At FC Dallas, changes aren’t permanent but change is

With the club’s new approach to the transfer market, FC Dallas has been the name attached to every MLS rumor this offseason but that isn’t the only significant change in the 2022 preseason.

As soon as he arrived in Frisco, Head Coach Nico Estevez made changes with the aim of building relationships between the coaches and players.

The cluster of offices that shoot off the side of the first team locker room on the north end of Toyota Stadium was opened up to encourage communication.

In the area where players would typically filter in over the hour before training, a new cafeteria space has been created with an emphasis on players gathering for meals to build the team atmosphere.

Our friend Jon Arnold wrote about a new player care department to help players acclimate.

“I’ve been over overseas to Europe to some bigger clubs and these changes are definitely making it more similar to those clubs,” explained Brandon Servania on the opening day of training. “As a team we’re coming in earlier, eating breakfast and trying to take advantage of some of the changes that they made as far as the gym and prehab, and getting ready to be out here and be able to best on the field.”

FC Dallas Head Coach Nico Estevez (Dan Crooke / 3rd Degree)

When I spoke to Coach Estevez, a former USMNT assistant coach, about the changes he mentioned creating the best environment and the desire for a rigid European structure that the environment will be built around.

As the players sit for breakfast and receive an outline of the day’s session, an expanded footprint of fields one and four at Toyota Soccer Center are prepped for the entire session to eliminate downtime between drills.

“We want to be efficient with our time to let the players enjoy training,” said Assistant Coach Ben Cross from preseason camp at the IMG Academy in Bradenton. “So there’s not a lot of downtime, but it’s also to mimic the intensity that they would get in a game.”

The club’s longest-serving player, Matt Hedges, is a coach in the making according to most of his teammates and isn’t sorry to see the back of those moments where players are left waiting for equipment to be set up.

“It 100% helps a ton because we get into the session and you’re doing a high-intensity drill, then we would stop and you have five minutes in between [drills],” said Hedges. “You kind of lose that edge that you had, and then you’ve got to try to get it back in the next drill you’re doing. I think moving from one to the other quickly just keeps the intensity high for the entire session.”

“You can shorten the session when you don’t have that downtime in between things,” hedges continued, “so I think that’s a huge positive to keep the intensity high for the entire session.”

One criticism at the beginning of Luchi Gonzalez’s tenure was the lack of coaches with professional experience. Drew Keeshan was the only coach to have been on an MLS bench among Gonzalez’s initial staff. Mikey Varas and Peter Luccin at that time only had experience in the academy age groups – although Luccin did have extensive top-level experience in his playing career. Chuy Vera later joined the coaching staff having managed five seasons in his native Venezuela.

Ben Cross on the staff of the 2020 MLS Cup winning Columbus Crew (Empire United DA / Facebook)

As well as his own experience as an MLS/USMNT assistant and management experience with Valencia’s development teams, Estevez has surrounded himself with professional experience.

Ben Cross won an MLS Cup in two seasons under Caleb Porter in Columbus.

Javier Cabello joins from a similar role at Deportivo Alaves, with a pair of games as caretaker manager. The former Elche Technical Director also worked in the Valencia and Villareal systems in his 21-year coaching career.

Head of Performance Miguel Villagrasa spent 23 years with Valencia, as well as Celta Vigo and Elche.

Add to those the vast MLS experience of Keeshan and a couple of years now under the belt of Luccin, and you see the type of cumulative experience that younger Head Coaches need to thrive.

One additional coach in Bradenton right now is new North Texas SC coach Pa-Modou Kah, a coach fresh off winning the Canadian championship and coach of the year award. Kah has playing experience on several continents, national team experience, and extensive MLS experience. A coach with MLS experience prior to his head coaching role in British Columbia, and an immediate hit with the FC Dallas players.

Hedges surmised that the experience of the coaching staff allows them to take Estevez’s vision and really mold it into digestible sessions for the different position groups. It all allows Estevez to not need to be completely hands-on in order to have his effect on the team and sessions, which may have been of an even greater benefit this week.

With Estevez back in Dallas under health and safety protocol, the Spaniard has relied on Zoom to communicate with players and staff in Florida. A hark back to the MLS shutdown of 2020, Estevez has held individual and group calls, managing the group from afar.

One last, and the most important note, Coach Cross informed the media that the Estevez family is doing well and Nico Estevez is looking forward to joining his team in Florida.

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