We speculated a bit on the latest episode of 3rd Degree the Podcast that the FC Dallas roster is basically set for the start of 2022. When FCD adds 2 keepers – whether it’s the linked foreign keepers or not – the club will be at 18 players on the senior roster. Yes, they can go to 20 but they haven’t been doing that the last few years.
Assuming 1st round pick Tsiki Ntsabeleng gets signed – which I do for now because he’s both a first-round pick and the club traded up to get him – then he takes up a foreign spot. If the two foreign keepers are added as well, then FCD will be out of foreign player slots.
You can see why we might speculate that this is it for players for 2022. At least, that is, for the start of camp on Monday.
Is 4-3-3 the Wrong Assumption?
Most people, including us, have long assumed Coach Nico Estevez will want to play a 4-3-3. He’s even said it’s his preferred formation.
But Coach Estevez also said he will have to evaluate his roster and might need to play another shape.
So, let’s do that.
A Quick Roster Analysis
Take a look at our 4-3-3 Depth Chart. You will see quite clearly that to play a 4-3-3 – particularly since Coach Estevez said Jesus Ferreira is a 9 – you have a big hole in your depth chart where Paxton Pomykal is, the Free-8.
Not that we don’t love Paxton, that’s not the point. It’s not just that he has been hurt a fair bit, but far more importantly, he’s the only player in that spot. That’s not enough players.
Which led me to think about tactics and what might work for this team as it is right now.
And one thing I kept coming back to was…
Three at the Back
There are multiple reasons this shape might benefit FC Dallas in 2022, or at least early in 2022. Let’s break it down.
First, three at the back narrows the gaps between the center backs. If you have a couple of guys in there who aren’t young anymore – or are too young – or aren’t quite that fast anymore, this shape can help solidify things.
Secondly, when facing a two-striker system, or a team that sends a mid into the hole, there is an extra central defender still available to pick up a third player coming in. FCD has a problem last year, from time to time, tracking mids coming into the gap.
Third, the wingbacks can sit deep on defense and give the team five in the back. Collapse the wings and you get a 5-4-1 low block if you desire. FCD’s defense was poor last year. Perhaps this will help shore things up?
Fourth, FCD has attacking-style outside backs. A three-at-the-back shape gives the wingbacks a higher starting point for attacking and greater defensive cover behind them when they go forward.
Fifth, since Justin Che is still here and FC Dallas just drafted two center backs, they currently have six of them on the team. I still think it’s a long shot for Chase Niece to make the MLS roster, but there is room for him.
Sixth, three at the back cuts out the 4-3-3 need for a double-8 for either a pure 10 in a 3-5-2 or two wingers in a 3-4-3. Now the pure 10 doesn’t solve the Pomykal on an island problem so I’m going to make the case for the 3-4-3 version of the three-at-the-back formation.
Three Four Three
Three at the back will be something like Jose Martinez at LCB, Matt Hedges in the middle, and Nkosi Tafari at RCB. Che, 6th-overall pick Lucas Bartlett, and Niece are for now the backups. Ryan Hollingshead at left center back in an emergency.
Left wingbacks are Hollingshead or 3rd-overall pick Isaiah Parker. Right wingback are new signing Nanu and re-signed Ema Twumasi, both of whom can also left when needed. Eddie Mujoma can be on either side even though he too is naturally a righty. Homegrown Collin Smith, being a converted wing, is probably a better wingback than right back as well.
If you are chasing the game you can stick any of your wingers at wingback to go heavy offense.
Your double pivot in front of the back four most often consists of one holder and one linker. But in a double, you can mix it up depending on the tactical needs. Two holders? Check. Two linkers? No problem. A mix? Sure, whatever you need.
Edwin Carrillo and Facundo Quignon are the more holding types. Brandon Servania, Nicky Hernandez, and Pomykal are the more linking types. Playing as an 8 is Pomykal’s natural position, playing deep as a playmaker with some freedom to get into zone 14 might be where he excels the most.
That leaves us with a quite interesting discussion up top.
Yes, Coach Nico could go 3-5-2, but that leaves only Pomykal as the 10 until (if?) Thomas Roberts comes back. So, as mentioned, a 3-5-2 doesn’t solve the Paxton on an island in the depth chart problem.
And while the 3-5-2 would allow for a Franco Jara / Jesus Ferreira combo – thus putting Jesus in his best position of off-striker – I don’t think Jara is up for starting 30 games.
You’d also have a handful of left wings that wouldn’t really fit anywhere either.
Maybe bring back Roberts to rotate with Pomykal and show us that Jader Obrian can play with Jesus as a striker… then I’m game for 3-5-2.
The key to the 3-4-3 is that the “wings” need to play tight or even underneath as false wings. Otherwise, you will be overloaded in central midfield with 2 vs 3 all day. We saw this last year when FCD tried the 3-4-3 and the wings didn’t play the position properly.
But overall, a 3-4-3 fits better. Ferreira will start up top with two wings, sort of.
If played properly, you end up with a front line that plays the way the US does when you have your Christian Pulisics and Gio Reynas in the side as “wings.” It’s almost a 3-6-1… or if you prefer, 3-4-2-1.
In addition, this opens the wide space for the wingbacks to attack into. Again, see coach Estevez’s last employer, the US Men’s National Team.
Right now, FCD has only one wing who isn’t a false-wing in style, Obrian.
All three options at left wing – Szabolcs Schön, Kalil ElMedkhar, and Beni Redžić – play that position in the style needed for 3-4-3. Include Hollingshead and Twumasi in this discussion too, if you like.
Even new draft pick Ntsabeleng, based on the tape I saw, plays underneath and in the middle more often than not.
In fact, this underneath wing leans hard into Pomykal’s skill set. It’s almost, but not quite, like being a 10. Or Double-10s, really. That’s where I think Pomykal will get used the most in this formation. Between the lines.
This shape might be kind of tough for Obrian. He doesn’t really fit it. He might have to be content as an over-the-top 9 sub or crazy attacking wingback sub.
A 3-4-3 Depth Chart
Here’s a chart of all the players FCD has right now.
It really does seem like a natural fit to me based on the current roster. Could be interesting.
Let’s see what happens in camp.
I am gonna be honest. If FCD stays pat with their current roster that does not bode well for the season. I don’t care what chances in the formation are made, it won’t push for anything but squeaking into the playoffs at best. With all the sales of home growns, as a fan I’d hope the front office has a plan to actually win something, but it’s more important to stay fiscally conservative
I’m a bit worried myself.
Good thought. I think this could work because Pomykal is willing to do the dirty work and keep the numbers in central midfield balanced when out of possession. Also, although I’ve been advocating for using Cerillo as the single pivot in a US-type 4-3-3, the US really only works well in that formation with Adams at the 6. While Cerillo isn’t Adams (and Quignon is really not Adams), this is MLS and not international level. But the point remains that we don’t know whether Cerillo can play (and is ready to play) the 4-3-3 single pivot effectively. So the 3-4-3 does look like a better fit from roster construction perspective and in the sense of putting players in positions that don’t stretch them far beyond what they’ve been asked to do before at the MLS level.
My worry with the 3-4-3 is that while it solves the roster hole at free 8, now the back line is terribly thin. Even if Martinez and Hedges are healthy (which is already a big if), it would be wise to manage their minutes. With any kind of injury to any of the starting 3 and now we’re looking at Che starting, assuming he isn’t transferred, and looking at rookie CBs getting some significant game time. And if Che is sold, then we’re really missing depth and counting on at least one of the rookie CBs to be serviceable to start for rotation, injury, red cards, and yellow card accumulation. I’m all for using 2022 to build for 2023 and 2024, but if Estevez goes 3-4-3, I would really like to see FCD sign another CB with MLS experience just in case the rookies aren’t ready or Che gets sold (or both). Someone like Francisco Calvo (he might even have a green card considering how long he’s been in MLS). Or maybe Aljaz Struna. Someone that is out of contract that would probably be pretty cheap for one year. Or maybe bring back Maynor Figueroa just for fun.
Another excellent comment sir, really enjoying your contributions of late.
[squeals like Charles Boyle from Brooklyn 99] You are too kind sir. Don’t worry, I’m sure normal service will soon resume.
I don’t understand AT ALL the need for two international slots taken up by keepers. Really irritates me honestly. Maurer has quality and we have two young academy keepers well on their way also. Also simply by looking at his highlight video Tsabaleng looks to have free 8 or #10 capability as well.
Agreed. I am really hoping it’s just going to be one. Heck, even one annoys me to some extent. I’m quite content with US keepers.