2019 marked the end of an era in Frisco with Oscar Pareja leaving FC Dallas after 5 successful seasons where he was a revered player and moving on to Tijuana (now back in MLS with Orlando!). ‘Papi’ left as the winningest coach in club history and was replaced by the wildly successful academy director, former journeyman player, and teacher, Luchi Gonzalez.
Despite it being his first stint as a senior manager, implementing a new style that mimics the academy, and relying on a bevy of young players, Gonzalez got his team into the playoffs and only bowed out after falling in extra time to eventual MLS Cup Champions, Seattle Sounders. A year older, wiser, and more comfortable in the system, it’s reasonable to expect FC Dallas to advance further in 2020.
Tactics & Key Players
The biggest change from 2018 to 2019 for FC Dallas was an emphasis on possession. FC Dallas jumped from 13th to 5th in passes per game and made a similar jump both in accuracy and overall possession. While there was some dip in those metrics in road games, their tactical game play more or less leaned on that identity throughout the season. This is mainly accomplished out of a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, but it should be noted they’re tinkering with a 3-5-2 in the preseason to add an extra club to the bag. Regardless, you’ll see that continued emphasis on possession (think passing bonus points for the central defenders and d-mid/mids) with high passing totals and high completion percentage. One thing to note is that FC Dallas seems to be interested in using a high press more often this year. That should lead to some more lopsided and higher scoring in the early weeks of the season although you’ll want to see how preseason goes to guess which side of that FCD will be on.
Goalkeeper: At age 24, Jesse Gonzalez has this position locked down. He’ll play his 100th match for FC Dallas on opening day, and he took a big step forward last year by improving his distribution from the back. Jesse is supremely talented, and is good for at least a couple of games a year where he helps the team earn an extra point or two through his heroics. He’s also daunting on spot kicks, so he’s a good punt at worst most weeks.
Defenders: In front of Jesse, the same backline returns that helped Dallas concede the 7th fewest goals in MLS last season. Notably, Ryan Hollingshead really thrived with the new coaching, matching his previous season high in assists (3) and obliterating his previous high in goals scored with 6. Dallas’s backline also offered the novelty of a central defender who takes set pieces and penalties in the form of former Swiss international Reto Ziegler. These two, Reggie Cannon and Matt Hedges will all be EXPENSIVE, but the goal scorers will be worth it on any given day so there’s at least something of a clear pecking order.
I do expect to see more rotation in the defense this year, and match days where John Nelson and Bressan find their way into the XI should provide good value. Both showed they were up to the task last year when they got on the field and, with Ziegler now at age 34, it’s worth watching to see if Bressan earns more starts this year (he also can fill in at outside back).
Central Midfield: FC Dallas has a lot of depth here, and it’s kind of scary what kind of year over year improvement you might see here. You’ll also probably see a lot of rotation with this group of 3 given their participation rate on various country’s youth and full national teams. With a core of Bryan Acosta, Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira, and Brandon Servania, FCD already has 4 capped internationals for 3 spots. Despite that, the club spent a modest transfer fee to acquire two time Brazilian champion Thiago Santos from Palmeiras as a mentor for Edwin Cerrillo as a pure ‘6’.
The 28 year old Santos is very much in prime and gives the club a player adept at playing as a lone defensive midfielder- something the club couldn’t really replicate when Ecuadorean national Carlos Gruezo was sold to Augsburg in the summer for $4.5 million. Santos is a ferocious ball winner who should thrive in Luchi Gonzalez’s system. He has excellent potential to start out the year as a cheap high floor player (a la Ozzie Alonso in previous days) if his adjustment to MLS is relatively smooth. He probably has the best chance to start the most games for FCD this year in this group.
Admittedly, my enthusiasm for Santos comes sight unseen in a Dallas uniform. If for some reason it doesn’t work out, they’ll be more than fine. That said, I’m somewhat confident it’s going to work out with him, and now you have four international players contesting two spots on a weekly basis. Well, not exactly a weekly basis.
Olympic qualifying will occupy a few of these guys’ times in a little over a month, and there will be plenty of call ups between now and October, so the depth will be really handy to deal with knocks and fatigue on top of the aforementioned international commitments. Also, you could see Pomykal playing more wing this season, and Ferreira can also man a wing or center forward. This isn’t particularly handy for setting up your fantasy lineup, but it’s something to keep in mind especially if they lose value from sub appearances and the like. All four of the players can play together in a combination of the advanced central midfield in the system, and Acosta and Servania can also play a deeper lying flavor of midfield in the system. The potential drawback is that 90 minutes from any of them will hardly ever be a firm bet.
Wingers: The most bankable asset last year (and probably in 2020) in fantasy on FC Dallas is Michael Barrios. His combined total of 20 goals and assists was good for 11th in the league (more than Lodeiro!) which was an incredible return for his modest budget charge. What’s more, he added corner kicks to his opportunity menu last season, and early returns suggest he’ll be taking a lot of those this year, too.
That said, Mickey will turn 29 this year. He’s been one of the more durable players in MLS over the last 5 seasons, but that also means he’s got a lot of mileage on his boots. I see an equal number of scenarios where he’s good for another 30 starts this year, and where he’s hampered by injuries at various points in the season, alas. Ferreira and Pomykal’s versatility would be key if the latter scenario unfolded.
On the left, FC Dallas has probably its biggest preseason position battle going into the season. Fafa Picault was another solid addition for the club in the offseason, and his speed and defensive chops are part of the reason you’ll definitely see FC Dallas high press more often when he’s in the game. Picault had been quite productive for Philadelphia Union prior to 2019 but saw a dip in his scoring stats with the new tactical scheme introduced by the new technical staff He’s a great fit for Dallas and could be ripe for a huge bounce back season if he can win the job from Santiago Mosquera.
Mosquera isn’t going quietly in the preseason, to his credit, and he’s flashed tantalizing potential during his time at FC Dallas. Santi also was a preseason hero last season, but he struggled with injuries as he did in his first season and finished with middling results for 2019. Much like the central midfield, I’d expect healthy rotation and competition for spots over the course of the season on the left wing. Also much like the central midfielders, there will be spots where you can get either of these guys at a depressed price and enjoy good value when the matchup is right.
Forwards: Let’s call this story the Tale of Two Kobras. When Zdenek Ondrasek signed with FC Dallas, fans knew he’d been highly productive in Poland and had a really awesome back tattoo. He also came from a situation which could generously be called tenuous. The Kobra would be the butt of jokes from the disgruntled fan base for most of the season. And then he came off the bench in a game FC Dallas was losing at halftime 3-0 in Montreal.
Ondrasek scored the 1st of 3 unanswered goals to earn a share of the spoils at Stade Saputo and from that point on was the most prolific scorer in MLS not named Zlatan or Carlos. That earned him his first cap (at age 30!) with the Czech National Team, and the rest as they say is history. Ondrasek would go on to help the Czechs earn automatic qualification into the Euro 2020 final, and it seems likely he’ll be another FCD player out on international duty in the coming months.
Circling back to potential rotation with Ziegler, Ondrasek (or possibly Ferreira) seem like prime candidates to take spot kicks when Ziegler is rotated out, injured, or benched. He won’t add much in the way of bonus points, but he’ll have big ceiling games. He also seems like the kind of striker who will start out cheap. He’s also started out the preseason well and is integrated into the team. You shouldn’t sleep on him.
That’s in large part because he doesn’t (yet) have a clear cut challenger to knock him out of a starting role. Cal Jennings has looked the part in preseason, but it seems unlikely that a SuperDraft pick is going to push ahead of the Kobra. Ricardo Pepi just turned 17 and, even though he was a force in USL 1 last year, he and Jennings will most likely be battling to back up Ondrasek as long as he’s healthy and dialed in. It is worth mentioning that Ondrasek has had an Achilles rupture before and is 31. The magical run could easily continue, but it could easily end in a moment’s notice. I’m not sure if I can prepare my emotions for that, so let’s never talk about it again.
There were some players who were useful last year who were shipped out. Gruezo was, of course, the big one, and that happened in the summer. Dominique Badji was somewhat useful. He, a lot like Tesho Akindele, will fit better in Nashville than he did under the new regime. Ditto with Jacori Hayes (now in Minnesota) and Pablo Aranguiz (now back in Chile), but the big change is sort of the anti-Gruezo move.
FC Dallas has signed a pre-contract deal with Franco Jara. He’s the same age as Ondrasek, but he’s got a better pedigree and a higher wage bill. He’ll join the team in July (unless FC Dallas and Pachuca can arrange an earlier departure) and will be in direct competition with Ondrasek for the first choice center forward position. He’s been a prolific scorer in Mexico while winning all of the trophies, and it’s the kind of signing the fans have been craving (at least in theory). Ondrasek might be out the door in July, but maybe they’ll keep them both? He’d almost certainly take over penalty duty from Ziegler when he’s in the game.
In conclusion, I’d say the biggest change is the depth is there regardless of summer transfers. If Kobra has a good run at Euro 2020, he’ll probably go back to Europe. Reggie Cannon seems almost certain to leave this summer (Nelson or Reynolds are probably in play if this happens). Regardless if these moves happen or not, the team should succeed without missing a beat. Year 2 of the Luchi experience is built for the long haul.
Is this the year that Barrios is someone you have to consider every week? Eh, probably not, but you should consider him most weeks (provided he keeps up his streak of good health). He had his best year last year with a bunch of precocious kids and a first time senior coach, so there’s probably room for growth. Never doubt a guy with lips tattooed on his neck, I guess.
Kobra Ondrasek looks like he’s dialed in now. He’ll produce you some 2’s, but he’ll also produce you some 12s. I’m guessing he’ll be reasonable to start.
Thiago Santos is going to be your high floor guy, and it’ll probably average in the high 5’s without goals or assists. I think he’ll be priced reasonably too, but I have zero insight into how the wizards at HQ are building their hell game this year.
If Santos is what I think he is, see Barrios in regards to what I think about FC Dallas’s defense and keeper ie they’ll be worth the price most weeks.
I can see a few tweaks on this. The big battles now are between Servania/Acosta and Mosquera/Picault. We’re still early in preseason though, so Pomykal and Bressan could both make a push.