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Shea it ain’t so, Brek!

Brek Shea will be missed in Dallas

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Brek Shea has been the face of FC Dallas the past two seasons, but now he plays for Stoke City.  I’m glad for Shea.  It’s always good to see American players get a shot in the perceived top league in the world.  But since I just bought an FC Dallas season ticket a few weeks ago, this is not welcome news.

I first saw Shea play in person in 2010, the season he made his first professional start and really came into his own for FC Dallas.  He almost immediately caught my eye as a special player.  It wasn’t just the flashy shock of ultra blonde hair.  He hustled his tail off and wasn’t afraid to run with the ball at opponents.  He had height, strength, speed, and all-important feistiness.  He could scoot around the edges and get passes across the box or get shots off when other players would have lost possession.  He spent that 2010 season under the radar and I shared FC Dallas fans’ pride of recognizing potential that the wider world hadn’t fully noticed yet.  I even called my younger brother and soccer confidant Dan to tell him about this Brek Shea and how he could be on the national team someday.

Shea and FC Dallas made it to their first and only MLS Cup Final in 2010 where they lost to Colorado.  By the start of 2011, the cat was out of the bag with Shea and opponents started marking him tightly.  It was a tougher season for him (and FC Dallas), yet he was still a standout and a finalist for the league’s MVP.  Buzz began building about him.  In the offseason, he got to train for a few weeks at Arsenal.  FC Dallas wisely signed him on through 2015.  By the start of last season, the media spotlight on Shea was blinding.  Even in Dallas he was becoming a household name (okay, still mostly just among us soccer nerds).  US National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann jumped on board the Brek train too, granting Shea several consecutive caps.

Then the 2012 MLS season got under way and Shea fizzled on field.  A turf toe injury sidelined him for several weeks.  I actually observed him up close as he was nearing recovery from that injury when he participated in a demonstration drill run by FC Dallas Head Coach Schellas Hyndman at Hyndman’s annual clinic for local coaches.  I was impressed and surprised that Shea turned up for the demo – something he certainly wasn’t obligated to do on such a hot May afternoon.  The demo was a mix of academy players and FC Dallas reserve players, but Shea played as hard as if he were trying to earn a starting spot.  Afterwards he affably hung around to chat with coaches and pose for photos.  He certainly didn’t appear too overwhelmed by stardom that day.

Shea continued struggling with injuries throughout 2012, but even when he was in the lineup he couldn’t recover his near-MVP form from 2011.  Fans grumbled impatiently.  Brek and Hyndman got into a spat on NBC when Hyndman benched him late during a contentious match at San Jose.  Shea the wonder boy suddenly seemed mentally and physically drained.

Now it looks like the business side of soccer has reared its necessary and sometimes ugly head with Dallas apparently eager to cash in on Stoke City’s interest in the 22-year-old Shea.  Shea was a rare rising star for Dallas, a real potential franchise player.  I had a feeling it would just be a matter of time before a bigger club snatched him up – Dallas is too small a club to retain stars for very long.  The only real surprise is why now?  Shea had such a dismal 2012 MLS season that I was confident he would be in Dallas at least through 2013.  I was really looking forward to this being a comeback season for Brek.

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I should have been suspicious when Zach Loyd began featuring a bit more than Shea in FC Dallas’ promotional efforts toward the end of last season.  Considering that and the rift between Hyndman and Shea, the writing has likely been on the wall for several months.  I wish Dallas would splash the Stoke cash they get for Shea on a replacement star, someone for season ticket holders like myself to get jazzed about.  But I won’t hold my breath.

It’s a catch-22 for American soccer fans when deals like this come along.  On one hand, you want to see U.S. players get opportunities in the world’s top league – it’s great for their development, enhances our national team, and improves American soccer’s reputation.  On the other hand it highlights where MLS falls in the pecking order of the world’s soccer leagues.  It seems difficult enough (particularly in a market like Dallas) to get fans to support MLS teams that actually have an American star or two, much less when those stars get shipped to more prestigious European leagues.

I wish Shea all the best at Stoke City.  This FC Dallas fan will definitely miss him.

Your thoughts on Shea’s transfer to Stoke City?

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My First Trip of 2012 to FC Dallas Stadium

In which FC Dallas gifts Portland Timbers a goal for 1 – 1 draw

I spent St. Patty’s day, or evening actually, at FC Dallas Stadium (formerly Pizza Hut Park).  I wasn’t able to make it to the season opener last Sunday versus NY Red Bulls as I was traveling with my family on spring break.  I enjoyed watching FCD beat the Red Bulls on NBC Sports Network though and thoroughly enjoyed their coverage.  NBC didn’t dumb anything down at all (unlike a certain channel that starts with an “F” and ends with an “ox” during their nationally televised Champions League final).  So Saturday night was my first opportunity of the 2012 season to see FCD live as they battled the ax men from the northwest, better known as the Portland Timbers.  Here are my random musings on the match experience:

FCD’s new forward Blas Perez of Panama (I think he should go by that full moniker, including “of Panama” just for fun) has been impressive in his first two games.  He kept the Timbers on their toes in the first half (scoring FCD’s only goal), but in the second they paid closer attention to his wily maneuverings and that, coupled with a lack of offensive support from his FCD cronies, kept him from threatening as much.

Enjoyment of a match in person is seriously affected by those seated around you.  Most of my experiences at FCD games have been quite positive, but last night I had a trio of male knuckleheads babbling incessantly behind me.  They quickly beat everyone over the head with the fact they are Timbers fans, though only one had on a Timbers jacket (the other two inexplicably wore a Man U jacket and an old Dallas Burn jersey).  They regaled the rest of us with comedic gems like “Nice dive!” (directed at an FCD player), quickly followed by “Nice scuba suit!”  They also got a kick out of “Hey linesman, your sports bra too tight?” which I thought was a blow aimed at the poor linesman’s manhood until I realized that he actually was wearing some sort of clearly visible sports bra-like device under his ref jersey.  As if fans need further excuse to ridicule refs!  Not sure what that was all about – perhaps MLS is tracking refs’ vital signs this year via the bra, I mean device.  The Timber Trio’s favorite barb of the night though was their admonishment to any FCD player who got knocked down to “Hit the weights!”  They apparently thought this sage advice since they screamed it approximately one thousand times during the match.  Oddly enough, the motor mouths didn’t appear to be drunk at all.

Vuvuzelas mar the soccer world.  Unfortunately, the plastic horn menaces – that sound like a cross between a wounded Wookie and an elephant – are a perpetual presence at FCD matches.  I much prefer the steady crowd roar, singing, and chanting of European matches to vuvuzelas and drum beating.  The honk of the vuvuzela is a truly melancholy wail that sounds downright depressing, particularly in the 88th minute when your team is tied or losing and could use an aural spark.  That’s the main problem with vuvus – they’re not peppy in the least.  Perhaps the suits think vuvus help create “atmosphere”.  They are mistaken.  Vuvus sound ridiculous and aren’t festive in the least.  The only good thing about vuvus is that every time I hear one I’m reminded of Will Ferrell as “Jeff Vuvuzela” at the Espy’s a couple years ago.

FC Dallas has made several improvements to the match experience for fans.  I like the new seating right behind the north goal, which helps a bit to enclose the cavernous stage/beer garden space.  The halftime videos hosted by Vydra were very well done and quite entertaining – I particularly enjoyed the Q&A with Ricardo Villar in which he had to choose between random things like “Man City or Man U” (I forgive him for choosing Man U – was hoping he’d say “neither”).  One improvement the club still desperately needs however is a larger on-site team store.  The current shoebox size shop is entirely inadequate.  Saturday night before the game they had to use a frazzled bouncer to allow folks in a few at a time, but even then, once finally inside, the shop was literally shoulder-to-shoulder which made it impossible to fully browse the merchandise.

 

As for the match, Dallas controlled the first half, but the Timbers adequately adjusted after halftime and came out looking like a different team.  Even so, the Dallas defense (led by Ugo Ihemelu and Zach Loyd) was solid and likely would’ve held on to win were it not for Kevin Hartman’s uncharacteristic blunder in which he booted the ball straight up to the top of his own box where Portland’s Darlington Nagbe was waiting to pounce and slipped in an easy goal to tie the game.  Unfortunately, Dallas often found themselves short-handed on the attack as the spark provided by Loyd’s wing runs in the first half virtually disappeared in the second.  There was precious little offensive creativity from Dallas in the second half (which only encouraged the restless vuvuzela blowers).  FCD really needs David Ferreira back from injury and Brek Shea back from Olympic qualifying duty!

Despite the vuvus and obnoxious Timbers fans, it was a good time as usual at FC Dallas Stadium.  The draw was disappointing, but Dallas generally looks strong and should be very competitive this year.

Where do you think FC Dallas will finish in the Western Conference standings this year?

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?

Ugo, FC Dallas!

Club looks to the future with recent contract extensions

This blog’s primary focus is my favorite team, Chelsea FC.  However, I also support my local club – FC Dallas of MLS – and will endeavor to write about them periodically.  Things have been looking up at FC Dallas the past couple of seasons and two key recent contract extensions are evidence that the club is moving in the right direction.

This week FC Dallas extended defender Ugo Ihemelu’s contract through 2015, a wise decision that followed a similar extension for midfielder Brek Shea a few weeks ago.  Head coach Schellas Hyndman is apparently dedicated to firming up the roster he has carefully constructed the past three seasons.  MLS has complicated rules and regulations when it comes to signing/keeping players, so it is great news for FCD fans that the club has arranged to retain two of its best players for several more seasons.  Hopefully we’ll see some other extensions before season’s end – Zach Loyd, George John, or Fabian Castillo perhaps?

I was skeptical and unenthused about Hyndman becoming head coach back in 2008.  I stand corrected however, as his patient building and shrewd scouting is starting to pay off.  The team made their first trip to the MLS Cup final last season and currently sits in second place behind the Galaxy in the Western Conference.

Now if we could only expand the local fan base to pay some more top players.  It pains me every time I’m at Pizza Hut Park or watching on TV to see so many empty seats.  We have a great stadium and one of the very best teams in MLS.  What gives, Dallas?

Pizza Hut Park

Which other current FC Dallas players would you like to see remain at the club long-term?