win over Houston Dynamo. Jordan Allen scored a magnificent goal and had a lot to do with Yura Movsisyan’s winner. Nick Rimando came through with his usual array of amazing saves, including one made with his face.
The Rapids were down twice away from home to the Montreal Impact, but managed to claw back and earn a valuable 2-2 draw. The Rapids are now second in the league in points per game and are riding a four-match unbeaten run. Colorado has scored after conceding a goal in all four of those games, a testament to the team’s growing sticktoitiveness.
If there was a positive for Dallas in its 4–0 drubbing against New York Red Bulls, it was that Mauro Diaz made his first start since March 26. Diaz has said that it was simply fatigue that kept him out of four of Dallas’ previous five games, and even though he looked off the pace in Dallas’ loss, his presence on the field should be reassuring.
The Earthquakes are starting to show all the hallmarks of a Dominic Kinnear team. Their style of play might not always be easy on the eyes, but it isn’t ugly either, and they have enough commitment throughout the team to grind out results. That was on full display in Saturday’s 1–1 draw with Philadelphia. San Jose was down a man, down a goal, and Simon Dawkins still came through with an equalizer.
A point on the road at New England and a good win at home against Toronto FC spells a very solid week for the Timbers, especially since the team used two wildly different tactical setups to get those results. That flexibility is a big reason why Portland was able to lift MLS Cup last season, and they’ve looked more like that team over the last three games.
The Union have been one of the league's surprise packages so far this season, and they showed evidence of inexperience in that dominant position this week. The Union had a man advantage and were a goal up against San Jose, but seemed unsure of whether they should kill off the game or try to score. Whatever their intention, they failed, allowing San Jose to score shorthanded and succumbing to a 1–1 draw at home.
The Sounders managed to pull a win out of a game that they could have easily lost, all thanks to Jordan Morris’ late goal (his third in as many games). The Sounders’ early-season struggles seem to be behind them–the team has won three of its last five, with its only loss in that span coming against the red-hot Colorado Rapids.
This might have been the week the Red Bulls turned their terrible start around. Friday’s win over FC Dallas is the team’s second in a row. The Red Bulls scored seven goals in those two wins after managing just four in their previous seven games. Plus, the team made a shrewd move in trading for defender Aurélien Collin, who will be a huge upgrade on the team’s back line.
The Impact got both of their first two draws of the season this week, first stealing a 1-1 draw with a late goal at NYCFC then getting two points stolen at home vs. Colorado. The opposite nature of these draws, combined with the fact that Montreal has yet to go more than two games unbeaten this year, makes it really difficult to know what this team is made of.
On one hand, getting two draws after losing three straight isn’t so bad. But those results become far less comforting considering that SKC played 60 minutes while up a man due to red cards over the course of their 1-1 draws at Vancouver and at home vs. the Galaxy. KC’s stats in that span: Zero goals and six shots (zero on target, four off target, and two blocked).
D.C. United got another solid outing from Luciano Acosta, who provided a nice chipped assist for Patrick Nyarko’s equalizer in a 1-1 draw at Chicago. The windy, wet and sloppy conditions of the game make it hard to take too much else away from this one, though.
Orlando paid back the Revolution for the controversial 2-2 draw two weeks ago at the Citrus Bowl with their own late heroics in another 2-2 tie. Carlos Rivas scored the equalizer in the 90th minute, the second time in that game that the Lions came from behind to level things. Still, Orlando is winless in four games.
The Crew had multiple golden opportunities to bury the Sounders in Seattle, but uncharacteristic misses by Ethan Finlay and Federico Higuain combined with Kei Kamara’s inability to get a good look at goal opened them up to Morris's heartbreaking late winner.
Another sub-par week for the Whitecaps, who didn’t play particularly well in a 1-1 home draw vs. Kansas City, then handed NYCFC its first win of the season despite being gifted an early 1-0 lead and a penalty kick goal to make things 2-2 in the second half.
To quote Mike Magee, the Revolution could tie a pair of Velcro shoes. The Revs earned their sixth and seventh draws of the season this week, and didn’t look particularly good in either of them. The team has had to deal with injuries, but their most pressing problems seem to be on the back line, which keeps allowing sloppy goals at inopportune times.
As mentioned before, Chicago’s draw with D.C. United is a tough one to take many conclusions from given the ugly slop the game was played in. The Fire have plenty to work on, particularly on the attack. The Fire generate precious few shots and has the joint-lowest goal total in the league.
NYCFC was on the brink of collecting its first home win on the season, but allowed a late goal against Montreal in a 1-1 draw. The team made amends with a 3-2 win over Vancouver on Saturday, but plenty of questions remain about the team's defense and when exactly we'll be seeing Frank Lampard suit up.
That 5–0 win against FC Dallas seems like years ago. The Dynamo haven’t won since and have now lost five of their last six games after falling 2-1 to Real Salt Lake. Giles Barnes has struggled to get chances, Cubo Torres can't get on the field, and the defensive unit continues to leak goals–all bad problems that don’t seem to be improving at all.