MLS preview: Dallas stronger without Ferriera?
It was an injury that was supposed to shake FC Dallas to the core and potentially crush the team's chances of building on its MLS Cup run season of 2011, but a funny thing has happened since FC Dallas lost its best player.
The team hasn't lost a game since.
When reigning MLS MVP David Ferreira was stretchered off with a broken ankle against Vancouver on April 23rd, FC Dallas was sporting a 1-3-1 record and losing its match to the expansion Whitecaps. With a match-up against mighty Los Angeles looming, Dallas stood a very real chance of falling into a serious early season hole before a stirring comeback against Vancouver sparked a revival that now has Dallas looking like one of the best teams in the league.
Including the comeback versus the Whitecaps, Dallas has rattled off a 5-0-2 record, posting some impressive results during that unbeaten stretch. A draw at Rio Tinto Stadium against Real Salt Lake coupled with wins against Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and (most recently) Seattle has Dallas once again in the conversation of MLS Cup title contenders.
Much like last season, when Dallas put together an MLS-record tying 19-match unbeaten streak, the key to the team's surge has been its defense and the standout goalkeeping of veteran Kevin Hartman. The MLS career leader in wins and shutouts, Hartman has recaptured the form that had him well on his way to MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honors last year before a freak injury cost him the end of the regular season.
Now healthy, the 36-year old is back to making acrobatic saves and guiding a defense that has played stellar soccer despite losing starting left back Jair Benitez to a knee injury. Head coach Schellas Hyndman slotted in Zach Loyd at left back and the Hoops have hardly missed a beat as centerback George John anchors a defense that has gone a team-record 459 consecutive minutes without allowing a goal.
As good as the defense has been, Dallas still needed players to help pick up the offensive slack left by the loss of Ferreira. While several have improved their play, the two most responsible for keeping the FCD attack moving are Fabian Castillo and Brek Shea.
Castillo has proven to be the impact player Dallas thought it was getting when it paid big money to bring him on loan from Colombia and make him, at 18, the youngest Designated Player in league history. His speed, creativity and shiftiness has unsettled defenses and helped keep pressure off Dallas's defense.
Shea has been even more important because he has been delivering goals when they have proven difficult to come by. The 21-year-old has scored three-game winning goals on the season and has stepped his game up recent weeks. Having recently signed a new contract with FC Dallas, Shea is starting to look like a franchise player at a time when the club needs one to emerge offensively.
As well as Castillo and Shea have played, however, the Dallas attack hasn't exactly been unstoppable. FCD has managed just six goals in its past six matches, though it should be pointed out that the stretch has included games against some of the stingiest defenses in MLS.
So is Dallas actually better without David Ferreira, as the results of the current season would suggest? Not in the least. The reality is the Dallas offense isn't as dangerous as it was when Ferreira was on the field, but what Schellas Hyndman's team has done is seen its defense, as well as Castillo and Shea, round into form.
The good news for Dallas is that, as well as the team is playing these days, Ferreira should be back before the end of the season. If the defense can keep playing the way its playing, and Castillo and Shea continue improving, Ferreira could come back and be the missing piece to a championship puzzle.
Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union
TFC isn't racking up points in the standings but has been tougher than expected this season, remaining a tough out at home. The Union has struggled offensively away from PPL Park and will likely do so again. Don't expect many goals in this one, and you just might see the home team pull the upset.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. New York Red Bulls
So why does a team that hasn't won a match since March really have a chance against a team as strong as the Red Bulls? New York is struggling, winless in four, and will now be without Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez (as well as Dane Richards). The Whitecaps are healthier defensively and are well-equipped to pull the surprise.
Columbus Crew vs. Chivas USA
The Crew welcome a return to Columbus after a pair of road losses, but Chivas USA looks poised to hand Columbus its first home loss of the season. The Goats are playing well and are too tough defensively for Columbus to break down.
New England Revolution vs. Los Angeles Galaxy
Cross-country travel doesn't bode well for MLS teams, but the Galaxy isn't most teams. So why will New England be able to hold serve at Gillette Stadium? The Revs offense has improved and just might make things difficult for a normally-stingy Galaxy defense. Look for the Revs to knock off the visitors.
Chicago Fire vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Chicago is struggling and the Earthquakes are rounding into form. So why should the Fire have a chance? Home teams in MLS usually do have a chance, but this Fire team needs some serious help. Look for San Jose to keep its unbeaten streak going.
Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas
Can the Dynamo stop the red-hot Hoops? Houston matches up well with Dallas, and has the offense to test Dallas stifling defense, but this one seems destined to be a draw. That is, unless Brek Shea can work his magic yet again.
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting Kansas City
The Rapids are always a tough opponent at home, and Sporting KC is limping through the end of a brutally long road stretch. In other words, don't expect KC to leave Colorado with any points. The Rapids should roll.
Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders Arguably the game of the week, RSL has failed to score in its past two matches, and will be short-handed in this one. Will that be enough for Seattle to break RSL's home unbeaten streak in MLS play? Don't bet on it. Jason Kreis' team will find a way.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.