Previous Year Recap
In the games Jara didn’t start, FC Dallas had 7 wins, 7 losses, and 8 draws. They scored 1.63 goals per game in those matches which was a season pace good for fifth in the league. At that clip, you would have thought they were a playoff team assuming the defense was up to their typical standard.
Before we dive into the defensive shortcomings, let’s take stock of FCD’s transfers and loans from summer 2020 to the summer of 2021:
F Zdenek Ondrasek- 1 million – Viktoria Pilzen
DM Thiago Santos- 1.25 million – Gremio
RB Reggie Cannon- 3 million – Boavista
RB Bryan Reynolds- 7.5 million- AS Roma
CM Tanner Tessmann- 4 million- Venezia
D Reto Ziegler- Free – Basel
RM Michael Barrios- Garber Bucks – Colorado
LM Fafa Picault- Garber Bucks – Houston Dynamo
Franco Jara- Free- Pachuca
Facundo Quiñon- Free – Lanus
Jose Martinez- Free – SD Eibar
Freddy Vargas- Loan – Deportivo Lara (I’m so, so sorry)
Jader Obrian – minimal – Rio Negra Aguilá
Andres Ricaurte- Loan – Dep Ind Medillin
Phelipe- Loan – Gremio
Scabolz Schon- 1.5 million – MTK Budapest
Kalil ElMedkhar – Garber Bucks – University of Kentucky/Philadelphia Union
I’d say this record of player movement was on par with Cincinnati’s best work, but that would be unfair to FC Skyline Chili- at least the Queen City’s top club coughed up to try. What’s more, they actually brought in players in the summer window of 2021 to patch holes unlike FC Dallas. This brings me back to FCD’s defense.
The projected center back tandem of Matt Hedges and Jose Martinez started fewer than half of the games for FC Dallas in 2021. They were both out for a big chunk of the summer leaving the middle of defense to Nkosi Tafari and Bressan. While Tafari (formerly Burgess) learned well on the job, Bressan failed to rise to the occasion and is out of contract.
What’s more, no one- be they scouted replacement Quiñon, Designated Player Bryan Acosta, or homegrown Edwin Cerrillo – was able to provide the security that Santos offered through the course of the season. Ryan Hollingshead (club legend and now in Los Angeles proper) also had a down season (and missed the last few matches before Luchi was made the scapegoat); and no one, be it Justin Che (now a young Bundesligar), homegrown Eddie Munjoma, Hollingshead, or Generation Adidas convert (possibly overrated by the club- I’m dubious) Edwin Twumasi ever locked down right back. All of this led to FC Dallas leaking 1.64 goals per game- the club’s worst defensive performance since the 2003 Burn gave up 2.13 goals per game during their sojourn to Southlake (worst record in club history). Oddly enough, Dallas’s coach at the time, Colin Clarke, would go on to coach the club for the next 3 seasons.
Fantasy Players to Watch
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. This is exactly how I started this section last year, and I’m doing this because slagging Doyle is a righteous venture. Maurer (still with the team) finished in the bottom half of save percentage, goals allowed, and cleansheets, but he did manage to stop two of six penalties at least.
His backup, Phelipe Megiolaro (no longer with the team), was even worse in his 10 games. He’s been replaced by another loan keeper, Maarten Paes. The FC Utrecht and Netherlands Youth International has been the starter during the preseason with Maurer nursing an injury. In all likelihood, he’ll begin the season as the #1 and be backed up by (soon to be announced) academy signing, Antonio Carrera. Carrera has also looked good in preseason, highlighted by a 6 save shutout for the U20 Men’s National Team against his pro club in Florida. It remains to be seen how well this will work out.
As noted previously, FC Dallas’s defense was abysmal last year, so they totally overhauled it in the offseason. Just kidding.
The starting center backs will once again be Jose Martinez and Matt Hedges, and…that’s probably ok. At 29 and 31, they’re not young, but they’re also not at a point where you’d necessarily expect decline. A fit Hedges is still a top tier MLS center back, and he’ll get you bonus points and clean sheets. Martinez remains a bit of a mystery because, well, we just haven’t seen much of him yet. He’s definitely quicker than Reto Ziegler was at the end of his stint in Frisco, but the jury is out on what he’ll have to offer in the league. At least going into this season, Nkosi Tafari provides plus quality as a backup.
Outside back is a different story. John Nelson is off to Cincinnati, and somewhat shockingly, club legend Ryan Hollingshead was shipped off to LAFC for Marco Farfan. Hollingshead was extremely productive with the Hoops or whatever we’re calling the club these days, and his record of goal+assist contributions over the years put him among the top left backs in the league. He managed 3 goals and 5 primary assists last year, but he was considerably more suspect as a defender in his age 30 season.
Enter Farfan ($4.5) who, at 23, offers a younger and cheaper albeit less offensively aggressive replacement on the left. The early returns have been good, and he’s sneaking in some set pieces as a true lefty. Gauging simply by the eye test, this will be a desperately needed improvement in the defensive half. Farfan will need to stay healthy though unless Eddie Munjoma takes a leap forward this year or Isaiah Parker’s (3rd overall pick in the Superdraft) conversion to left back is seamless.
FC Dallas has had a pretty good track record of converting players to outside back eg Je-Vaughn Watson, Atiba Harris, and the aforementioned Hollingshead. That said, all of these successful converts happened in the Oscar Pareja era. The club is apparently optimistic that Emmanuel Twumasi will continue in this tradition even though he was…subpar last year. For me, I don’t see it, and as you can see from FC Dallas’s last preseason match, he’s still a work in progress at best. It looks like he may start the opener though because another new arrival just joined the team.
Credit Amonikart95 at redbubble.com
Eulânio Ângelo Chipela Gomes ($6.0), otherwise known as ‘Nanú’, comes in on loan from Porto with a Champions League assist Chelsea last year on his resume. Nanu hasn’t played much since then and just joined the club on Valentine’s Day. New manager, Nico Estevez, will want to give Nanu the Full Orson for the next week because the games are about to get real. This position remains a big question for FC Dallas entering the season and is quite likely a vulnerability as of now.
Another problem with FC Dallas’s defense last year was that central midfield was as soft as butter left in the microwave for 5 minutes. That’s why they totally overhauled the roster here, and oh wait a minute they didn’t.
Ok, there’s definitely some addition by subtraction here. Former Designated Player Bryan Acosta’s option was not picked up, and that’s actually a plus. Outside of 2019, he was spare to fair with the club in general and really quite poor for the last half of 2021. The club should consider it a huge win given that he signed with conference rivals, Colorado Rapids in a repeat of the Acosta for Acosta transition Dallas made a few years back (sorry Crapids fans- this doesn’t work out well). Dallas also shedded Andres Ricaurte’s contract (wasn’t really a fit in the system) and added…nothing. Seriously, they added an attacker, Tsiki Ntsabeleng (28th pick Superdraft), and he may or may not mix in the center of the park, and Thomas Roberts’s loan will end in June and might come back. That’s it for now!
FC Dallas will be counting on year over year improvement from Facundo Quiñon (the Santos replacement that really didn’t work out), homegrown Edwin Cerrillo ($4.5, looks like he’ll start at the 6 for First Kick), Brandon Servania (one of the 8s), and Nicky Hernandez (out for the first month with compartment syndrome). Aside from that, they’ll be counting on at least one of two converted wingers.
Ok, that last part was a joke. Paxton Pomykal, seen here scoring the winner last night, is definitely a central midfielder and one who, when healthy, has the tools to be in the upper echelon of midfielders in MLS. That ‘healthy’ part has been hard to come by over the last few years, alas- so much so, the club committed to playing him almost exclusively on the wing last year in the hope he’d take less of a beating. It mostly worked as he was able to get 1500 minutes under his belt, and now we’ll see if he’s ready for the beating that almost assuredly will come with him zigging and zagging his way through central midfield. We’ll dive in more to the other converted midfielder here shortly in the section on…
First off, let’s start with what I got horribly wrong last year:
“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.”
In my defense, I did not expect this player never to get 90 minutes fit, or hurt, or discover Texas BBQ, but all of these things happened, and, to the best of my knowledge, he has returned to Venezuela.
And now, something I nailed:
” 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.”
A late surge got Jara all the way to 7 goals (matching his 2020 output in a full season) which was good for 4th on the team. As previously mentioned, the team was horrible when he started and his modest output belied how badly the team performed with him out there. Instead of buying him out, FC Dallas actually traded for Dom Dwyer so they could buy him out on Toronto’s behalf (this netted the Isaiah Parker pick, so that’s something), and Franco will earn around $3 million as FC Dallas’s backup striker this year. Or third team striker- honestly, he hasn’t been around much in preseason.
With Jara ineffective/absent and Ricardo Pepi transferred out for a reported $20 million to FC Augsburg, Estevez has experimented with Jader Obrian and Beni Redzic as potential false 9s to the newly advanced and newly Designated Playered Jesus Ferreira who will lead the line for FC Dallas this year to start (and hopefully for the vast majority of) the season.
It’s easy to forget that Ferreira has played as the line leader before and even lead the team in goals (8 goals in 2019) one year. He barely missed on a 10-10 season last year even after missing the first two months of the season and appears to be in good form entering 2022. Will he justify his status as the first academy player to come all the way through the ranks to become a DP at the club he started with? He looks like he’ll be on penalty kicks, but all of that is up in the air as FC Dallas awaits the arrival of the most expensive signing in club history.
FC Dallas splashed (honestly, a small portion of their incoming fees the last 2 years) a reported $7 million on Alan Velasco to make him a Young Designated Player (Ferreira has the YDP designation, too). Velasco is one of the highest rated South American U20 players and already has a strong season in the Argentine first division under his belt. It remains a question whether he will line up in the front 3 or in the middle with Paxton Pomyal (or a little of both). That’s because he’s still waiting on his work permit, although that appears to be coming this week. Also, he’s just 19, so the body of work isn’t lengthy.
Until Velasco arrives and acclimates, FC Dallas will rely on wing support from Jader Obrian and Paul Arriola. Obrian struggled to acclimate early last year, but he close with a strong 2nd half and finished with a very respectable 9 goals and 4 assists. He’s also looked good coming into the season and brings real speed to the frontline.
Arriola comes over from DC United in a record allocation deal, and his work rate and leadership qualities are beyond reproach. His goals+assists per 90 last year were very similar to Obrian’s (.53 vs .50) which is a pretty nice clip for an import even if it might seem like an excessive buy. Last year’s ‘Big Buy’ Szabolcs Schon produced at a similar clip (although exclusively via assist), so the wings should be stacked, especially if Kalil ElMedkar or homegrown Beni Redzic can contribute. FC Dallas is still banking on health in this position group though so the range of outcomes here is still very wide.
The branding from the club leans heavily on the idea that this is a new era. Candidly, the new coach much like the man he replaced isn’t an experienced head coach but has a good (although not quite as good) pedigree as a youth coach. There was a lot of talk about new tactics on the broadcast last night, but this is another 4-3-3 with possession ambitions with extremely similar tactics to Luchi Gonzalez’s teams. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though as you can see that the team already knows how they want to play going into the season. Meet the new boss- same as the old boss. Seriously, the talk of a New Era is kind of annoying because the model is pretty much the same, and the ‘big spending’ is roughly half of just Pepi’s fee.
FC Dallas’s ceiling this year is a Top 4 finish with a very dynamic attack that finishes in the Top 4 in goals scored. The acknowledgement that Franco Jara isn’t the answer is a good start, but they’ll need to avoid a spate of injuries (unlike last year), minimize the growing pains (unlike last year), and bring in smart reinforcements in the summer (you get the idea) when these problems inevitably present themselves. With good health, Jesus Ferreira will absolutely crush it this year, and yeah, I wish I had a better idea on set pieces but you’ll probably want to look to other clubs’ players for good bonus point floors there for the time being.
Potential Starting XI
I’m about 99% certain this is what it will be for the Toronto match. Twumasi catches a huge break with Lorenzo Insigne not available until summer.