It took F.C. Dallas nearly five months to scrape together 23 points. In the past week alone, FCD secured nine, and there is one simple reason that a once-disastrous campaign could witness a late-season miracle: David Ferreira is back.
Of course, the fact that the Colombian is back on the field at all is a marvel in itself. A year ago last April, Ferreira sustained a broken right ankle against Vancouver that required surgery. His comeback attempt was halted in preseason when he suffered a fracture to his right foot, an injury that necessitated two additional operations, the last of which removed the hardware that was used to help repair his ankle.
All told, for 15 long months Dallas was without the 2010 MLS MVP. And while FCD managed to cobble together a trip to the postseason last year, 2012 has been brutal. There have been injuries well beyond that suffered by Ferreira. On-field discipline has been an issue as well, as Dallas leads the league in red cards. Some bizarre luck with penalties -- in particular a blown encroachment call that led to a 2-1 defeat against Chicago on May 23 -- hasn't helped. All Ferreira could do was watch.
"I felt helpless by not being able to contribute anything for the team, but now I am on the field, and it's the most important thing," Ferreira said through a team spokesman. "I feel extremely happy after what I went through, and now what is happening is very positive."
Indeed, since Ferreira returned to the field July 4 against Toronto, he has scored twice and added six assists in leading Dallas to a record of 5-2-3. His performance last week against Real Salt Lake was vintage Ferreira, as he laid on Fabian Castillo's opener and then won the match in stoppage time with a dart to the upper corner.
"Ferreira is just doing everything he did when he was the MVP," said Dallas manager Schellas Hyndman via telephone.
And to think there was a time when the Colombian thought he might not get back on the field.
"Definitely there were moments I thought that [I wouldn't return]," he said. "I was committed during all my therapy sessions, but then I injured myself again and nothing resulted quickly. The support of my family was fundamental and everyone as well as the group encouraged me and strengthened to keep looking forward. Thank God things are going well, and let's hope going forward there are no injuries and I can enjoy many more years of soccer."
Alas, there are no guarantees. Ferreira was a marked man before his injury, and that has continued upon his return. Hyndman remarked that Ferreira is "back to being the most fouled player in the league, which is really a shame." The normally soft-spoken Ferreira felt compelled to speak out as well about the rough treatment he receives.
"I'm not a soccer player who likes controversy, and I don't like to enter the field and talk [bad about] referees," he said. "I like to concentrate on what my duties are during the game and bring the best of me. But there are moments when one explodes. There are a few plays in which the refs have to protect me and they don't do it. Right before my injury I mentioned it, I was receiving too many dangerous fouls and then I injured myself. Let's hope they open their eyes and notice."
In the meantime, Ferreira is determined to enjoy his run of good form as well as that of the team. Another injury victim, forward Blas Perez, is set to return for this weekend's crunch match at Los Angeles, which could mark the first time the two players will see the field together. The opportunity to gain further ground on the teams above them is one Ferreira intends to take advantage of.
"We have to enjoy this moment with responsibility because the next game is difficult and many things are at stake," Ferreira said. "We are five points away from fourth and fifth and we are playing against one of them and we know it is essential for us to win. Let's hope we get a good result even though we know it won't be easy because it is a great team with great players."
With Dallas' best player now back from the brink, that is a distinct possibility.
Sudden Impact: Out East, Montreal is trying to conjure up a second-half revival of its own. Following a July 4 home defeat to Sporting Kansas City, the Impact was muddling along with a 5-11-3 record. But a stretch of six wins in eight matches now has Montreal just a point outside of the fifth and final playoff spot.
Granted, a wrinkle in the schedule/time continuum has resulted in the Impact playing as many as five games more than some of its conference rivals. As a consequence, Montreal has scant margin for error down the stretch as it attempts to make up ground and hopes that teams like D.C. United and the Columbus Crew drop points with regularity. Not that manager Jesse Marsch is spending much time trying to sort out the permutations.
"I don't know what kind of math degree you need to figure out where we are, but it's too difficult to interpret, so it's almost helped us have an approach of one game at a time," he said in a phone interview. "There's no point or use right now in talking about 'Well, if we win this game or don't win that game ' Nobody is really sure where we stand. There's too many variables, so we're just focusing on ourselves, and it's helped us to move ourselves up the table."
Still, what Marsch has been able to accomplish in his first year in charge is impressive, even as he insisted there was nothing out of the ordinary to explain his team's improvement. Expansion teams need time to establish the kind of chemistry that most teams take for granted, and Montreal has been no exception.
"From the soccer ideas to the mentality to the critical moments in games and how to handle them, who to look to on the field, all of that stuff I think just takes time to come together," Marsch said. "It's not something you can just turn a switch on and then it's there. We have to get to know each other and have to get through hard moments and then learn from them and get better. I think more than anything it's been a well-rounded approach to getting better every day that has helped us move ourselves along."
Yet the biggest improvement has been on the defensive side of the ball. Through 19 games, Montreal was conceding 1.84 goals per game. In the past eight matches that figure has dropped to 1.13 goals per game, even as Marsch has added personnel along the back.
"We're addressing set pieces better, addressing tactically how we deal with certain things, and then I think along with that the fact that we've had a bit more success defensively has also meant that we've had more confidence and belief," Marsch said. "And so now when critical moments come, plays that before made us a little bit anxious, now there's more confidence and poise with how we deal with things defensively."
With Hendry's arrival, Colorado moves on: Colorado manager Oscar Pareja insisted that neither he nor his players are giving up on the 2012 season. Yet the acquisition of former Wigan Athletic midfielder Hendry Thomas looks every bit like a move with an eye toward 2013, as well as one that could signal the end of Pablo Mastroeni's career. Mastroeni, 35, has been sidelined with post-concussion symptoms for all but two games this season, and Hendry, 27, just so happens to play the same position.
"I think maybe it can look like that," Pareja said when asked whether Hendry would replace Mastroeni. "Obviously, we've been missing the presence of Pablo and his leadership, and all that Pablo brought to the team. But at the same time, we need to move forward, we need to move on, and Hendry is a guy who can play that role. He can play [the holding role] by himself, and also provide company for another holding midfielder, and he can adapt very well to different positions."
It's a tough way for Mastroeni to go out, given the longevity his career has enjoyed for both club and country. But it is the nature of the game for even the most decorated players to eventually have to move on, and now Pareja will have the remainder of the season to see how his new charge fits in, most likely alongside Jeff Larentowicz. The Colorado manager will also have the opportunity to see which players deserve the chance to return next year, although Pareja was still putting up a brave front.
"I don't have a group that is quitting," Pareja said. "And the idea to make the playoffs, I think the points are there. But the game has not been very generous with us this season. We've had excellent performances and came out with no points. That is a pattern that has been with us for the last month and a half. But at the same time, we think that the only way is to keep fighting for it."