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Loan Stars

FC Dallas’ Brek Shea and George John hone their skills in Britain

FC Dallas standout Brek Shea capped a successful 2011 with a month-long training stint at Arsenal.  Few expected much to come of the opportunity in terms of a loan deal or something more permanent – least of all Arsenal skipper Arsene Wenger who downplayed their invitation to Shea – but it was a great chance for Shea to train with some of Europe’s best during the MLS offseason.  Between U.S. Men’s National Team call-ups and the Arsenal invite, FC Dallas fans were proud to see one of their best get so much deserved recognition.

Then a few weeks ago came the news that defender George John was heading to West Ham United for a two-month loan spell.  Again fans were pleased to see one of FC Dallas’ outstanding young talents validated with such a high-profile opportunity.  Both Shea and John were also invited to the U.S. Men’s National Team winter training camp, though John is unable to attend due to the West Ham loan.

 

The Shea and John opportunities highlight a catch-22 for American soccer as a whole.  MLS is getting better every year and helping produce world-class players, but they’re not necessarily able to keep those players stateside.  On one hand, the more our best players get to play top-level soccer the better – especially for national team purposes.  On the other hand, it doesn’t bode well for the development of MLS if its best prospects get scooped up by foreign clubs (latest example:  Bolton’s snag of Tim Ream from NY Red Bulls).  I don’t blame players at all for wanting to give Europe a go if a club comes calling – it will probably make them a better player (and make them more cash).  But as a fan, I want to see top players like Shea and John don the FCD red and white for the long haul.

For now, we can supposedly look forward to seeing Shea and John in the FCD lineup when the new MLS season kicks off in March (though John’s deal apparently leaves an opening for West Ham to keep him on if things go well).  I hope we do get to see them back in Dallas, as they’re both rising stars playing for a franchise that needs the potential drawing power of stars more than most other MLS teams.  I think the sky’s the limit for Shea in particular.  He could be the U.S. National Team’s best player in a few years.  FC Dallas fans better enjoy these guys while we can, because the reality is they may soon be too good for a club our size to afford to keep.

What do you think of offseason loan deals for MLS players?  Does it help or hurt MLS?

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My Evening in “The Oven”

Watching FC Dallas roast Chivas USA 1 – 0

I was at The Oven, a.k.a. Pizza Hut Park, last night so I can verify that it was indeed too hot for soccer.  Or any other outdoor activity.  I’m pretty sure I could’ve baked a pizza just by setting one in the empty seat beside me.  Apparently, last night’s 102 degree temps set a record high for a match at PHP, though having lived in DFW ten years now, I’m surprised the record is “only” 102.  Oh, and did I mention this was an evening match (kickoff was 6:00 PM)?  It was so hot, the game was even stopped around the 40-minute mark for a water break.  I’ve never seen that in a pro soccer game before.  They should’ve had a Slip & Slide on the sideline for the players.

I think the Europeans have it right – soccer in the fall/winter/spring and take the summer off.  I’ve always preferred watching and playing soccer in the cold.  Of course, I understand why MLS has to schedule the bulk of the season away from American football, which dominates the sports landscape here from September to January.  But it sure would be nice to have to wear a coat to PHP for a change!

As for the game, the teams looked understandably sapped from the opening whistle.  Even so, Dallas was clearly the faster, more aggressive side.  Poor Chivas USA fans – their team was absolutely dreadful.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a professional team pass and dribble the ball out of bounds so frequently.  Dallas looked worst than I’ve seen them since the beginning of the season (probably the result of the heat and their packed July schedule).  And yet for the most part they dominated Chivas.

Dallas missed the midfield presence and distribution of captain Daniel Hernandez who was being rested.  Forwards Ruben Luna and (later) Maykel Galindo frustrated fans with their hesitance, off-target shots, and poor possession in front of the Chivas goal.    Brek Shea had a relatively quiet game, though he was refreshingly willing to run the ball into space (unlike several of his offensive teammates).  Fortunately, Marvin Chavez ripped a 26th minute shot that ricocheted off Chivas defender Heath Pearce to give FCD the game’s only goal.

The best thing about Dallas was goalkeeper Kevin Hartman and his often unsung back four:  Ugo Ihemelu, Zach Loyd, George John, and Jair Benitez.  The defense recorded their 12th shutout of the season, which leads MLS.  The Dallas D isn’t flashy, brash, or dirty.  They simply play fundamental defense as an airtight unit.  I don’t mean to downplay Hartman’s saves – there have certainly been plenty – but he has perhaps the league’s best fullbacks in front of him.

It was fun to see Ihemelu and John enjoying their jobs as well.  During a pause in the action late in the game, Ihemelu playfully offered to squirt the head of the linesman with a water bottle.  Unfortunately, the linesman declined.  A moment later, George John amused the crowd by nodding his agreement and giving thumbs up to one fan’s loud admonishment for John to shoot from midfield since no one else was getting anything on-goal.

Considering the extreme heat, a surprisingly decent crowd of 10,000 made it to the match.  Not bad for FCD at the end of July.  But later at home I watched highlights of Toronto at Portland and saw the Timbers’ rocking, jam-packed JELD-WEN Field.  Wow!  Going to FCD games would be a completely different experience if we had sellouts every game.  I’m jealous of the Northwestern teams.  I’m glad for them and for the league.  But I’m jealous.  It seems no one can put their finger on why FCD doesn’t draw more fans.  I hear people around me ask the question every time I go to a game.  The club has a fiercely loyal following – it’s just a small fiercely loyal following.  Soccer fans in the Dallas area are missing out if they’re not tuned in to the current FCD squad, which may very well be the best team in franchise history.

Does FC Dallas have the best defense in MLS?