FC Dallas finished with the most goals scored in MLS in 2009 (50) but fell a point short of the playoffs, largely because of an inept defense that tied for the most goals against (47).
The team has taken steps to vastly improve that problem, starting at the end of last season.
They acquired central defender Ugo Ihemelu from the Colorado Rapids and then signed fullback and U.S. international Heath Pearce.
After Pearce was signed on Sept. 11, Dallas went 5-2-0, including wins against playoff-bound New England Revolution, MLS Cup runners-up Los Angeles Galaxy, and MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake. They also gave up only nine goals, an average of 1.29 a game, with two shutouts.
This offseason the team continued to add to its defense by signing goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.
The Hartman signing is a little surprising. Dallas' goal has been manned by captain Dario Sala since 2006 (he did make one appearance in 2005). The team was looking to upgrade the position though, and they couldn’t have done much better than with Hartman.
The 13-year veteran holds MLS records for most career saves, most career victories, and most career shutouts. He was also named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 1999. Even though he is 35, he still started and played every single minute of league action last season.
While head coach Schellas Hyndman has said Sala remains the starter for now, even having arguably the league's greatest goalie in its history pushing him and competing against him can only make the both of them better.
The team also drafted fullback Zach Loyd out of North Carolina with the fifth pick in the draft. Loyd has impressed so much in camp that Hyndman has hinted he may be able to push Pearce up into the midfield.
Pushing Pearce into the midfield would offset the loss of out of contract Dave van den Bergh. Van den Bergh was a threat on the left side of the midfield. The veteran serviced great crosses and could fire off a nice shot of his own.
Pearce has proved in his time with the national team, however, that pushing forward into the attack is definitely a strength of his.
He would join Dax McCarty and second-year mid Brek Shea, both talented midfielders but not as strong offensively as Pearce.
The biggest threat that Dallas owns is Jeff Cunningham.
Cunningham is one of the most prolific goal scorers in MLS history, currently second all-time with 121 goals.
After 32 games with Toronto where he only scored six league goals, Cunningham had a renaissance year in 2009, winning the league’s Golden Boot award with 17 goals. His return to prominence also earned him a few call-ups with the U.S. National Team.
Colombian David Ferreira scored eight goals in 30 starts last season and will be counted on in 2010 to complement Cunningham.
Behind those two there isn’t much depth at the forward position, so another signing should be imminent.
If Dallas can get its defense to tighten up, and Cunningham continues to be the goal scorer he’s been for the majority of his career, the team could return to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.