They weren’t supposed to be here.
In a league where the big name stars dominate the headlines, where Los Angeles, Seattle, New York and Toronto garner all of the attention, a team with no stars and no massive payroll isn’t supposed to take possession of the No. 1 seed in the toughest conference, let alone come this close to grabbing the Supporters’ Shield — the award for finishing first in the league in the regular season.
But here FC Dallas sits. With one match left to go in the season, the Hoops have clinched the top seed in the Western Conference, a feat that seemed impossible at the start of the season. And if Chicago manages to pull off the upset at home over the New York Red Bulls, they’ll be in prime position to take home the Supporters’ Shield for the first time in franchise history.
This isn’t supposed to happen. FC Dallas isn’t one of the “power” teams. There’s hardly anyone on the team that a simple casual soccer fan could name off of the top of their head. Maybe Blas Perez, but that’s about as much as I would expect anyone to get.
Instead, manager Oscar Pareja has managed to mold this team together the way he wants and find the starting XI that will work. He’s made adjustments here and there as needed, but approaching the end of his second year in charge, he’s finally found the line up that works the best to win. He’s trusted the homegrown players like Kellyn Acosta, Victor Ulloa and Jesse Gonzalez and they’ve paid off for him. Acosta and Ulloa have been a great defensive midfield pair and Gonzalez has been solid in goal in his first nine games. And the others have bought into Pareja’s team style.
And that’s what this really is about. The Hoops play as a team. While it’s obvious that players like Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo are vital parts of the squad, they aren’t greater than the sum of the whole team. The team might suffer if those two aren’t on the pitch, but the team can still survive. But no one really has that diva mentality. No one’s mad that they’re not getting the ball. No one is trying to drive a wedge in the locker room, which is one of the best ways to sink what could be a promising season.
Of course, this team might go from pretty good contender to really serious contender with one star player coming over from Europe. And there’s no guarantee that FC Dallas’ team mentality will work in the postseason, where every minute matters.
But it has worked for this team for just about two seasons now. Pareja has almost gotten this down to a science. Fans have trusted him to put out the best lineup and make the necessary changes. And FC Dallas just keeps ticking along.
And a team that wasn’t supposed to be in this position enters as one of the biggest contenders for the MLS Cup.