FC Dallas has hit their final break of the season, with a couple of weeks off following their 2-2 draw against Atlanta United.
With the final grind of the season before the playoffs coming up, we’ll take the next two weeks to look at why FC Dallas will or will not make the playoffs in 2023.

Let’s look at three reasons FCD will NOT make the playoffs this season.

1) Inability to Extend Leads

This is the primary reason and the one that the Burn really have control over. Throughout the season, Dallas has simply failed to both establish and extend leads. Dallas has only won games by multiple goals three times this season: 3-1 against the Galaxy, 2-0 against St. Louis CITY SC, and 2-0 against LAFC.

Their other 6 wins in MLS have all come by just a one-goal margin, and their 7 draws on the season are indicative of how much time they spend defending close leads or with the game tied up.

Jeff Rueter from The Athletic put together a fantastic chart showing how much time each time in the league has spent winning, losing or drawing games by percentage:

As you can see, Dallas leads the entire league in time spent drawing games at a whopping 58% while only spending 18% of games with the lead. This means that FCD plays with an incredibly slim margin of error. Their defense is very solid, one of the better groups in the league in terms of goals conceded, with only Houston, Orlando, Cincinnati, Seattle, and Nashville conceding fewer goals per game (their xG conceded per game is even better, only the Red Bulls have conceded less). But for as solid as the defense is, the offense has massively struggled to score goals, with only Montreal, NYCFC, Red Bulls, Toronto, and Colorado scoring fewer goals per game (the xG front isn’t much better; only Charlotte and Miami and Toronto rank worse).

Put simply, Dallas doesn’t concede many chances, but they don’t create many chances either. That is a recipe to at least compete for the playoffs, but if they can’t find better goal-scoring form in the final 8 games of the season, they may be watching the playoffs from home.

2) Tough Schedule Down the Stretch

Dallas has a tough end to their season, with a number of games against their Western Conference foes that will be crucial in deciding the playoff fates for all the teams involved. The final eight games are an even split of home and away, with Dallas coming out of the international break hosting Seattle on September 16th.

Seattle has historically struggled in Dallas, but the Sounders are never a team that you can assume you’re going to get a result against. Following that, Dallas starts the first of what will be three consecutive midweek games with a match away in altitude against RSL on September 20th. RSL have, surprisingly, not been at their best at home, but playing in altitude on short rest against a strong RSL team will be tough. It doesn’t get easier after that, with FCD coming back home on September 23rd to face off against the high-flying Columbus Crew. The Crew have been electric at home but struggled a bit on the road, though Wilfried Nancy’s team will certainly be a major challenge for the Burn in a battle of MLS originals. Things keep rolling with a brutal midweek matchup against Philadelphia on September 27th in a game that was meant to be played on August 20th. A draw would feel like a big result in that game with Philly’s recent home record.

September 30th will be the game that many will have circled all season, the final game of Copa Tejas that will decide both that trophy and, more importantly, the fate of El Capitan for 2024, as the Burn travel south to Houston to play the Dynamo. The Dynamo look truly resurgent in Ben Olsen’s first year in charge and have been virtually unbeatable at home in 2023.

One silver lining: They’ll play the US Open Cup final in Miami on the 27th. Hopefully, Dallas will be able to take advantage of a physically and emotionally drained team coming off of playing against the GOAT a few days earlier.

Following the Texas Derby, FCD will finish out their midweek games back at home against the lowly Rapids. One would assume this would be an easy win for Dallas, but keep in mind that the Rapids’ single win in their last eighteen matches comes against Dallas. Dallas will then play their final home game of the season the following Saturday, October 7th, as Luchi Gonzalez returns to Toyota Stadium with the Earthquakes in what may end up being an absolutely massive playoff six-pointer. Dallas will finally get some rest with a week off before Decision Day on October 21st in Carson to play the Galaxy, which may very well end up being a game that decides both teams’ playoff fates.

No one has an easy road into the playoffs in this league, but Dallas will have to really pull together and overcome some major hurdles if they want to secure one of the top 9 spots in the West. The margins are so slim that some positive results in this game could catapult them up into even a potential home playoff series in the first round, while some poor results could see them fall way out of the picture entirely. If they get there, they will certainly have earned it.

3) Other Teams Getting Hot

Dallas is, of course, in control of their own destiny, but the likely reality is they’re going to drop some points and end up at least partly dependent on the results elsewhere in the conference. Unfortunately for the Burn, just about all of their direct competitors seem to be rounding into good form as the season draws to a close. Dallas certainly has some upside themselves (we’ll look at that next week), but other clubs really seem to be figuring it out at the right time. St. Louis is having one of the best expansion seasons in league history. Seattle, despite some recent struggles, always seems to figure things out come the season’s end, and it would be surprising to see them drop much further down the table. LAFC have rebounded after their CCL slump and look to be poised to finish the season strongly. RSL, despite having a -1 goal difference, sits in 4th and continues to get results under Pablo Mastroeni. It may not always be pretty, but they’ve maintained strong results throughout the season.

Houston are probably the shock of the season in the West and hasn’t lost in MLS since a 3-0 away defeat to Minnesota back in July, and they’ll play in the US Open Cup final at the end of September. Ben Olsen has the Dynamo firing on all cylinders as of late, and they’re virtually unbeatable at home. Vancouver have spent the better part of the season underperforming their underlying numbers, which have them as one of the strongest teams in the league, but they look to be turning things around and just won their first Cascadia Cup since 2016. They do have a rough end to their season, though, with their next 4 games in a row on the road. Adrian Heath’s Minnesota United have gotten stronger all season and are looking at their best with the return of their talisman Emanuel Reynoso and the signing of Finnish legend Teemu Pukki. On either side of Dallas in the current table are the two clubs that don’t look to be at their best in San Jose and Austin. San Jose started their first season under Luchi Gonzalez strongly but have slipped lately, only winning once since the Leagues Cup break ended. Austin started poorly but rode a strong middle of the season back into the playoff picture. They’ve gotten healthy lately but still look to be a bit of a mess. If they can regain any of their magic from 2022, they will be scary.

Finally, the last three teams in the picture were written off by many but have dragged themselves back into the turbulent Western Conference picture and would certainly threaten Dallas. Sporting KC had a disastrous start to the season but now sit just 2 points behind FCD. Portland are trying to ride the new manager bounce after firing Gio Savarese. It might be too little, too late, but they have talent on the roster and are always tough at home. Lastly, the LA Galaxy made a boatload of signings and trades in the offseason, including bringing in former FCD winger Michael Barrios and trading for Edwin Cerrillo. It feels like a long shot for them, but they’re just 5 points away from FCD in 9th and have a game in hand. Only lowly Colorado are out of the playoff picture in the West.

Again, ultimately, Dallas controls their destiny, but it will be a true challenge for them to make the playoffs, even just to sneak into the 9th spot. It would be nice to count on a few teams to drop points, but at this point in time, the West looks as tight and tense as ever. This last month and a half will certainly be a wild one.

Next week, we’ll look at the three reasons FC Dallas will make the playoffs in 2023.

Photo: Mike Brooks Photography

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