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Tuesday, March 23, 2010
ESPNsoccernet: March 25, 9:39 PM UK
FC Dallas must solve inconsistency in 2010

Justin Rodriguez

2009 record and finish: 11-13-6 (seventh in the Western Conference, missed playoffs)

Key additions: GK Kevin Hartman, M Zach Loyd

Key losses: M Dave van den Bergh

Key questions facing this team:

1. Which FC Dallas team will show up?

The one that schlepped to a 3-7-5 record in the first half of last season? Or the side that finished on an 8-6-1 run to end the year? The late string of successes can be largely credited to striker Jeff Cunningham. He scored 16 of his 17 goals in the second half, saving the Hoops after Kenny Cooper left for German second division outfit 1860 Munich last July.

Cunningham's goal-scoring spree won him the league's Golden Boot award, and he could be primed to go off again. Cunningham, 33, spent last December training with French Ligue 1 side Auxerre and appeared for the U.S. national team against El Salvador and Honduras earlier this season. He also developed a rhythm with returning Colombian midfielder David Ferreira (eight goals, seven assists) last season.

But many around the league are shocked that FCD didn't renew the contract of playmaking midfielder Dave van den Bergh, who led the team with 11 assists last season. The van den Bergh diss likely came down to money, and FCD still has talent in the crowded midfield, including Ferreira, Marvin Chavez, Anthony Wallace, Daniel Hernandez, Dax McCarty, Brek Shea and Atiba Harris, who also can slide up to forward.

It looks like FC Dallas has the potential to be a better product than last season -- as long as the team avoids a slow start, which could lead to a "here we go again" mentality.

2. Which keeper is a keeper?

Four-year starter Dario Sala is FCD's starter. For now, anyway.

With all-everything keeper Kevin Hartman serving as the backup, FCD coach Schellas Hyndman will be hearing a lot of questions about the position all year. Especially if Sala -- who played in only 14 games last season after undergoing surgery to remove a portion of a torn medial meniscus in his left knee -- slips up.

Hartman, 35, came to FCD in the offseason after he couldn't agree on a contract with Kansas City. He didn't miss a minute of action with the Wizards in the past three seasons. Hartman, a 13-year veteran, is the MLS career leader in wins (138) and shutouts (177).

That's a pretty nice dossier for a backup. Still, Sala, who put up a 1.51 goals-against average last year, is the man. But stay tuned. This battle could last on and off all season.

3. Is the pressure on Hyndman?

FCD recruited Hyndman for years, before he finally left the powerhouse he created at SMU for the MLS in 2008. Hyndman went 368-98-38 in 24 seasons at SMU and has 466 college wins in 31 total years, reaching the NCAA playoffs 30 times.

Certainly, those types of results aren't expected at Pizza Hut Park, and Hyndman appears to have a very long leash, but the team needs to progress this season. Hyndman went 4-5-8 after taking over for interim manager Marco Ferruzzi in 2008.

That leaves Hyndman's FCD record at 15-18-14. Not exactly Sigi Schmid-like, but Hyndman has a vision for this team, and expects the Hoops to really start taking shape this season. More importantly, not only does Hyndman believe a turnaround is near, so do his FCD charges.

MLS team previews

Eastern Conference
Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew
D.C. United
Kansas City Wizards
New England Revolution
New York Red Bulls
Philadelphia Union
Toronto FC

Western Conference
Chivas USA
Colorado Rapids
Houston Dynamo
Los Angeles Galaxy
Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquakes
Seattle Sounders
FC Dallas

Biggest X factor: Heath Pearce

Just two years ago, Pearce locked down the left back spot for the U.S. national team. He lost that position and, last year, was released by German second division squad Hansa Rostock. But Pearce's slight spiral might be over. He played well for the U.S. in games against the Netherlands and El Salvador earlier this year.

As for FC Dallas, Pearce, who played six games for the club last season, has established himself as a vocal leader. He signed with the team last September after a deal with Turkish side Bursapor. Pearce gives FCD versatility in the back, manning the right side, while Jair Benitez locks down the left. Pearce can also slide up to the midfield. He'll be hoping he can resurrect his career in the Lone Star State.

Breakout player to watch: David Ferreira

FCD hopes the Ferreira-to-Cunningham connection continues to flourish.

Still, if FCD is to rise from the ashes of the Western Conference, the squad likely will need another goal-scoring option. And Ferreira could be that guy. Like Cunningham, FCD's lone man up top, Ferreira played a key role in the team's second-half surge.

On loan from Brazilian partner Clube Atletico Paranaense, Ferreira had five goals and five assists in the second half. Bottom line: With van den Bergh sent packing, someone needs to step up making plays for FCD.

Outlook:

Sure, FCD seems to have potential, but as it stands now, the club is still an MLS bottom-feeder.

For this squad, the first five games of the season -- against Houston, Columbus, New York, Seattle and New England -- could be telling. If FCD is for real, it should walk away with at least a .500 record in those five -- three are at home.

If not, it's not time to go into DEFCON 1, but FC Dallas can't afford to play catch-up in the Western Conference again. Yes, Cunningham can light it up again, but the squad needs another viable scoring option. Or else.

Besides Ferreira, the team will need Harris (four goals and seven assists last season) or McCarty (three goals, six assists) to step up. Meanwhile, Zach Loyd, FCD's first-round pick (fifth overall) could give the team versatility and depth in the back.

As for now, even with last year's second half in mind, FCD has something to prove.

Justin Rodriguez covers USL, NCAA and youth soccer for ESPNsoccernet. He is the soccer writer for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., and can be reached at rodriguezespn@yahoo.com.




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