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A healthy, loaded roster could push FC Dallas to the top

There is a growing trend that at least one local team’s season last year was faulted solely on injuries and the belief that everything will be better with everyone healthy. But while many are making that claim toward the Texas Rangers, it probably applies better to the soccer team that will begin its season in Frisco tomorrow.

Yes, FC Dallas did make the playoffs for the first time in three years, but there still might be a sense that things could have been better. Take away a two-month stretch in late spring when Mauro Diaz and Michel were out of action, and Dallas might have been a contender for the Supporters’ Shield, or at least a better seed that could have helped them in the MLS Cup playoffs.

But that year is behind them, and the club at Toyota Stadium has all the tools in place to make a serious run at that Cup, especially since Landon Donovan’s retirement has left the LA Galaxy as no longer the perennial threat it has looked like for years and MLS even more wide open than before.

Could Oscar Pareja’s club be the one to punch through the door? With Diaz, Michel, Fabian Castillo, Blas Perez, David Texeria and last season’s Rookie of the Year Tesho Akindele, the club has as many weapons on offense as anyone in MLS.

It gives Pareja a lot of flexibility to his lineup as who to mix and match on any given day. For a club playing in the hot summer heat of North Texas, especially when they will be competing in the US Open Cup as well as the MLS season, that type of depth is invaluable as Pareja can rest certain players for a particular game.

That isn’t to say the club was willing to rest on its laurels. Despite having a great goalkeeping prospect in Raul Fernandez, they believed they could get even better in the nets. So they scooped up Dan Kennedy from the currently defunct Chivas USA in the dispersal draft to play alongside Chris Seitz.

It might have looked like Kennedy’s future in Dallas would be uncertain given how loyal he he’d been to Chivas USA to the end. But the club and MLS came to terms on a contract extension, with Kennedy replying via Twitter: “Excited to get to work with my new teammates and the staff @FCDallas, and looking forward to making a new home in a great city w great fans”

That’s a good sign for FCD, as they are getting one of the flashiest keepers in the game. One of the few spots worth watching throughout Chivas USA’s struggles was seeing the spectacular saves Kennedy was capable of.

But an even better sign is that he may not need to make as many great saves as he did with his previous team. That’s because here he’ll be behind one of the sturdiest defenses in the league. Led by Zach Lloyd, and Matt Hedges, FCD’s back line could be an absolute brick wall at times that simply did not allow any attacker to get past them, forcing clubs to take low-percentage shots that the goalies could handle with ease.

It all adds up to one of the most complete clubs in North American soccer. And it could be the start of very good things when FC Dallas opens play against San Jose Saturday night at Toyota Stadium.

English Soccer Revels in Rivalries America is Losing

The British are coming! The British are coming! And they’re coming to play their game – or something like that.

While so many in this country are gleefully awaiting the start of American football season this weekend, the truth is that, across the Atlantic “football” season already began three weeks ago. And bad news for a lot of soccer-hating ugly Americans: More and more people are getting into it.

Yeah yeah, I know this is something we keep saying year after year. But there’s a new twist this year – in the form of a $250 million deal from NBC to broadcast the entire English Premier League season to the States, mainly via the NBC Sports Network. And given that the opening weekend of their coverage resulted in 67 percent better ratings than their competitors at Fox and ESPN broadcast last year, for now it looks like money well spent.

No, I’m not saying we’re on the verge of seeing the majority of this country prefer the game where you actually use your foot with the ball. There are still a number of obstacles toward getting more people used to “the beautiful game.” Games starting at five in the morning definitely aren’t going to help.

But there are a number of benefits a game like EPL soccer has that could explain just why that number id growing with each passing year.

First of all, this, like most soccer leagues outside this country, is a league that makes certain all teams play for success throughout the year. You finish at the bottom of the EPL, you don’t get first pick at the best amateur talent; you get kicked out, your entire franchise bounced down to the minor league. No “Team Tank” or “Suck For Luck” here. Just 20 teams forced to keep some level of integrity to their ticket-buying public.

Second is the excitement that these teams are just playing for their national league championship. In addition to the EPL, there is also the UEFA Champions League, with four English clubs (Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City) set to begin group play in three weeks. For the closest U.S. comparison, imagine what college basketball has with the conference season, conference tournament and NCAA Tournament. Now, instead of cramming those in succession over just three months, imaging them being played side by side over nine!

And that comparison proves the best segue into the biggest thing that makes the EPL – and most other pro leagues across the ocean – so exciting. Something that is sadly disappearing in our country.

Rivalries steeped in local ties are still alive and well.

This Saturday, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur will face off in the first game of what’s called the North London Derby between two clubs less than four miles from one another. And those are just two of six clubs within London’s area. And then there’s Aston VIlla and West Bromwich (3.5 miles), Newcastle vs Sunderland (10 miles) and Manchester United vs Manchester City (5.2 miles). And all 20 clubs within one country roughly the size of Georgia.

No wonder English soccer fans have such a reputation for insanity. Familiarity really does breed contempt.

But it’s still refreshing to see compared to what’s happening here in the USA, where regional rivalries, especially in college sports, are being destroyed for money and TV exposure. Dallas-Fort Worth has seen that as painfully as anyone, as SMU hasn’t played in a Texas conference since 1995 and TCU waited more than 15 years to get back to one. How tough must it be for Mustang fans to see this year’s games against Texas A&M and Texas Tech as “non-conference” matches?

Yeah, conference jumping like that will never happen in the case with the EPL. True, the league was created in 1992 by clubs who wanted to break away from  The Football League at the time. But you’ll never see Manchester United move into the German Bundesliga or Liverpool decide to go to the Italian Serie A, while over hear SMU’s athletics department tries to sell its fan base that playing the likes of Cincinnati and Rutgers will be worth watching.

I’m probably not going to convince anyone just from this article. A number of you are already dead set in your ways still.

Go ahead and get ready for TCU against LSU in a game that won’t affect any conference championship at all.

Me, I’m getting ready to see what this London Derby has to offer. Arsenal’s been on a tear with eight goals in three games, so Tottenham could be in real trouble.