FC Dallas' newly appointed head coach will be the story to watch in 2014, but what additional storylines will complete your season preview?
In part five of our 19-part series, we will take an in-depth look at the most intriguing plots surrounding the Hoops this season. The number and player to watch, as well as the match that should immediately be circled on your calendar, will be delved into with great detail.
Read on for your comprehensive guide to 2014.
Note: Unless otherwise mentioned, credit all statistics to Squawka. All data collected is licensed from Opta Sports.
Before we preview the coming year, here is MLS's complete list of offseason acquisitions and departures that helped mold this season's version of the club.
|M||Ryan Hollingshead||MLS SuperDraft|
|M||Adam Moffat||Trade from Seattle|
|M||Brian Span||Weighted Lottery|
|M||Hendry Thomas||Traded from Colorado|
|F||Andres Escobar||Loan from Dynamo Kiev|
|F||David Texeira||Transfer from FC Groningen|
|M||David Ferreira||Option Declined|
|M||Ramon Nunez||Option Declined|
|M||Jackson||Trade to Toronto|
|M||Victor Ulloa||Out of Contract|
|D||Ugo Ihemelu||Option Declined|
|F||Kenny Cooper||Traded to Seattle|
With less than two weeks before the MLS SuperDraft, Oscar Pareja caused quite a stir after deciding to step down as head coach of the Colorado Rapids. The divorce became official after FC Dallas agreed to a contract buyout in addition to a 2015 first-round MLS SuperDraft pick and allocation money.
Pareja spent the final eight years of his playing career with FC Dallas and the first six years of his coaching career as an assistant with the club. Any speculation of his impending move really shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone.
Coach Pareja made that abundantly clear on the club's official website:
I spent 14 years in Dallas and both the club and the Hunt family hold a special place in my heart. While I am forever grateful to the Colorado Rapids for giving me my first head coaching job in MLS, my family and I have decided to take this opportunity to get back home to Texas. I believe we can build something really special in Dallas, and I am thankful for the opportunity, and thankful to the organization, its fans and ownership for believing in me.
With Pareja at the helm, a newfound excitement surrounds the club. A sentiment goalkeeper Chris Seitz echoed after receiving word of his appointment:
It's huge. He's obviously a long-time player here as well as a coach. He's kind of exactly what this club speaks of and he obviously knows our Academy very well and worked very close with them, so I think it's awesome. Everyone's really excited about it and we're excited to get going.
Midfielder Andrew Jacobson doubled down on that notion and expects an added toughness to develop this season:
He wants to win and win doing it the right way and that's obviously an exciting thing to hear as a player. I know looking back playing against his teams in Colorado how tough they were to play against so I'm excited to be on the other side.
And that's exactly the kind of emotion that should be surrounding a club that finished with just three victories in the final 21 matches of 2013. FC Dallas' implosion is even more staggering considering they stood atop the Supporters' Shield standings entering Week 11.
A club legend on the pitch, Pareja will look to duplicate his legendary success from the sideline in 2014.
Dallas only scored 27.
Nearly half of the club's goals came from set-pieces in 2013 (43.8 percent).
That was the highest percentage in MLS last season.
With the dynamism from open play lacking, the club attempted to address that issue with a late offseason acquisition. Kickoff is just over two weeks away, but that didn't stop Dallas from announcing the signing of Andres Ramiro Escobar on loan from Ukrainian power Dynamo Kiev.
The numbers say the 22-year-old doesn't boast an impressive goalscoring resume. From 2012 to 2013, he returned to his native Columbia on loan and appeared in 35 matches, scoring just five goals in the process.
But what Escobar does possess is unparalleled speed that is now coupled with experience overseas.
According to the club's official website, that's exactly the combination that led to Coach Pareja's decision to finally bring him to Frisco, Texas:
I’ve known Andres for a long time and had been following him since his early years at Deportivo Cali. He is a player we wanted to bring to the team a few years ago but it wasn’t the right time. After the experience he has gained in Europe and his growth as a player, we feel that now is the right moment to bring him to FC Dallas.
Like most foreign newcomers, acclimating himself to the physicality of MLS will be a process.
Hopefully, for Dallas' sake, those opportunities yield a higher percentage of dynamism from open play.
Update: To add to that young dynamism, FC Dallas announced the acquisition of Uruguayan forward David Texeira. The 22-year-old joined the Hoops on a transfer from FC Groningen of the Dutch Eredivisie Friday afternoon.
This is more like a battle to watch.
After being acquired in December of last year, midfielder Adam Moffat was optimistic his career found its final resting place. His confidence was brewing. In an exclusive with Daniel Robertson on the club's official website, the 27-year-old even had his eyes on the postseason:
It's been funny [in my career] with a long run and then short run and long [run] so hopefully this is it and I can finish out my career here playing out a long time which is something you hope for with any team you go to. I have a good feeling about it. It definitely helps knowing the team really wants me there and I look forward to getting in and making a big impact...Just about every year I've been in the league my team has been in the playoffs and I want to keep that going, I don't want that to stop.
Those words quickly had a change of tune after FC Dallas acquired midfielder Hendry Thomas via a trade with the Colorado Rapids.
Matt Barbour carried the quotes on MLS' official website:
It's funny the way the league operates, you never have that much security in one place. There was no mention of it, there was no "this could possibly be the case." It's a horrible position and it's one I'd never wish on anyone else. I hope with the CBA that's coming up next year, that we can kind of do something about that.
Optimism has now transformed into a will to compete:
It definitely helps that the team really, really wants me there. The team has been needing someone in that [holding midfield] position the last few years, it's good to know that they'll look at me for that...I'm looking forward to battling for the position, I know it's there
There has been a void to fill in the club's defensive midfield since the retirement of club captain Daniel Hernandez in 2012. When looking at last year's defensive numbers, Dallas has one clear-cut favorite to finally replace a gaping hole:
The two are in a virtual deadlock offensively:
|Player||Goals||Assists||Passes||Accuracy||Key Passes||Avg Pass|
But forget the numbers. They won't be the only thing favoring Thomas entering the season. The fact remains: He is a "Pareja guy." The two have developed a relationship the past two seasons in Colorado.
It's his position to maintain.
Ultimately, he will be the player to watch in 2014.
The easy answer would be the Texas Derby scheduled for Week 5 against the Houston Dynamo, but there could be multiple storylines at play entering the second-to-last week of the MLS season.
Obviously, the attention on this October night will center directly on Oscar Pareja’s return to Colorado. True, this would be the third time these two clubs would have done battle. But this will be the first time in 2014 Coach Pareja returns to local he abandoned in the offseason.
The plot will only thicken should the results be in place.
The only thing that could make an already juicy narrative that much more scrumptious is playoff implications. The possibility of both clubs entering this match in desperate need of three points to fulfill or still hold onto postseason aspirations is the kind of narrative that only exists in Hollywood.
NBC Sports could distribute that Hollywood script to a national audience come October.
Fingers crossed we are given the opportunity to witness such a compelling drama unfold.
Eduardo Mendez is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and analyst for Opta Sports. Follow him on Twitter for more insight on a variety of sports topics. Follow @Mendez_FC