It’s time once again for our, probably way too early, plan for making FC Dallas better on the field for 2024.
First, let’s set the table. Tom Bogert said on Extratime and in his piece on the Athletic that Nico Estevez and Andrew Zanotta are both out of contract at the end of this season.
But my gut tells me both men will return and that the Hunts are happy. Dan Hunt said that straight to my face about two months ago. Both the aforementioned men have been talking to me about plans for next season.
So for now… I’m writing this piece on improving FCD in 2024 with the following constraints:
1. Clark and Dan Hunt will still own the team
2. Andre Zanotta will still be the Technical Director
3. Nico Estevez will still be the head coach.
I am trying to operate in this space with their mindset, tactics, and thought process. I base these ideas on both conversations with them and their actions with a little of my own flavor thrown in for spice.
The powers that be at FC Dallas have indicated to me that the club roster is pretty set for 2024. There are no free agents left after the Edwin Cerrillo trade and every player is either under contract or has an option.
They also said there isn’t a ton of cap room at the top of the roster for moves. If we believe them, there may be space for one DP or, more likely, one/two TAM/GAM level players. That is about it. The FCD bed is pretty much made for 2024.
Or, at least, that was the situation.
Quite frankly, the injury situation with Alan Velasco has changed the landscape and complicated things.
What needs to improve?
Let’s make a quick list.
- FCD is lower on the end of scoring in the league. Someone aside from Jesus Ferreira needs to score goals.
- The defense on paper is good but Maarten Paes props that up a bit and the passing from the back needs improvement (see Seattle, Game 3).
- The midfield could use some progression improvement in passing, dribbling, and even possession… and they just lost Alan Velasco.
A Reminder: when building in the offseason the club needs to be ruthless. Seriously, RUTHLESS.
Phase One – Roster Preparation
Before we get to the big decisions, let’s talk about some housekeeping that needs to happen.
Step 1: Pick up Asier Illarramendi contract.
This one is simple. Illarramendi, even at 34, is one of the highest-quality players we’ve ever seen here. It’s a no-brainer in my mind at his current money (~$600k after we prorate this year’s $ for a whole season). Even if his option goes up from this year to the region of Facundo Quignon’s money (~$900k) pick him up.
Ordinarily, I would be very suspicious of a player this age. But in the short time he’s been here, Illarra has proven to be an elite talent dominating FCD in pretty much every midfield category.
Hopefully, he doesn’t decide to retire.
Step 2: Buyout Jesus Jimenez
Jesus Jiminez got paid ~$1.2 mil in 2023 with 0 goals and 3 assists while playing in 21 games with 8 starts. That’s nowhere near the production needed from that kind of contract. He’s not good enough at that price, or probably any other price.
On top of the poor production, Jimenez is about to be 30 and will soon start to slow down. That’s saying something as he’s pretty slow and static already.
But here’s the important bit…
Toronto FCD was taking the cap hit for Jimenez in 2023 and in 2024 they will not be. So before that DP-level salary hits the FCD cap, the Hunts need to eliminate it with a buyout just like they did Franco Jara.
While it won’t give FCD a lot of room to add pieces beyond an international slot, it will relieve the hit Jimenez would otherwise cause on the salary cap next season. A max salary slot.
Honestly, there is no choice for FC Dallas here. They have to make this move, period. You can’t make the cap situation worse by a mil before you even begin. The club can’t give itself cement boots.
Step 3: Dump Salary by Declining Options
Jose Martinez was dropped out of the three-CB rotation down the stretch run in 2023. He struggles to go 90 because of his leg/hip issue and the Texas heat. He’s going to be 31 in February and the physical side is clearly a problem. JAM played 8 minutes in the final 6 games. Age+salary+physcial issues = decline his option. Salary Budget Savings: $700,000 – $800,000.
Facundo Quignon has been solid at the 6 but not great. In the elite modern game, the club needs more progression passing & dribbling out of that spot. Plus Facu will be 31 in May. Age+salary= bye-bye. Salary Budget Savings: ~$900,000.
Jader Obrian is what he is. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always with effort. He’s scored at a steady but not elite pace here (17 goals & 13 assists in 3 seasons). The problem isn’t Obrian specifically – he’s on an affordable $400k if it was just about him then bring him back. But it’s not. It’s that he and Eugene Ansah are, in roster terms, basically the same player: a 28-year-old, non-starting, vertical forward/wing on ~$400k-$500k in 2024. Both take an international spot and both are blocking the path of Dante Sealy, Bernard Kamungo, and Tarik Scott.
Therefore, keeping both Ansah and Obrian makes little sense. Ansah is under contract for 2024 while Obrian is on an option. So Ansah it is. You could say that the Ansah signing killed any chance Obrian would be on the roster in 2024. Salary Budget Savings: $400,000 to $500,000.
Total Hunt’s Budget Savings = ~$2.2 mil.
Total Cap Savings = ~$1.7 mil.
GAM Savings = ~$500k.
Phase Two – Making Moves
We’ve taken away, let’s start adding.
Step 4: Add a Starting Left Center Back.
You may be wondering why we’re suggesting FCD ads a CB when the defense is really good and the offense needs help.
1. FCD will want to have three front-line, starter-capable center backs for rotation, and in the above space I just got rid of Jose Martinez.
2. One way to improve offense is by having better passing out of midfield and defense.
3. It would be great if Nkosi Tafari could start on the right more than the left.
4. While Sebastien Ibeagha had a good season he will be 32 in January.
5. The goal in game three vs Seattle.
6. FCD has a boatload of money wrapped up in attackers already.
FCD should only need a TAM-level signing here, not a Designated Player (DP). A TAM to replace Jose Martinez. One who can defend but also pass well. Use Martinez’s cap/budget space. You have up to ~$800k to play with. Maybe use any leftover Facu/Orbian money if you need to.
Step 5: Move Alan Velasco
Central to Injured Reserve
This section was going to be about how great Alan Velasco was for 2023 playing in the central midfield. I was going to make a point that he should be there full-time.
So scratch that, and instead…
It must be understood that Velasco is out for most or all of 2024. Even if he comes back next August, just how good will he be? People often talk about an entire year of being healthy post-ACL before a player gets 100% of their old form back.
So be ruthless.
Place Velasco on season-long injured reserve and get cap/roster relief. Yes, if you make this move, Velasco would be out for the entire season no matter what. No backsies.
And we’re talking about a DP slot. Burning a DP slot on a player who might give you a month or two of play in 2024 isn’t a good plan.
FCD can figure out how to solve the extra DP roster issue when Velasco comes back for 2025. They can burn that bridge when they get there. (Pun intended.)
Suck it up. Move on. Clear the Spot for 2024.
Phase Three – The Big Decisions
Now we get to the part where someone has to put on their Big Boy Pants and make the key choices for 2024. Where do they spend the money? How does the club make big offensive strides on the pitch to get a shot at MLS Cup?
Dallas was in the bottom half of the league with 41 goals scored. They probably need to add 15 or more goals to be elite.
There are two ideas in our mind that the club can pick from… And now FCD might even be able to do both.
Big Boy Pants Money (Part A): Get a DP 9, Don’t Miss
Want to keep up with the Inter Messi bandwagon? Then we got a plan for you and it comes in two parts and it uses Alan Velasco‘s DP spot.
Go get a legit, high-line, DP striker.
Not someone old and immobile like the last two (Franco Jara and Jesus Jimenez). Spend that Big Boy money to go get a stud target man. Someone who can post up with some height to go after headers, but can also move, play with their feet, combine, transition, and beat a player on the dribble.
Yes, this player will be expensive.
Big Boy Pants are expensive.
Someone like Dénis Bouanga. Not him obviously, just someone like him.
FCD has been spending a ton on a striker for years and not getting jack squat out of them. $3 mil on Jara. $1.2 mil on Jimenez. And we all know their track record at signing this kind of player sucks.
Get it right this time. FCD can’t miss here. You have to nail this if you want to compete for a title. That’s why we’re here right? To see Los Toros compete for a title?
If you really must get someone cheaper on a Hunt budget, go after Leonardo Campana. Miami is rumored to be getting Luis Suarez. If they are, then make a call and try to snag Campana.
“What about Jesus Ferreira?” I hear you thinking.
Big Boy Pants Money (Part B): Move Jesus Ferreira to wing or off-striker.
Ferreira often seems to want to play anywhere but 9 so why not make it official?
Jesus Ferreira loves to operate in space. He doesn’t like it in tight traffic. In transition? Amazing. Pressing? Amazing. Late runs into the box? Heck yes. Going into the mob against a low block? Yeah, not so much.
Facing teams who defend in a low block – which happens a lot to FCD – Ferreira goes walkabout and wants to do all the service and play from deep. He already takes 2/3s of all the set pieces normally anyway. Go look up his numbers against the Rapids in the 2nd to last game and you will see how good he can be as a right wing, just as one example.
So let him be a wing or off-striker. Let him run at people, transition, press, combine, and hit service. He won’t score as much but he should assist more. We’ve said for years he’s best as an off-striker like Jason Kreis. Here’s how that would look.
Is this a 4-2-3-1? A 4-4-2? Who cares! Tactics are fluid! You can use Ferreira as the “10” off-striker under a 9 or, if Coach Nico wants a pure 4-3-3, Ferreira can play wing. Need to rotate anyway. Perhaps even back to 9 from time to time.
Medium Money: Upgrade the 6
Perhaps the biggest single contributing factor in the downfall of Luchi Gonzalez here in Dallas was the decline at the 6-position from Carlos Gruezo, to Thiago Santos, to Facundo Quignon. Perhaps the time has come to reverse that trend.
If FCD wants to leave the door open so that Alan Velasco might return at the end of the year or if they insist on Jesus Ferreira being a 9, then they can just make this move by itself and skip the 9.
When Asier Illarramendi got here, Coach Estevez talked about Illarra being more of an 8 and his play proved that. Illarra has some qualities the 6 could use, notably progressive passing, dribbling, and line-breaking. But he played more 8 than 6.
A rangy, elite passing 6 with fantastic progression skill – think João Paulo with Seattle – would help this team tremendously moving into the offensive third. So go out and sign a high-quality TAM 6 just short of DP status.
Why not both? Super Fun Time Double Bonus!!
IF you jettison enough dead weight in Phase One.
IF you Burn Velasco’s DP spot in Phase Two.
It’s possible you can do both the “Big Boy Pants 9” idea and the “Medium Money 6” idea. What fun.
Ok, now we’re talking! Bring on 2024.
P.S. Return to Form
Look, FC Dallas has a lot of money wrapped up in Paul Arriola and Sebastian Lletget. In base salary alone it’s $1.5 mil for Arriola (and a DP slot) and $700k for Lletget. That’s a lot of cap you likely can’t move.
Both those players need to return to 2022 form if FC Dallas is going to compete at the top of MLS. That’s too much money for a combined 2 goals and 4 assists we saw this season. $400k Obrian did better (6 goals, 5 assists).
P.P.S. Oh Crap!
The part no one wants to talk about is Jesus Ferreira potentially being sold this winter even if that’s less likely than it was last summer. Bernard Kaumgo and Maarten Paes could also go at any time.
If The Jesus is gone you damn well better stick the landing on a new 9 and hope Kamungo is a hit at right wing… if you can even keep him.
Also, if Asier Illarramendi retires, then adding some kind of 6/8 becomes an even more pressing issue.