Previous Year Recap
FC Dallas started the year with a victory over the future Supporters’ Shield champions, Philadelphia Union. From there, they missed out on the MLS is Back Tournament due to a Coronavirus outbreak within the team, sold two fan favorites, added two South Americans, and closed out the season in familiar fashion with a low seed and a loss in Seattle. Having already done the business of selling two fan favorites and adding two South Americans before the season even starts, FC Dallas appears to have their pieces mostly in place for a big year. Let’s take a look.
Fantasy Players to Watch
Goalkeeper: The utterly brilliant multimedia dynamo known as Matt Doyle picked FC Dallas’s returning starter at goalkeeper, Jimmy Maurer, as FC Dallas’s breakout player for 2021. Given the fact Maurer led the league in save percentage last year among starting goalkeepers, I’m not sure what he’s going to do to breakout. Maybe Maurer will take time out of his busy schedule to teach Doyle how to look up stats on MLS’s website or make all of his saves via the scorpion kick this season.
Maurer should be locked in as the starting keeper this year as he was also 1st in goals allowed per 90 and finished 3rd in cleansheets with 7- only 2 behind the leader despite playing in 7 fewer matches. His prime competition, Phelipe Megiolaro, is no slouch himself. Phelipe will likely travel to the Olympics this summer with Brazil, and he has shown well in limited minutes so far. In a preaseason shootout against San Antonio FC, he demonstrated lightning reflexes on a few saves in regular time and then proceeded to guess the right direction on 5 of 6 attempts to give Dallas the win in the penalty shootout. FC Dallas will be in top shelf hands regardless of who gets the call in any matchup this season.
Defenders: FC Dallas managed to sell not one, but two right backs for several million dollars to European leagues in a 6 month span, but the biggest change in the back line from last year for fantasy purposes has to be former Swiss international, Reto Ziegler.
Ziegler raked in the bonus points, took the occasional set piece and, in a true rarity, was FC Dallas’s preferred penalty kick taker for the bulk of the time he was with the club. Last seen simulating bovine dominance after a successful shootout PK at Providence Park, Reto has returned to his native land to play in the Super League.
Dallas acquired Jose Antonio Martinez, a natural left-footed center back, to replace Ziegler, and he looks the part in preseason. The Spanish La Liga veteran possesses good size and technical ability and appears comfortable building from the back. Dallas should not experience any drop off from this acquisition and may actually improve given that Ziegler was phased out toward the end of the year. Martinez will pair with the elite and timeless Matt Hedges; you should be able to get similar points from Martinez as Hedges at a lower price point to start the season.
Dallas has tinkered with 3 centerbacks in the preseason, and in the event that comes to pass, it’s hard to say at this point whether Bressan or 2020 Superdraft pick Nkosi Burgess has a leg up. Bressan does have the advantage of being able to play at any slot across the backline including cover for the outside backs/wingbacks.
One of those outside backs is Ryan Hollingshead, and you can write his name into the lineup in pen regardless if he lines up at right or left back/wingback. Or midfield. Or wide forward in a 3 man attacking line. In all likelihood, he’ll play on either edge of the defense for almost all of this season, but it’s hardly settled business which side. Although he’s been one of the best left backs in the league (both in real life and fantasy) over the last few seasons, he’s played mostly on the right in the preseason.
This would appear to leave a camp battle between Eddie Munjoma and John Nelson. Last year, Munjoma became the 27th homegrown player in FC Dallas history to sign a first team contract. Although he’s right footed, starred as a right back at Southern Methodist University and with North Texas SC last year, he played left back during his final years at the academy with Reggie Cannon on the right. Munjoma possesses all of the attacking qualities FCD prefers from their outside backs and has featured mainly on the left this preseason in competition with the more defense-minded John Nelson. Nelson, a Generation Adidas signing and former US U20 member, already has almost 30 pro matches under his belt at age 22, and this position battle could easily stretch out into this season. Nelson has also played on the left of a 3 man back line this preseason and can fill in at defensive midfield which is pertinent because…
Midfielders: …FC Dallas is loaded with a bevy of talented central midfielders-so much so, they sold their mainstay at the deep lying midfield position, Thiago Santos, to Gremio of Brazil on April Fools’ Day, 2021. Don’t believe me? 6 different central midfielders (Thomas Roberts, Brandon Servania, Edwin Cerrillo, Paxton Pomykal, John Nelson, and Tanner Tessmann) all have extensive US Youth international experience and more than a cup of coffee’s worth of first team minutes for FC Dallas. Rather than throwing a dart and projecting which will play the most minutes this year- kind of a fool’s errand- I’ll focus on the pricey foreign players.
Bryan Acosta is a designated player, a mainstay of the Honduras National Team, and a player that can play anywhere in central midfield for FC Dallas. He’s rugged and has great range, but he’s not usually going to be taking free kicks, corner kicks or penalties even with his price tag. He could settle into a regular as a high floor ‘6’, but that’s probably his best case scenario when it comes to fantasy.
The other notable import in central midfield is Andrés Ricaurte aka el Mago. Although he wears the #10 for FC Dallas, his future could range anywhere from trequartista to playmaking #6 to points in between. El Mago is a playmaker at heart but has also demonstrated that he’ll give more than an honest effort on the defensive end. His deft left foot could be a consistent weapon on set pieces, but it appears as though he won’t be the breakout talisman for FC Dallas this year because…
Forwards:…FCD swapped out both of their primary attacking wing players in the offseason. On the left, Fabrice-Jean ‘Fafa’ Picault was shipped to Houston leaving a slot for a new ostensibly left-sided attacking wing. To fill this slot, FC Dallas acquired Freddy Vargas from Deportivo Lara in Venezuela, and he’s been nothing short of dominant in the preseason.
Vargas seems to get the Luchi scheme, and already has multiple goals and assists under his belt during the preseason. He’s not a classic line hugger or burner, but rather, an ostensible wing player that pops up both wide and in the middle with superb skill and vision for a final ball while also possessing a nose for goal. In a small sample of preseason, he’s popped up on both wings and made himself a menace during open play. What’s more, Vargas has been the preferred set piece taker (both free kicks and corner kicks even with Ricaurte on the field) and has assisted and scored from both when he wasn’t merely making life difficult for FCD’s opponents. Whether as a mid or forward, Vargas seems to be on track to offer the coveted combo of high floor/high ceiling at least at the onset of the 2021 season, and it will probably be at a great discount.
The more ballyhooed wing replacement is Jader Obrian (pronounced oh-bree-ahn), and he has the tall task of replacing perhaps the most underrated player in MLS over the last several years in Michael Barrios. Obrian was the 2nd leading scorer in the Colombian first division last year and appears to have the potential via his speed and finishing to produce double digit goals from the wing this year. It’s far too soon to say he’ll definitely be an upgrade over the prolific and durable Barrios, but it’s clear so far why FC Dallas was comfortable moving one of the club’s linchpins over the last several years. Lead striker, so far, is an entirely different matter.
Franco Jara was a player the Hunts were gaga over ever since Pachuca knocked FC Dallas out of the Concacaf Champions League in 2017. He is by far the highest paid player on the club, led the team in goals in 2020, and still managed to disappoint in a strange year.
Jara is a slow striker who relies on guile in the absence of foot speed (useful for a team that wants to press) and strong hold up play (useful for a team that wants to play a lone striker). As a poacher last season, he was middling, and his 7 regular season goals left the club and fans dying of thirst at the feet of a well-kept millionaire. Adding to his deficiencies, Jara failed to cash in on several gilt-edged chances that you’d expect near automatic conversion from a seasoned goal scorer. Jara was very good (and scored) in FC Dallas’s 5-0 preseason win against San Antonio FC, and he’ll have to keep that up because the young guys nipping at his heels aren’t going away.
It’s a bona fide 3 man race for who ends up starting at First Kick. Despite Franco Jara making the bucks, Ricardo Pepi and Jesus Ferreira (in no particular order) will both push him to prove his pedigree for the remainder of the preseason. Pepi scored FCD’s last goal of 2020 (the equalizer in Portland) and Ferreira had a good run in the US January camp as well as making an impact with the U23s (USSF set them up to fail- please hold the management accountable). Pepi offers superior physical gifts with a clinical track record (minus the experience), and Ferreira offers the guile to pair with these wings (and isn’t near over the hill) to the point that it is legitimately up for grabs who leads the line. Ferreira might end up popping up on the depth chart in other positions as well. For fantasy purposes, you’ll want to monitor the ebbs and flows and exploit value at this position.
Doyle’s insights about FC Dallas’s most important and breakout player are on par with his excellent radio voice. One obvious (and accurate) point he’s made in contrast with the other two is that the difference between FC Dallas being a contender and one of the favorites is performance from the team’s Designated Players. Since Carlos Gruezo was sold to Augsburg, Dallas’s Designated Players have been bland to inadequate. While Bryan Acosta and Franco Jara both could ‘breakout’ and have good seasons, I will not be targeting them early.
FC Dallas was good for banking points from the defense last year, and that should carry over into this season. This is a deep team that won’t produce many individuals you’ll want to captain, but Freddy Vargas has the look of the early season sleeper you won’t want to miss out on. FC Dallas will be one of the top teams this year, but it won’t be because they’re stacked with chalk fantasy players.
Potential Starting XI
This is my best guess with limited viewing up until now. Central midfield and lead striker are kind of a crapshoot at the moment. Also, there’s a decent chance that FC Dallas goes with 3 center backs at the back. This seems crazy because of their midfield depth, but I’d definitely keep it in mind when they play on the road.