Coming off their Western Conference championship-winning campaign last year, which saw them win playoff matches against both Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy only to see their dreams of Major League Soccer Cup glory smashed by an unfortunate own goal against the Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas entered this season with serious goals.
Thus far, the team has delivered with 50 points in 30 games, good enough for third following a tough loss to the Seattle Sounders last week. The Dallas side has performed admirably this season, especially given the loss of last year's MVP David Ferreira early on, and all thoughts are on how good their postseason chances will be.
Here are seven reasons why I think that FC Dallas can win the Cup this year.
Kevin Hartman is the best goalkeeper that FC Dallas has ever had. His years of experience are helpful both on and off the pitch, and his agility and talent between the posts has earned him the nickname "El Gato"—the Cat.
Hartman has proved his worth time and time again, both this year and last, when faced with situations where his defense is either lackluster or just not up to snuff for a match.
He has a propensity for coming up with miraculous saves when Dallas needs him to the most, and as such, is one of the fans' favorite players on the pitch. He is never afraid of running out to grab the ball and win aerial battles with his height.
As well as continuing to be one of the best defensive players for the team, Hartman owns several goalkeeping records, including most career shutouts, most saves, most minutes played in both the regular season and playoffs and most wins, as well as being in second place for most games played and within the top 10 for goals-against average.
His performance in the playoffs will be part of what determines whether the team will win it all or not.
A good defense is part of what wins matches and FC Dallas has a good defensive crew, even considering the imminent departure of George John to Blackburn.
Their midfield is strengthened by Daniel Hernandez, who has played the role of holding midfielder with much success these last few years. In addition, Hernandez is the rock around which the midfield and defense are assembled, and his role as team captain is one that is very well fulfilled.
Ugo Ihemelu, who signed a new contract deal earlier this season with the Hoops, forms one half of this year's dynamic center-back duo for the team, along with the aforementioned George John. Ihemelu is arguably the most talented player on the defensive line and his presence in the back is vital to the team's success. With him in the lineup, you can rest assured knowing that the defense is in place, and that cheers of "You got Ugo? We do!" will resound throughout Pizza Hut Park.
Zach Lloyd and Jair Benitez are also solid defensive players who have contributed much to the team with their performances
On top of these four, the Hoops also have Bobby Warshaw, who looks destined to develop into a great defensive player, and they have also recently acquired the talents of Jeremy Hall from the Portland Timbers as well as Jack Stewart.
These defensive players will give Dallas the needed defensive foundation that will allow them to focus on scoring in the postseason.
Brek Shea is one of the most talented developing wingers in the MLS right now, but it took his recent appearance in the friendly against Mexico for the United States Men's National Team for people to realize that.
Shea is the best player for the Hoops in terms of offense. His presence on the wing guarantees that the team will be probing the opposition's defense consistently for the entirety of the match. Shea has speed, height, creativity and good finishing ability, which makes him one of the best upcoming players in the league at his position, a good reason why Dallas has extended his contract with the club until 2015.
Shea helps to create goals and also has the ability to recognize when he can capitalize off the opposition's defensive miscues. He is the leading goal scorer on the team this year, scoring some definite goal-of-the-year candidates in the process of leading the team to the top of the standings this year.
When reigning MLS MVP and the club's leading scorer David Ferreira went out early in the season with an injury, Brek Shea stepped up his game and took charge. He led the team forward as its main creative force and inspired the side to keep on fighting despite the loss of Ferreira. His role in the playoffs is crucial and will determine how well Dallas does.
While Brek Shea has definitely been the main instigator of goals for FC Dallas this season, the addition of Fabian Castillo has been a definite boon for their offense. Castillo brings to the team a youthful pace and incredible amounts of dribbling talent, speed and creativity which has helped Castillo to two goals and three assists in only 16 games.
Castillo is probably the most exciting player for the Hoops and the fans tend to collectively hold their breath whenever he gets a touch. Castillo can either dribble his way around a defender or simply speed his way around. When he gets the ball in open space, it is quite an exciting affair to watch and he is simply one of the most exhilarating players to see with the ball when at an FC Dallas match. His transfer from Deportivo Cali will be labeled as one of Schellas Hyndman's better moves at Dallas.
His youth, creativity and speed are going to prove to be great assets for the Hoops when the postseason rolls around.
During this season, FC Dallas has picked up two notable signings on the transfer market. Maicon Santos and Daniel Cruz are both fresh players with a desire to win, and that's exactly why Schellas Hyndman picked them up.
Maicon Santos is a pure striker, something that Dallas has been without for a long time. In his time at Toronto FC this season, he scored six goals, half of his career total in the MLS. Schellas has a tendency to put a lone striker up top, and up until Dallas acquired Santos, that spot had been filled by Marvin Chavez or Jackson Goncalves while Fabian Castillo was at the U-20 World Cup. Now that Dallas has a true striker with MLS experience, their offense is in a considerably better position.
Daniel Cruz is a needed addition to the midfield. He was picked up from Belgian side Germinal Beerschot a few weeks ago, where he scored 10 goals in 173 games. With Cruz and Hernandez in the midfield, the Hoops' midfield is strengthened and can feed the ball forward to its players up top.
Schellas Hyndman's intentions in picking up Cruz and Santos were to strengthen the team for a playoff run. Schellas, as well as the players and fans, is serious about being MLS Cup contenders and these signings show that.
In any sport, a balanced mix of well-traveled veterans and talented youth players is needed for a team to be successful. Players who are older but more experienced provide leadership and knowledge to younger players who are maybe more physically talented but have less knowledge of the game. Dallas is aware of this and has built their team around this concept.
Many of the players who are considered to be leaders on the squad happen to be the older players: Kevin Hartman is 37, Daniel Hernandez is 35 and even David Ferreira is 32.
These three players help to educate their younger teammates such as Brek Shea, Fabian Castillo and Zach Lloyd, all of whom have proved invaluable to the team thus far in the year with their performances.
The mix of youth and experience that the Hoops are currently fielding is a part of their success and will aid them as they move into the postseason.
Lots of things have been said about FC Dallas.
Most of it is negative. That they have poor attendance. That they have never won the Cup. That they are not title contenders.
Despite all of this criticism, the Hoops continue to push forward and that is one of the greatest strengths of this team. Despite all of the obstacles in their way, they continue to push forward and do their best.
Earlier in the season, David Ferreira went out with an injury in the match against the Vancouver Whitecaps. At the time, the team was down 1-0 and had looked weak against the newest addition to the MLS. As soon as Ferreira had been carted out, the critics began labeling it the doom of the team's campaign, with many predicting that the team would not be a force in the league this year.
In such a situation, most teams would have been complacent to accept the road loss or to maybe get a tie. But Dallas is not like most teams.
Instead of rolling over and giving up the loss, Dallas fought back and won the game. When Ferreira was diagnosed with a fractured ankle, the team fought on and is a definite contender for the Cup this year.
No matter what happens to the Hoops, they fight back and never give up. They are the comeback kids who are always looking for a way to get back into the competition and Hyndman is the type of coach who can take a team that is widely panned as not being talented and make it into a title-winning outfit.
That right there is reason enough for one to count Dallas as one of the teams to watch out for in the postseason this year.