'15 Season Preview: FCD hopes to take next step

( - Oscar Pareja set the bar pretty high in his first season as FC Dallas head coach in 2014.

Not only did he guide the club to 16 wins in the regular season, the most for FCD since 2006, but he also helped the Hoops return to the postseason for the first time in three years.

After beating Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the knockout round of the playoffs, Dallas was bounced by Seattle Sounders FC on away goals after 1-1 and 0-0 draws against the Sounders.

Such a positive start to Pareja's reign certainly raised the excitement level around the club, including technical director Fernando Clavijo.

"Last year was an incredible year and a year that really stamped a mark of where we are and where we want to go and I think we have a very good core of players for the future to be able to dream realistically of winning a championship," Clavijo said.

Clavijo's championship dream likely won't come true this season, but it's hard to blame him for his enthusiasm considering the wealth of young talent at his disposal.

Matt Hedges, Mauro Diaz, Tesho Akindele and Fabian Castillo were each key contributors to FCD's playoff run last season, and each is under the age of 25, while the club added another young talent in the offseason with 23-year- old Colombian winger Michael Barrios.

If each of these players continues to develop Pareja can expect even more out of his side this season, while a key addition in goal can help the side take that next step as well.

The combination of Raul Fernandez and Chris Seitz between the posts last season was inconsistent, so the arrival of 32-year-old Dan Kennedy from Chivas USA in the offseason could prove to be important.

Kennedy arrives at Dallas after spending the previous seven seasons with Chivas, and after starting 32 games for the Goats last term, Kennedy's arrival should bring a greater level of consistency to the position, which should help the team's solid back line.

Hedges and Zach Loyd lead the unit along with Moises Hernandez and Stephen Keel after the departures of George John and Jair Benitez.

The 24-year-old Hedges in particular will be a player to watch this season as he continues to make a case for inclusion in the United States national team.

Veteran midfielder Michel had a big impact last year and served as one of the anchors in the middle of the pitch as the 33-year-old tallied 10 goals with four assists in support of FCD's talented group of forwards.

The 23-year-old Diaz made 19 appearances for Dallas last term totaling three goals with three assists, and he is a player that Pareja hopes can continue to improve and become an even bigger part of the team this season.

Outside of Kennedy's arrival, the additions of Barrios, Atiba Harris and Kyle Bekker in midfield will give Pareja increased options in an area where the club was a bit thin.

Barrios is a speedy winger who could give defenders problems with his pace. He spent the past four years in Colombia with Uniautonoma and exhibited a nose for goal by scoring 35 goals in 136 games.

His addition bolsters an already potent attack that includes Castillo, Akindele and Blas Perez, who led the club with 11 goals last season.

The 33-year-old Perez has been a steady contributor since arriving at Dallas in 2012, and he brings a veteran presence to a young group that includes Castillo and Akindele, who combined for 18 goals in 2014.

Castillo, 22, signed a new contract this offseason that ties him to FCD through 2019, and his partnership with Perez proved to be incredibly effective.

Akindele managed 21 starts last season as the third forward for Dallas, and along with David Texeira, he gives Pareja a really good option off the bench if the team is in need of some scoring punch.

ADDITIONS: Dan Kennedy (GK), Atiba Harris (M), Kyle Bekker (M), Michael Barrios (M).

LOSSES: Jair Benitez (D), Andres Escobar (M), Raul Fernandez (GK), Je-Vaughn Watson (D/M), George John (D).

OUTLOOK: There is no doubt that Dallas is headed in the right direction after finishing fourth in the Western Conference last season. The club upgraded its talent in goal with the addition of Kennedy and added a speedy winger in Barrios who could help to add another dimension to the Dallas attack. Pareja has a strong group of forwards capable of producing goals, and with a young core of players getting another year of experience, these are exciting times for the team. However, there is a chance that FCD's progress may not be reflected in the standings as the club still must contend with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Seattle Sounders FC and Real Salt Lake, each perennial playoff teams. Making matters more difficult is the fact that with the disbandment of Chivas USA, the West has now added both Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo, who both expect to challenge for postseason berths as well.