This past summer, thanks in large part to the contagiously fun success of the U.S. Men's National Team during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, massive amounts of American's either became new fans of soccer, or reignited a long lost love of the beautiful game. But to anyone paying close attention, soccer, as has been discussed for decades, has officially "made it" here stateside. And the World Cup only had a partial role in Soccer's ascendency into the prime-time of North American spectator sports.
Major League Soccer, or MLS as it's more commonly referred to, begins its 20th season today, and our local crew, F.C. Dallas - a charter club of MLS which began as the Cotton Bowl-based Dallas Burn - will open its season tomorrow in Frisco when it hosts the revamped San Jose Earthquakes in Toyota Stadium. Before record crowds in 2014, where attendance averaged over 16,800 per game (the Dallas Stars hockey team failed to average even 16,000 per game, by the way), the club, managed by former Dallas Burn/F.C. Dallas Midfielder Oscar Pareja of Colombia made it to the second round of the playoffs, losing to the Seattle Sounders, featuring Clint Dempsey, the U.S. National Team Captain and World Cup goal-scorer.
Now is the time, Dallas-dweller, to get in on the F.C. Dallas fun, if you haven't already. This team, and the still-emerging league, will be well worth your sports-viewing time and money. Here are the Top Five Reasons to Root for F.C. Dallas in 2015.
Family Friendliness and Convenience Toyota Stadium, which opened in 2005, still feels and looks brand new, and there truly isn't a bad sightline in the place. While the reported average ticket price hovers around $43.00, there are often great deals through Groupon and similar sites to help bring down the cost. Oh, and the parking is free. Yes, free. While trekking to Frisco feels like driving into Oklahoma for many Dallasites, the stadium is located conveniently off of the Dallas North Tollway, so it is truly a straight shot for most folks. And lest we forget, whether you are going to the stadium, or watching at home, the games begin and end within two hours. No four hour, extra-inning pitcher's duels or a last-minute barrage of timeouts that can send an NBA game into the three hour range, here.
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You Can Watch Them on Television Now Indeed, FCD matches have been available on local channels and basic cable, but only in a limited fashion as of late. This year, however, one can click onto TXA 21, ESPN2 or Fox Sports and catch almost every match FCD plays this year, whether it's here at home or away. The MLS as a whole will have an expanded television reach this year, so marquee players such as Kaka, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Steven Gerrard will be able to easily be seen whereas that hasn't been so easy in the past.
We Have the Most "Homegrown" Talent in the League Unlike the other major sports teams in our area, FCD is rife with true local talent. The Homegrown Player system in MLS is a way for teams to develop younger players who may soon be ready for the big-time while keeping a geographically close eye on them. "Homegrown Players" must be a part of a club's youth academy team and live in the club's home region for at least one year. In 2014, no other club in MLS played Homegrown talent more than F.C. Dallas - during the regular season, or in the playoffs. But leaning on some players that have become a part of the community before they landed on the major stage is but one exciting way this team is set up to excite and win for a long time.
F.C. Dallas is a Young, Talented and Exciting Team With the third youngest average age among all MLS clubs at 24.12 years old, this is a team that's set for a while. And due to the unique structure of the new MLS labor agreement, we have every reason to believe that, unlike most other sports, the players we enjoy so much now will still be ours for a good while to come. The reigning MLS Rookie of the Year, Tesho Akindele lit up the "pitch" in 2014 with clutch goals late in the season, while our team's captain, defenseman Matt Hedges, is fresh off playing with the U.S. Men's National Team last month and seems to be in for more action on the international stage soon. Mauro Diaz, a powerful, scoring midfielder was recently mentioned as a league MVP candidate by an MLS correspondent and was the MLS Player of the month last March. At 22, blazing-fast winger Fabian Castillo is already making his way towards many FCD offensive records, which should all be within reach since he has signed a new contract keeping him here until 2019. While other teams hope that aging superstars can help them for one year, FCD has built a roster full of youth, speed, and power for many years to come.
Every Game Actually Counts Sure, we suppose every game counts in every sport, but that urgency can get lost in so many other sports with more than twice the amount of games that MLS has for its 20 team stable. Each time a team can net three points for a win, instead of just one point for a tie, or zero for a loss, it can move that club from out of the playoff picture, and into the race for the top seed. Much like the Mavericks in the NBA's Western Conference, F.C. Dallas plays in the stellar MLS Western Conference. While FCD rightfully is picked by many pundits to make it back to the playoffs this year, nothing is guaranteed in such a stacked race. Rarely will Dallas have a week where it can feel like a draw is good enough to keep pace with the best of the West. Last year, only one point kept a solid Portland club from making the playoffs, and a deficit of two points put Dallas in the fourth seed instead of in third, forcing them to play the ever-dangerous one-off "play-in match" (in which FCD defeated Vancouver before losing to Seattle in a two game playoff round.) The young guns of F.C. Dallas know they can not afford to let off the gas for even for one match, or they could miss out on fulfilling the amazing wealth of promise we have rarely seen in North Texas for many years, no matter the team or sport.