Before the start of the 2015 MLS season, no one picked FC Dallas to win the Western Conference, much less the Supporters’ Shield or MLS Cup. With three games remaining in the regular season however, FC Dallas (with a game in hand) is tied with LA Galaxy on 51 points atop the Western Conference and three points behind New York Red Bulls in the Supporters’ Shield race. Dallas’ results have been up and down just enough in 2015 to keep them flying under the radar most of the season, but now, as Taylor Twellman said during last Sunday’s ESPN2 broadcast of Dallas’ 4-1 defeat of Houston Dynamo, “No one wants to play them [FC Dallas], particularly going into the playoffs.”
Not that FC Dallas’ 2015 results have come out of nowhere. Dallas finished fourth in the Western Conference in 2014, bowing out of the playoffs in the Conference semifinals against 2014 Supporters’ Shield winner Seattle Sounders via the away goal rule after 1-1 and 0-0 draws.
Though 2015 has been a boom year for Designated Players in the league, FC Dallas has persevered with the second smallest payroll in MLS. By comparison, the $4 million base salary of LA Galaxy’s latest DP signing Giovani Dos Santos alone is more than the base salaries of FC Dallas’ entire roster combined. With this relatively shoestring budget, second-year head coach Oscar Pareja has developed stability in all areas of the field, using primarily young players, solid goalkeeping from veteran Dan Kennedy, and lately, 20-year-old Jesse Gonzalez; a generally reliable defense anchored by team captain Matt Hedges and Zach Loyd in the center, along with wing back convert Je-Vaughn Watson; a robust central midfield in homegrown youngsters Victor Ulloa and Kellyn Acosta; offensive creativity from Mauro Diaz, and attacking speed from wingers Fabian Castillo and Michael Barrios.
The go-to story regarding FC Dallas in limited national soccer media coverage revolves around the club’s successful academy system, and the league-leading number of “home grown” minutes by academy products for the first team. FC Dallas does have a model academy system (in which it invests heavily financially) and it is paying dividends, but the bulk of those homegrown minutes in 2015 have come from midfielders Ulloa and Acosta (another homegrown signing, Jesse Gonzalez, has started the last eight games in place of injured goalkeeper Dan Kennedy). However, the rest of the typical FC Dallas starters are a mix of college draft picks like Hedges, Loyd, Ryan Hollingshead, or Tesho Akindele, MLS journeyman Atiba Harris, Jamaican international Je-Vaughn Watson, and young South Americans Diaz, Castillo, Barrios, and David Texeira.