A look back at the 2022 FC Dallas season

Ted Lasso took umbrage with the saying ‘it’s the hope that kills you.’ To use the full phrase, it’s not the despair, it’s the hope that gets you.

The hope of a return to the Western Conference Final far outweighs both the opponent and the manner of last Sunday’s defeat to end a season that was improbable to predict.

On the Field

The 2022 season was the start of a new era.

We were reminded 17 times in the season-opening press conference that it’s a process following on from a season where Copa Tejas provided the proud moment of – to borrow a phrase from Peter Welpton – winning tallest kindergartener as the three Texan teams finished bottom of the Western Conference.

Dallas was some 15 points off the playoffs and accumulated less than half the points of the Supporters’ Shield winners, New England.

Austin predictions meme
The Austin FC predictions meme of 2022.

MLSsoccer.com’s pre-season predictions have become a meme as Austin FC laminated a printout as if a group of writers being tasked at guessing the fortunes of all 28 teams in a league built around parity should hold weight.

Dallas’ outlook was similarly bleak with Tom Bogert predicting the highest place, eighth. Buzz and I both said sixth or seventh, barely scraping the playoffs even with some homerism mixed in a preseason podcast.

The outlier was Peter’s fourth-place prediction. Which turned out to be the closest of them all.

The Hunt brothers had armed Andre Zanotta with a wad of cash, but every move came with a healthy dose of scrutiny:

  • A record in-league $2m trade for Paul Arriola brought a USMNT winger to Frisco, but one with a bit of a history of injuries.
  • FCD then quadrupled its transfer record to bring in Alan Velasco, but a 19-year-old South American often comes with the chance of taking at least a season to find their feet.
  • Marco Farfan was a surprise trade from LAFC. A more defensive left back than Ryan Hollingshead but there was no guarantee he’d be quite starter-level, let alone the team finding the offensive output Hollingshead gave.
  • Maarten Paes and Nanu came in on loan from Utrecht and Porto. Not much was known about the Dutch keeper, while Nanu had some great highlight clips from his time with Maritimo, but had been largely a bust for Porto with a concussion and spinal injury harming the Guinea-Bissau international’s progress.
  • Jesus Ferreira got his young DP deal after an impressive season at attacking mid, but questions remained as to how he would handle playing as a 9 once again in the wake of Ricardo Pepi’s departure.

Nico Estevez was an unknown too. Aside from two games caretaking for Valencia, a coach who had never managed a senior team. A long-term assistant since moving to the US to join Gregg Berhalter at Columbus before the US Men’s National Team. Would he play Gregg’s style? Would some old Valencia influence come out? Could he man-manage?

We’d seen aspects of the academy mindset in Luchi’s tenure, and it’s something we see all over the sport. A great academy coach or someone who is great with young players, where that just doesn’t translate to the highest levels of the professional game.

A rookie head coach with a young team in a rebuild, 2022 was set to be a typical first year of a five-year cycle. Estevez, Zanotta, and Hunt weren’t calling it a process to excuse poor performance, but tempering expectations for the sake of realism.

What we got was an attractive attacking style of play, a USMNT-like system that delivered a Young Player of the Year and a share of the franchise record for goals in a season for Jesus Ferreira, career seasons for Arriola and Farfan, a tatistically top-five goalkeeper in Paes, and a clear evolution in Velasco’s game to become a game-winner. Even a big-time midseason trade in Sebastian Lletget.

Just moments after the 2022 season ended, I asked Dan Hunt and Estevez an unfair question, “what do you make of the 2022 season?”

Coach gave the diplomatic answer that he was proud of the foundations laid. The FC Dallas President was a little more forthcoming, not requiring a moment to compose something measured.

“We’re way ahead of schedule, that’s what my assessment is,” said Hunt. “We had a goal of making the playoffs and then you end up with that goal, executing on that, and then having a home playoff game, winning and advancing.”

In the Locker Room

I’d made an observation on the podcast after the Minnesota game that – compared to the aftermath of the 2015 penalty shootout win against Seattle – the locker room seemed like a happier place, a more cohesive environment.

Hunt went even further back, revealing that GK Coach Drew Keeshan had compared it to the team that made the run to MLS Cup in 2010.

Down the years we’ve heard of rifts in the locker room. English and Spanish speakers divided, new players not ingratiating themselves to the team or staff, cliques, coach’s favorites, etc. The current team has seemingly avoided that.

Alan Velasco for example, could have just surrounded himself with his two Argentine teammates, and not made an effort to pick up English. Paxton Pomykal mentioned earlier in the season that Velasco had ‘figured it out’ and was growing at a phenomenal rate – that he was comfortable with MLS play, that his English had grown to the point where he was in fully English conversation with bilingual players, that he’d grown closer to his teammates.

Year one was about laying a foundation. Gaps on the field are easier to fill without cracks in the locker room.

In the Office

Last year saw the lowest attendance (aside from the COVID-affected 2020 season) in over a decade with an average announced attendance of 13,418. That number is for tickets distributed, the number of people in the stadium often appeared well below 10,000.

Even the supporters’ section was barely half-full after the two groups were moved from the north end of Toyota Stadium to the southwest corner in 2021. The promise of safe standing in the style of LAFC or Celtic gave way to some temporary crowd barriers closer resembling a bike rack after the original contractor went AWOL.

FC Dallas looked like catching up to MLS 1.0 on the marketing front in the winter of 2021/22 as Jerome Elenez was appointed VP of Marketing.

With a background at brands that largely sell themselves – the Dallas Cowboys, Mavericks, and McDonald’s – there were question marks about Elenez’s ability to build a smaller brand. After previous marketing strategies stemmed from other sports than soccer, could Elenez adapt to the diverse makeup of a soccer crowd from families to hardcore support, and win back the Hispanic support that FCD had largely shunned?

A record seven sellouts – with an eighth coming in the MLS Cup Playoffs – helped Dallas up its average to a healthy 16,615 with crowds that actually resembled the announced numbers.

We saw activations inside and outside of Toyota Stadium to attract fans on gamedays, including the incredible drone shows. The club has been increasingly present in the World Cup 2026 bid rather than just a mention in passing.

Even advertising in highly visible parts of town such as West End and Victory Plaza. Plus lots of quality small things like having Drew Pearson narrate the playoff hype videos on social media.


Losing in the Western Conference Semi-final didn’t hurt all that much, because – normally – FC Dallas would have no right to make it that far in year one of a cycle. That a conference final and even MLS Cup became realistic was fantastic.

So here we are. A season that observers of the 1996 originals have highlighted as one of the very best, a season that saw a minor league organization make it to the same stage as the traditional big MLS clubs both on and off the field, is over.

We’ll have to wait until February 25, 2023, to see how year two of the new era goes but the work begins immediately as roster decisions are due in the next two weeks.

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