The FC Dallas club has been the epitome of entertainingly average, to put it plainly. They are the closest MLS team to 500 this season with eight wins, nine defeats, and a goal differential of -one. But the club has made up for its performance shortcomings with unpredictable play. This is the first time you’ve seen a squad in 10th place as entertaining as this one.
What one might anticipate for a team circling the center of the pack is that FC Dallas has yet to win, lose, or draw three straight games this season. But it needs to be more consistent how they have kept up their mediocre record. Let’s use June as an example. FC Dallas suffered defeats at the hands of Sporting Kansas City and Portland between May 31 and July 1. In the same stretch, they defeated St. Louis City FC, this year’s best team in the Western Conference, and LAFC, the defending MLS champions, both in shutout fashion.
To a point, mystery box soccer can be entertaining. Most often, it is frustrating. FCD occasionally displays signs of being able to compete with the top clubs in the league, but those signs quickly fade when the team loses to basement dwellers.
The mega-hyped Leagues Cup match against Lionel Messi and Inter Miami CF was the game that best encapsulated all of this—the highs and lows, the brilliance and incompetence. At first, it appeared as though Messi would run amok—as he has against just about everyone since joining MLS—when he placed a first-time shot in the bottom corner after only six minutes of play.
Due to the signing of Sebastien Ibeagha at center back and Maarten Paes’ emergence as one of the top 12 keepers in the league, FC Dallas’ defense has been stingy this season. In terms of goal differential, they are tied for the fourth-best defense in the league. They have only scored 25 goals in MLS, which ranks them equal for fifth-worst in the league, despite having Jesus Ferreira and three other intriguing wingers on their roster.
Why is FC Dallas faltering?
I’ll start with Ferreira’s overuse. His 10 goals equal him for sixth place in the league, although the 22-year-old can struggle to score on bad nights. Kamungo is FC Dallas’ second-leading scorer, but despite his rapid rise to the top of the game and tremendous skill, he is still developing after only 340 minutes of action this season and three goals. Paul Arriola’s lack of offensive production this season—he hasn’t played more than 31 minutes in a game since May—hasn’t helped. Or that despite playing in almost every game this year, Jader Obrian and Alan Velasco have only scored twice each despite continuing to show sparks. It’s simple to understand how the group’s performance has been both irritating and excellent on defense, leading to such a lackluster middle ground when the highs and lows are averaged out.
What does that mean for their upcoming MLS match against Austin FC on Saturday? The West is still wide open, with only seven points separating second place and tenth. A victory on Saturday would move FCD into sixth place, back in the playoffs and, perhaps more importantly, ahead of Austin and fellow in-state rivals Houston Dynamo. This is made possible by the fact that FCD has a game in hand. When the midseason transfer market opened, the squad moved swiftly to get Asier Illarramendi, a former Real Madrid midfielder and 2014 Champions League champion who has spent the last nine years assisting Real Sociedad in becoming one of the most prosperous small-budget clubs in Spain.
Illarramendi, who has three appearances for the entire Spanish national team and nearly 300 in La Liga, will provide knowledge and skill to FC Dallas’ midfield. Ferreira, Kamungo, Arriola, and the group should ideally be sprung into quick assaults by him organizing the squad and breaking down defenses as a deep-lying playmaker, potentially leading to additional scoring opportunities.