And with this, the best regular season in FC Dallas history comes to a close. 60 points, and a questionable penalty in Chicago the difference between Dallas being the Supporters Shield winners and it ultimately going to the New York Red Bulls.
The broad stroke view is pretty exciting, but also probably worth its own article. For now, let’s focus on the specific game that was yesterday and what takeaways we have in front of us, and there were a lot of really good ones.
So San Jose came into the game needing a win and help to make the playoffs – about as desperate as a team could be. Dallas, on the other hand, had a chance to go for one of the three major championships that goes to a US club team.
With that backdrop, Quincy Amarikwa fought his way through Zach Loyd and Matt Hedges in the 13th minute to score the opening goal and give the Earthquakes hope. Dallas, on the other hand, did not back down, nor did they over-react. Rather, they calmly went about their business of being the best team in the league for all intents and purposes and ratcheted up the pressure. Eventually, Mauro Diaz got on the end of a loose ball in the San Jose goal box and tied the game in the 38th.
The second half saw San Jose come out with high intensity to no avail. The Earthquakes clearly were buckling under the pressure and eventually broke when Matian Perez Garcia was shown a red card for violent conduct in the 67th. After a brilliant step to challenge Clarence Goodson, Victor Ulloa won the ball off the former FCD defense and played the ball to Fabian Castillo. The Colombian got the ball back to Ulloa at the top of the San Jose penalty area and the Wylie product finished the game winner.
The Shield was not to be as the Red Bulls won, 2-1, in Chicago, giving them the prize on goals differential, but it still represented a fabulous regular season for Oscar Pareja and his squad.
Lots to talk about here. This is a pretty full list.
- Victor, take a bow son. For someone who toiled in the double pivot, protecting the back line for the past two years, doing all the hard work with no reward, this was an epic moment. Ulloa has been the teams ironman, doing things no one notices game in and game out, with scoring being the only thing he lacked. A few had noted that Kellyn Accosta had found his way onto the score sheet a few times this season, but that Ulloa was still looking for that same danger. Well, he picked a great time to prove his worth on offense.
- Mauro Diaz showed the ability to handle the pressure once gain. When Pareja has the right role and key players around the midfield maestro, this team is so dangerous.
- Other than the singular effort from Amarikwa, the defense kept San Jose at bay (pun intended, apologies).
- Jesse Gonzalez once again was spectacular at times. You want to ride a hot goalie into the playoffs, and Dallas is certainly doing that.
- The right side of the Dallas offense is just sick. Barrios and Watson were just chewing up the left corner of the San Jose shape all night. Frankly, it was embarrassing. This is a very good thing for Dallas.
- Texiera was effective once again. No, he didn’t score a goal, but he was effective and dangerous, which is what this team needs from him.
- Cirigliano showed that he has adapted to the league well enough to help this team get results. Whether it is good enough in the playoffs over a series remains to be seen, but at least for this game, the Argentine was up to the task. Considering the intensity with which the Earthquakes played, that is a good sign.
Not a lot here, and these are more open questions than even concerns, but they do need to be put under the microscope.
- Castillo is not on fire. He had his moments, and certainly he helped create the game winning goal, but this is not the most dangerous player on the field that he was for much of the season. Very possibly it is just a question of rest and that opposing teams are focusing on him – hence why Barrios’ emergence is so important to this team’s success in the playoffs – but if Castillo can find a way to nick a goal soon and get back into being the guy teams need to triple team, that will really kick things into high gear for FCD.
- The goal from Amarikwa showed some weakness from Dallas’ central defense. It was one moment – and how often are both central defenders going to be beaten like that – but it still is a question. Its been a long season and surely it has worn on both Hedges and Loyd.
- Is Kellyn able to play in the playoffs? Again, Cirigliano has improved significantly and certainly is not an embarrassment, but Acosta is much more familiar with the level of intensity and physicality that this league needs in big games and was in pretty good form on both ends of the field before his hamstring injury. Its an open question as to whether he could jump into the playoffs right away after the layoff, but there is reason to wish he were available.
None. The team is moderately healthy, especially this late in the season, and there will be no more international absences during the playoffs as the MLS schedule does not conflict with the upcoming international window. This team is as ready to give the playoffs its best shot as it ever realistically could be.
The Bottom Line
This is the exciting thing. For a team so young, and in some ways unproven as this group is not the same as the one who fought their way through the season last year, mostly without Diaz. No, this team is the one built around Diaz and is humming along nicely. That team was given a stern test from a desperate team – essentially their own win or go home match – and kept their composure and found a way to win.
And if luck falls their way and they get one of the lower seeds from the wild card round – either LA or Sporting Kansas City – they will really be set up for success as their opponent will have had to travel for the midweek game that Dallas avoided. The best luck in this writer’s eyes is for SKC to beat Portland as SKC will have to play on Thursday, and have to travel to the PNW. That all but negates any home field advantage Sporting might have and you have to believe that FCD wants another chance to beat KC in their house after the embarrassing losses they suffered there this year.
Either way, this team is strong and confident – and tested – going into the playoffs where they have all the advantages winning your conference can give you.