Kellyn Acosta - FC Dallas - regret
USA Today Sports

Rodriguez: Time to admit FC Dallas' summer slump could mean a playoff miss

It's time to start panicking in Dallas.

At the start of July, FC Dallas were among the leaders in the West, maybe not at their Supporters' Shield-caliber best, but still charging along. They even beat Toronto FC, now the clear Shield frontrunner this year, 3-1 at home on July 1.

At the moment, however, they are struggling, and the playoffs remain nearly two months away. Dallas lost 2-1 at Columbus Crew SC on Saturday, dropping them to sixth place in the Western Conference, the final spot above the playoff line.; San Jose's 3-0 victory at LA on Sunday put Dallas in seventh -- below it.

Dallas' slide is a mystery, frankly. Sure, the team was known for summer swoons under former coach Schellas Hyndman, but Oscar Pareja had previously stamped out that trend. 

The vast majority of the roster from the past couple seasons remains on the squad. Pareja hasn't introduced any big wrinkles tactically -- he's as adaptive as ever, but he's not re-inventing the wheel, and most puzzling of all, the team is playing worse overall since playmaker Mauro Diaz returned from his torn Achilles' tendon. Diaz did work hard to get back in a hurry, returning to action in just seven months, which may not have paid dividends as he's struggled with form and subsequent injuries and has missed FCD's last three games.

Given the core remains intact, that they have gone six games without a win in MLS regular season play is a surprise. Is it injuries? Walker Zimmerman's absence was a blow earlier in the summer, but FCD only lost one game while he was out. And aside from Diaz's recovery and subsequent injuries, the team has remained fairly healthy this season.

Could it be some kind of Gold Cup hangover? Matt Hedges and Kellyn Acosta have not been at their best since returning from the victory with the US national team, admittedly. But unlike the funk that hit the USMNT World Cup alums in the latter half of the 2014 season en masse, the rest of the US players around MLS do not seem to be in a collective malaise right now post-Gold Cup.

Regardless, if this slump continues for FC Dallas this season, they are in jeopardy of missing out on the playoffs altogether. San Jose could draw level with them on points on Sunday if they win their final Cali Clasico, and that would put real pressure on Dallas -- Real Salt Lake has already closed to a point.

If FCD indeed miss the playoffs this year, they'll become the sixth active team to miss the postseason the year after winning the Supporters' Shield, joining D.C. United (2000, '08), Chicago Fire ('04), Columbus Crew SC ('05), and the Earthquakes ('13). Considering the methodical approach in building this Dallas roster, it would be a major surprise. They are not built to rely on one or two major players, and the sustainable, Homegrown-heavy model appeared to be a recipe for continual success.

But if they miss the playoffs this year, that conventional wisdom may be upended. Don't count on a full housecleaning, but surely some changes would be made, and it would dent the project underway, no question.

All that in mind: The Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs are nearly two months away. We've seen a lot can happen in two months of MLS regular season action. Maybe FC Dallas right the ship to qualify for the postseason comfortably, maybe not. But the old cliché may be appropriate in this situation: In a sense, for FCD, the playoffs have already arrived.

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