FC Dallas have very quietly risen to the top of the Western Conference, positioning themselves perfectly for the latter half of the season and the postseason. But they’ve been here before and failed. Thankfully, that pain of the past can prepare them for the present.
Here we are again. Midway through a meandering, undulating season and FC Dallas sit atop the Western Conference, seemingly and seamlessly steaming towards a postseason berth with home-field advantage and considered one of the favourites for MLS Cup.
What could possibly go wrong?
As many will know, we’ve been here before with Dallas. In fact, we’ve been here before on more than one occasions with Dallas.
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In 2015, they dramatically lost the Western Conference Championship against the Portland Timbers, who would proceed to win MLS Cup that year. A year later, they suffered a shock loss to the Seattle Sounders after winning the Supporters’ Shield and U.S. Open Cup. And last year, the most damning of nosedives saw them end the season 2-7-6 and drop out of the playoffs altogether after sitting atop the West once more.
The word ‘bottle’ comes to mind.
But in the pain of the past, and there is some serious pain, FC Dallas are uniquely prepared for the present. As technical director, Fernando Clavijo told mlsscoccer.com, Dallas are remaining realistic about the position that they find themselves in, acutely aware of what can go wrong when complacency seeps in:
"“Realistically, looking at where we are today, we’ve been in the same position in the past, in first place, looking down at many other teams in our division. We all like to be in first place, but we have to be careful because we know well that it doesn’t matter how you start, but it’s how you reach the playoffs and the shape of your team when you start playing the games in the playoffs. I think we are realistic that we still have a lot of games to go.”"
That grounded thinking is what must anchor this Dallas team during the remainder of the season. By the end of Saturday, they have the chance to extend their lead at the top of the West to six points with Los Angeles FC not playing until Sunday when they will travel to Minnesota United. If they let the heights get to their head, trouble will soon come galloping around the corner.
Oscar Pareja is a little more intensified with what is right in front of him. He has stated that the ‘past is the past’, demanding that his players continue to look forwards, only focusing on what is in their control, that being their own individual and collective performance in the next game. But even with such a philosophy of being exclusively present in the present, the lessons learned from a painful past still have great value. This experienced team and coaching staff is more prepared for anything that this season can throw at them than they have ever been. That is a unique advantage.
I will give the last word to Clavijo himself. In one simple phrase, he perfectly summarises the unusually and oddly beneficial position that Dallas are now in: ‘You learn sometimes with pain.’