Once a Metro: FC Dallas made a number of moves in the off-season and brought in a new coach to great results. How?
Big D Soccer: I think there were 2 events last year that helped make this happen: the sale of the Columbus Crew and the hiring of Dan Hunt as full-time President.
Hunt Sports Group had been struggling to run two MLS teams. Time, money, resources, support staff - everything has to be split. Then you run the risk of favoring one over the other (i.e. AEG's Galaxy and Dynamo). At the start of MLS in the 90's, it was a financial necessity, but the league has been clear about eliminating multiple team ownership going forward. Last year, HSG was able to sell the Crew to the benefit of both clubs. The aggressive off season signings were a direct result of the new ability to focus on driving one soccer team to success.
Dan Hunt was officially announced as President of FC Dallas early this year. Since beginning work, he has injected a new level of energy into the organization and put a smiling face on the ownership. Clark Hunt is the chairman of HSG, but FC Dallas has never felt like his priority. Clark must spread his time across multiple teams in different sports, and it's hard being the little brother to an NFL legacy. Dan's sole focus is FC Dallas. He's been seen at tailgates, in supporters' sections around the stadium, and been accessible on social media. I believe it was through Dan's leadership and persistence that FCD finally broke through the Rapids to approach Oscar Pareja.
Once a Metro: We've seen a few flash-in-the-pan teams over the years, teams that get off to great starts, then peter out. Can FC Dallas keep this up?
Big D Soccer: We're about to find out. The month of May lines up 7 games for FCD, with 4 of those being away from home. Contrast that to the season so far where FCD has played the majority of matches in North Texas. Add to that the injuries to George John, Andres Escobar, Kellyn Acosta, and Mauro Diaz. Mauro Diaz! The good news is that FCD has an unprecedented level of quality depth not seen at this club before. For all its success so far, this season is one of transition while Oscar Pareja gets acclimated and institutes his philosophy. I'm confident you won't see an epic collapse like last season - with FCD going months between victories. However, we are still finding out just how high this team can keep riding.
Once a Metro: Who should Red Bulls fans be worried about come this weekend?
Big D Soccer: Watch out for the rising star of Matt Hedges. Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo have received most of the offensive limelight for FC Dallas in 2014. However, quietly on the back line, Hedges has been punching above his weight. Matt scored 8 goals since being selected by FC Dallas in the first round of the 2012 SuperDraft - this more than any other active defender on the roster. With George John still out due to knee injury, Matt has quickly risen to lead the defense. FCD hasn't exactly been bullet proof, but Matt is putting in stellar performances week in and week out. I think you'll see him clamp down on defense after giving up 4 goals to DC United last week. This team needs to make a statement that last week was an exception.
National media is starting to sniff around Matt for a potential USMNT callup in the next World Cup cycle. I've seen tweets out of writers like Brian Sciaretta, and Goal.com posted an article earlier this week.
Once a Metro: Prediction? Scoreline?
Big D Soccer: Roster prediction is going to be tricky. This is a new coach with a new system with our first big hit to player availability. Diaz and Acosta are out. From what I've heard, I would guess:
Seitz, Hernandez, Hedges, Keel, Benitez, Thomas, Moffat, Castillo, Garcia, Watson, Texeira
Variables being the possibility of Fernandez given a chance at GK after last week's disaster against DCU; Jacobson replacing one of the defensive mids; Perez starting instead of Tex.
Dallas needs a result to bounce back. I think we see a narrow victory off a set piece: 2-1
Now, their questions for us...
Big D Soccer: Looking at the MLS Stat Leaders for 2014, the Red Bulls have representation in the Top 5 of the major offensive statistics: goals, assists, shots, shots on goal, and then even Luis Robles tops the saves category as of this week. What's behind this success? Is it due to Mike Petke; individual players' effort; team chemistry?
Once a Metro: Probably a bit of everything. Bradley Wright-Phillips is hot right now, scoring a hat trick mid-week against the Dynamo before notching the game-tying goal against the Crew over the weekend. Lloyd Sam's goal total can be credited a bit to him, who realized he needed to bring more than just speed and a good cross to the side, and to Petke, who pushed him to work on his defensive game.
With Henry and shots, well, he's Thierry Henry. With Robles, he's bailed the Red Bulls out more times than I can count.
Big D Soccer: What is your opinion on the NYCFC Yankee Stadium announcement? They jumped on to the soccer stage with a lot of big promises and bravado laying claim to NYC over the Red Bulls, but playing in a baseball field feels very MLS 1.0.
Once a Metro: No one is going to build anything in New York on 22 month's notice. Case in point: One World Trade Center. The Twin Towers replacement? That hasn't opened yet.
Because of that, I think we all knew they'd play in Yankee Stadium to start. The issue is beyond that. There was lot of trepidation in the real estate community over new Mayor Bill de Blasio's election, and I'm not sure he's keen on playing ball with a team whose minority owner just got a new stadium built with considerable public funds and whose majority owner has less-than-savory politics.
So that puts the Yankees in a weird situation, with President Randy Levine forward and saying, "Oh, yeah, we'll consider options outside of New York." To me, that's a power play with the city, but I don't know where their leverage is coming from. Whatever part of New York they're looking at will get by just fine without the city opening the public coffers to help out, and it's not as if there will be a considerable uproar from people, like there'd be if the Yankees left for Yonkers (just north of the Bronx) or the Mets for Nassau County (just east of Queens on Long Island).
That leaves their whole deal -- five boroughs, one city is their slogan thus far -- dead in the water. New Yorkers can be very provincial, part of that is because it can be really tough to get around the city and part because of run-of-the-mill zip code elitism. They're trying to get the people too good to go to New Jersey to watch soccer to pay attention to them, subtlety playing up the idea New Jersey is a backwater. What good is it if they're in Yonkers?
Big D Soccer: The average age of the NYRB starting XI is 30. How do the Red Bulls maintain endurance through a busy 2014 season including MLS, US Open Cup, (World Cup? - are any players expected to be called up?), and the CONCACAF Champions League later this year?
Once a Metro: The Red Bulls are old, but there are a lot of them. Jonny Steele, who had a breakout year last year, still hasn't played many minutes in 2014. Bobby Convey has been in and out of the trainer's room with various injuries. Ibrahim Sekagya has been called into action more than a few times thanks to Armando's injury and card troubles, but he's up to the task (by Red Bulls' standards).
And it's not just the old guys. There are younger guys who can step up. Twenty-one-year-old Ruben Bover proved he can play in pre-season and in reserve league games. Petke called on central midfielder Michael Bustamante to fill in on short notice last year, and he performed admirably. Matt Miazga, the Red Bulls' 18-year-old centerback, has a lot of admirers in the Red Bulls organization.
Long story short, there's plenty of depth to compete, even after they lose Tim Cahill and Roy Miller to the World Cup.
Big D Soccer: Prediction? Scoreline?
Once a Metro: Robles; Kimura, Olave, Armando, Miller, Sam, McCarty, Cahill, Alexander, Wright-Phillips, Henry