As we continue to celebrate the 25th season of FC Dallas, we’re on to Part V of our top 5 player rankings by position. For Part V we move into the midfield.
To make these rankings, I approached several people I know and respect who have been working around, writing about, or following the team for 25 years to give input. They may come and go over the course of the season as schedules allow.
Special thanks for participating in this Holding Midfielders ranking:
Carlos Alvarado – FC Dallas Spanish Play by Play
Dustin “El Jefe” Christmann – FCD’s 1st Fan, founder of the Inferno, former 3rd Degree writer
Dave Dir – The Burn’s 1st coach, former color commentator
Steve Davis – The Dean of Dallas soccer writers and current FCD color commentator
Chamo Jones – former 3rd Degree writer
Kevin Lindstrom – 3rd Degree writer since 2000
Andy Swift – The KickAround, former Burn GM
Damian Wright – former 3rd Degree writer
For the second time in our rankings, we have a unanimous no. 1. In addition, the top 4 all received votes from every single voter making 4 out of 5 unanimous selections.
After that, it got a little murky and our 5th place winner just sneaks in ahead of the field.
Top 5 FC Dallas Holding Mids of All-Time
5. Pablo Ricchetti – 2007 to 2009
Pablo came up in the River Plate youth system, starting out with the Argentine giants at the age of 7. After making his debut with the senior side in 1998 he was sold to Colón de Santa Fe and from there, his career went through Real Valladolid (Spain), Ternana (Italy), and Quilmes (Argentina) before joining FC Dallas.
Upon arrival in Dallas, Ricchetti immediately became a big figure for Coach Steve Morrow. FCD was 10-7-2 when Ricchetti was in the starting lineup and 3-5-3 without him that year (thanks, Wiki!).
Pablo continued to be a key figure for Coach Schellas Hyndman too, in total playing in 68 games with 66 starts over three seasons with 1 goal and 6 assists from his formation dominating 6-position along with 88 fouls committed, 19 cautions, and 2 ejections. 2008 FC Dallas Defender of the Year and twice FCD Humanitarian of the Year (2008, 2009).
After leaving Los Toros, Ricchetti played three more seasons for Deportivo Anzoátegui in Venezuela. Ricchetti is coaching at Santamarina in Argentina, has consulted for FCD, and has from time to time been publically critical of FCD’s poor scouting.
Played 68 games for Dallas and was the biggest difference-maker on FC Dallas team every year he was there. I was announcing at the time and I just remember they struggled to win a game without him in the line-up.Dave Dir
4. Simo Valakari – 2004 to 2006
Valakari was brought in by Coach Colin Clarke to anchor his midfield after the 2003 side set the franchise record for goals against with 64 (Southlake season under Mike Jeffries). Valakari played 257 pro games at FC Kontu, FinnPa, Motherwell, Derby County before coming to MLS.
An MLS All-Star in 2005, Valakari was a key part of Clarke’s squads through the wire-to-wire first-place team of 2006. 85 games played, 84 starts, 1 goal, and 6 assists in 3 seasons; Valakari is still 4th all-time in franchise ranks for fouls committed with 232 and is tied for 10th with 22 cautions. He too was ejected twice.
With a change of coaches after the 2006 season, Valakari wasn’t retained for 2007 and Pablo Ricchetti was brought in.
After finishing his career as a player with TPS Turku in Finland, Valakari moved into management and is currently the head man at Tromsø in Norway.
Hard as Finnish nails and a top pro. Not very quick, but he was relentless in making the midfield such a “no-go” zone. Oscar Pareja liked to say: “On the field, he was a criminal!”Steve Davis
3. Daniel Hernandez – 2009 to 2012
Out of Dallas Texans and SMU, Hernandez had a top-flight pro career long before joining FC Dallas and his former college coach, Schellas Hyndman.
Starting in MLS in 1998, Hernandez played for the Galaxy, Mutiny, MetroStars, and Revolution before moving to LigaMX and taking the field for Necaxa from ‘05 to ‘07. Hernandez once requested a trade to the Burn in 2002 after being traded to the Revs.
After a return to the Revolution, Hernandez – nicknamed Demetrio in Mexico – went back south of the border to play for Puebla, Chiapas, and Necaxa for a 2nd time.
Effectively as a personal favor for Hyndman, Hernandez signed with FCD in September of 2009 and played 89 games with 81 starts over four seasons. 147 fouls committed, 17 cautions, and – like everyone on the list so far – 2 ejections. DH led the team to its only MLS Cup appearance in franchise history.
Despite having a reputation as a hothead that was difficult to manage, Hernandez was twice named FCD’s Humanitarian of the year (2010 and 2011) and was team captain most of his time in Dallas. He also re-introduced team cookouts and BBQs which had somehow fallen to the wayside before he joined the club.
In 2001 Hernandez signed a contract to be an assistant coach as well as a player. Then in 2012, he retired to become a full-time assistant coach…and bizarrely was fired three weeks later. He then sued the club for wrongful termination.
Like Alvarez, Hernandez came to the team and led the team, eventually getting Dallas to its only MLS Cup appearance to date. By the time he got to Dallas, he was a little limited in range, but he made up for it in leadership and intensity only a veteran could bring.Kevin Lindstrom
2. Carlos Gruezo – 2016 to 2019
When we look back, Carlos Gruezo’s stop in Dallas will likely just be a short step is his much larger career. When he signed with Dallas at the age of 20 he had already been in a World Cup squad and played professionally for Independiente, Barcelona SC, and Stuttgart.
He spent three and a half seasons in Dallas where he somehow managed to be underrated by some observers. Statistically, he finished with 93 games, 93 starts, 3 goals, 7 assists, 55 fouls committed, 25 yellow cards, and a paltry single ejection.
A phenomenal holding mid, it usually required a tactical shift to a double pivot when he was missing from the side because no one else on the roster was capable of replicating his play. Gruezo helped FC Dallas lift the 2016 US Open Cup and 2016 Supporters Shield under Coach Oscar Pareja.
Still only 23 at the time he was sold, Gruezo moved to FC Augsburg during the summer of 2019 and signed a five-year contract. He currently has 26 caps for Ecuador.
A dogged defender relentless in recovering the ball all over the field. Key player of the 2016 season that ended with the supporter’s shield and the US Open Cup title. One could argue that last year the team never quite recovered from losing him.Chamo Jones
One of the best that Oscar Oscar Pareja had. He was key in the best year of his team (2016), winning the Supporters Shield and the Lamar Hunt US Open.Carlos Alvarado
1. Leonel Alvarez – 1996, 1998 to 1999
The #1, unanimous, undisputed heavyweight champion of franchise holding mids.
When Alvarez was allocated to the Burn he was one of the best holding mids on the planet. Alongside Carlos Valderrama in Colombia’s midfield, he helped make his nation one of the favorites going into the 1994 Cup.
Alvarez was named Burn MVP in 1996 and MLS Best XI. He probably should have been named MLS MVP.
He left for Veracruz in 1997 – likely for a PHAT contract – but returned to the Burn in 1998. Toward the end of the ‘99 season at the age of 34, the Burn traded him to the Revolution for Ariel Graziani.
Alvarez’s impact on and off the field was immeasurable and his influence was felt with the Burn for a decade. Jason Kreis says Alvarez was the biggest influence of his career. His influence on Ted Eck, Brian Hayes, and Oscar Pareja (through Colombia and the Burn) carried on for years.
All total, 70 games for the Burn and 69 starts with 3 goals, 17 assists, 134 fouls committed, 29 cautions, and 5 ejections (tied for franchise #1). 1996 and 1999 MLS All-Star.
Alvarez retired in 2004 with a staggering 101 caps for Colombia having played in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups as well as the Copa America in 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, and 1995. Since he stopped playing, Alvarez has gone on to a managerial career with his most recent stop with Club Libertad in Paraguay last year. He also won the 2005 Colombian version of Survivor.
I won’t sugar coat it, Leonel Alvarez was the best in Dallas history and the best player I ever coached, and that is saying a lot. As tough as they come, the first thing you noticed as a coach was he tackled our players as hard in every practice as he did opponents in games. He was better on the ball than people gave him credit for when he was anchoring for Colombia behind Valdarama. He had a presence that created an atmosphere of winning – both on and off the field – in a time when experience by example on the field and in the locker room was the key to building an organization.Dave Dir
Victor Ulloa – 2011 to 2018. Ulloa is a wonderful FC Dallas Academy story. Signed as a homegrown during Oscar Pareja’s time as Academy director, he only played 1 game in 3 seasons under Coach Schellas Hyndman.
FCD released Ulloa after 2013, but when Pareja was named head coach for 2014 he re-signed the Wylie kid. Victor went on to play 143 more games for FCD with 114 starts over 5 seasons scoring 5 goals and notching 6 assists in that time. He was part of the 2016 double-winning side.
Ulloa was traded to FC Cincinnati before the 2019 season and then again to Inter Miami last winter.
My favorite homegrown story of all-time. Ignored by Hyndman, he got a chance under Pareja. He took that chance right away on opening day when he got a start due to an injury and he never gave up his spot. Ulloa, while not as athletic as some of his teammates in the midfield, was very effective with his positioning and reading of the game. A very good defender 1v1.Chamo Jones
Ted Eck – 1996 to 2001. It’s impossible to talk about Dallas holding mids and not mention Ted Eck. By the time MLS launched in 1996, it was already late in Eck’s career. Eck had to that point mostly been a striker. Drafted by the Burn with the 3rd overall pick in the 1996 MLS Inaugural Draft, Coach Dir eventually converted Eck to a holding midfielder.
Eck perhaps had more heart and grit than any player in franchise history. He played 156 games (9th) for the Burn making 116 starts with 12 goals, 17 assists, 214 fouls committed (5th), and 191 fouls suffered (7th). He also lifted the 1997 US Open Cup. His 8 game-winning assists still rank 8th in franchise history.
Eck has 13 caps for the US and scored a goal against Easy Germany in 1980. He was also a big part of the US Futsal team and was a member of the US team that finished 2nd at the 1992 FIFA Futsal World Championship.
Eck is currently an assistant coach at Real Salt Lake.
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Ted was the first-round pick of the Burn in the 1996 draft, where MLS teams stocked themselves with former APSL and USISL and indoor players to fill in around their allocations, and he was drafted as a forward, after a pretty prolific career in indoor soccer with a variety of teams and in the APSL with Dave Dir’s Colorado Foxes. He was not as prolific with the Burn and he frustrated the hell out of me because of that. But his work rate was undeniable, and ultimately that work rate served him well when transitioned to defensive midfield role with Burn after Leonel Alvarez was traded. He just never stopped running and never stopped running down opposing players who came into his neighborhood.Dustin Christmann
Daniel Peinado – 1997. Despite playing just one season with the Burn – as Leonel Alvarez’s replacement – Peinado did receive two votes for this list. 25 games, 22 starts, 2 goals, 4 assists, 57 fouls committed, 46 fouls suffered, 4 cautions, and 1 ejection.
On April 26, 1997, Peinado set an MLS record when he committed 9 fouls in one half against the LA Galaxy.
Peinado was a heck of a player, he just had the misfortune to be the guy trying to replace an all-time great. Alvarez’s return meant his fate was sealed. Based on google results, Peinado is currently coaching in Argentina.
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Peinado only played one season for the Dallas Burn, but it was a memorable one. Interestingly, the coaching staff believed that he was a defensive midfielder, but quickly found out that what Argentinines meant by that term in 1997 was more that he played defense in midfield rather than what American’s thought of the term. Either way, he was the lynchpin for a team that won Dallas’ first championship.Kevin Lindstrom
Thiago Santos – 2020. Who after two games makes me think he could make this list.
Linking midfielders, a.k.a. 8s.