FC Dallas has hit their final break of the season, with a couple of weeks off following their 2-2 draw against Atlanta United.
Last week, we looked at three reasons why FC Dallas will not make the playoffs.

Let’s look at three reasons FCD WILL make the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2023.

1) Asier Illarramendi

The veteran Spaniard has only made three appearances thus far, with just a single start. Still, if anyone on the FC Dallas roster looks set to have a major impact on the team’s fortunes in the final 8 games of the season, it will be Illarra. He is surely further along in his integration with the team and anyone’s expectations for his fitness than anyone would have expected. He seemed perfectly comfortable playing the full 90 minutes in midfield against Atlanta.

In addition to the eye test, which shows Illarra as a player with a level of skill and class above just about any midfielder in MLS, his stat line against Atlanta was extremely impressive: 90% passing, 71 touches, 11 passes into the final third, 14 recoveries and over 50% on his duels. The stats underline the eye test and exemplify a player with extremely high-level technical ability and a high soccer IQ.

Many expected Illarramendi to come into the team and look to replace Facundo Quignon at the 6, but it seems like he will play as an 8, likely in a double pivot with Quignon behind Alan Velasco in midfield. This midfield combination has the potential to be a game-changer for Dallas, and if they can get it working, Dallas might be looking at not just making the playoffs but pushing toward the top half of the Western Conference.

2) Finally Healthy

After a brutal middle third of the season in terms of injuries and international call-ups, Dallas is finally healthy for the final stretch of the season, a huge boost in their playoff hopes. Other than the unfortunate shoulder injury Bernard Kamungo suffered while scoring the tying goal against Atlanta United (still unsure how Brad Guzan didn’t pick up a yellow card on that play), the Burn have a clean bill of health for pretty much the first time all season and even Kamungo should be able to return before the season ends.

This clean bill of health will be huge as Dallas enters their most congested part of the season, where they will play Saturday and Wednesday for three weeks in a row, churning through 7 games in 3 weeks with 3 of those games coming on the road, including a trip way up to the east coast to Philly.

Rotation will absolutely be necessary to keep the squad fresh and healthy throughout this stretch, and having a fully healthy team will help Nico Estevez and his staff rotate effectively. Other teams have similarly compacted schedules without the benefit of such a healthy squad, so Dallas will really need to take advantage of this if they hope to make a push for the playoffs.

3) Strong Defense

In last week’s article, I mentioned that FCD’s struggles to score goals and, in particular, score multiple goals and extend leads would be one of the reasons they would not make the playoffs. On the flip side of that, Dallas’ strong defense is one of the main reasons that they will make the playoffs. Only Seattle has conceded fewer goals than the Burn in the west, and only Nashville, Seattle, Cincinnati, Orlando, and Houston have conceded fewer goals per match. Perhaps most indicative of how solid the defense is, Dallas is second-best league-wide in xG conceded, with only the Red Bulls ranking better.

As mentioned last week, Dallas doesn’t generate many opportunities, but they don’t allow many, either, meaning that Dallas are always in the game. In league play, Dallas has lost by multiple goals just twice, a 3-1 away loss to NYC and the 3-0 loss to Austin in what was perhaps Dallas’ most injury-plagued game of the season. With Dallas fully healthy, they should feel as strong as any point in the season defensively.

If there’s one area where they can improve in this area, it is in keeping clean sheets. Dallas has only allowed more than one goal in a game in 8 games in 2023, but they’ve also only kept 6 clean sheets, which ranks among the lower end of the league, tied with teams like Toronto and the Galaxy, who have given up a slew of goals.

If FCD’s offense could kick into a higher gear to close the season, this would be less of an issue, but if Dallas wants to continue to rely on being defensively solid to get them into the playoffs, they need to pick up some more clean sheets in the final 8 games of 2023.

Do you think FC Dallas will make the playoffs in 2023? Let me know in the comments below!

Photo: El Diario Vasco

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