At the end of the 2009 regular season, a mere 45 minutes stood between FC Dallas and a playoff berth. A tangle of head-to-head records and goal differentials would have given the Hoops the very last playoff spot -- the one Real Salt Lake nipped and used to win the MLS Cup -- had Dallas held on and won against Seattle Sounders FC.
A spot in the playoffs would have capped off one of the most breathtaking season turnarounds in the American game, after Dallas' atrocious start to the year.
With a team built on youth and having already made a series of changes midway through 2009, Schellas Hyndman will preside over a continuation of last season's blistering second half squad in an attempt to make the playoffs for the first time in three years.
Last year: In the opening 15 games, Dallas picked up 14 points. It didn't look likely that Hyndman would last the year in charge. Then the club sold Kenny Cooper to 1860 Munich in what looked like a new low, but turned out a boon.
Jeff Cunningham stepped into the starting lineup in Coopers absence, scoring a scintillating 17 goals in the last 16 games to put himself on the finalist list for the MVP award and to earn a call-up to the U.S. national team.
Throughout the year, an identity emerged. Around that spine, Hyndman built the meat and flesh of a competitive MLS squad.
Dearly departed: The players who left the squad this offseason fall into two categories: goalkeepers and expensive veterans.
Of the net-minders, the club waived Ray Burse Jr. and loaned Josh Lambo to the Tamba Bay Rowdies. Burse made 16 starts in 2009 as Dario Sala struggled with injuries, but didn't exactly impress. Lambo, a U.S. youth international, will earn valuable minutes in Florida.
The two veterans to leave the squad were former captain Pablo Ricchetti and Dave van den Bergh. Ricchetti found himself moved into the defense before falling out of favor entirely. Van den Bergh didn't post the sort of numbers he had in New York, and the club really couldn't justify his salary given other options available.
New faces: Aside from the draft class, Dallas only signed one player. Kevin Hartman holds almost all the goalkeeping records in MLS, but acquiring him will puzzle fans as Sala already provides a veteran option in the net.
Once again, the team will rely on an injection of youngsters as it continues to develop the potential lining the bench. Of this year's draft class, fullback Zach Loyd is expected to see minutes, and forwards Andrew Weideman and Jason Yeisley could make an impact. Dallas also drafted Eric Alexander and Dane Saintus.
Over-reliance on Cunningham – First Kenny Cooper, then Jeff Cunningham, the team has a tendency to rely on its one in-form striker at the detriment of the rest of the squad. Hyndman needs to form a more well balanced team, capable of finding goals from other places if he plans to withstand the rigors of a exhausting MLS season.
Make it grow – Even under previous boss Steve Morrow, Dallas had a very strong youth policy. The playoff failures were brushed aside as part of the growing process. By now, these young players need to prove they can pitch in and help out the team.
Finding fans – Dallas consistently posts some of the worst attendance records in the league. The organization needs to do all it can to lure the Texans out of their homes. A winning team would represent a good start.
Predicted placement: Two years of missing out on the Big Show mean Dallas is desperate to make the playoffs once again. Just qualifying for the postseason would be a huge success.
Did you know? Jeff Cunningham has the second most MLS goals of all time, only behind D.C. United's Jaime Moreno.
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