As we continue to celebrate the 25th season of FC Dallas, we’re on to Part VI of our top 5 player rankings by position.
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. I will be giving them credit on each story to which they contribute.
For Part VI we shift to the 8s…
Special thanks for participating in this Linking 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
Damian Wright – former 3rd Degree writer
While he wasn’t unanimous, there is still a clear and decisive linking mid winner who got 5 of the 8 top votes.
Outside of that player, this position probably has the largest variance of votes so far in our rankings. I figure this is due to either an abundance of quality or a lack of quality, depending on your point of view. I tend to lean to the former. I think there are some terrific players in here.
After #1, there was a clear group that separated themselves for the top 4, all of whom had a large number of votes. The 5th place winner gets in ahead of the field by virtue of a couple of higher votes than the others in the spread of many vote-getters.
Top 5 FC Dallas Linking Mids of All-Time
5. Juan Toja – 2007 to 2008
Initially signed on loan from Independiente Santa Fe in Colombia where he started as a youth player, Toja was bought by FCD prior to the 2008 season.
A talented and creative deep playmaker with an unpredictable style, Toja was also tenacious defensively with a physical side who loved to sneak in and take balls off unsuspecting players.
Toja really only played a year and a half in Dallas, but it was a phenomenal year and a half. 2007 was successful with 27 starts 6 goals and 1 assist, although an ankle injury limited him somewhat in the 2nd half of the season. 2008 was going well again with 2 goals and 2 assists in 16 games before he departed. An MLS All-Star in both 2007 and 2008. Toja was the 2007 FCD MVP.
Toja holds the FCD record for fouls committed both in a season with 83 in 2007 and in a game with 9 (tied x2) against Chivas USA in 2007.
Toja always considered MLS to be a stepping stone and in August of 2008 FC Dallas transferred him to Steaua București. Toja played for București and Aris in Greece before returning to MLS with the Revolution for two seasons but hasn’t played since 2013 mostly due to chronic back trouble. Toja played 3 senior games for Colombia.
Juan Toja was one of my favorite players to watch in a Dallas uniform. While he could play as a 10 he made his mark for me playing a little deeper and his ability to connect the lines was something unmatched during his FC Dallas career.Dave Dir
4. Dax McCarty – 2006 to 2010
Just 18 years old at the time he signed as a Generation adidas contract out of UNC after his sophomore season – he had gone to college early – McCarty was drafted by FC Dallas 6th overall in 2006.
A little on the short side, McCarty is a dogged and tenacious midfielder who can be deployed as a holding mid and as a linker. McCarty was a starter for 3 of his 5 years in Dallas mostly as a linking mid and always attracted a lot of attention from oppositions. 93 games in Dallas with 71 starts, 5 goals, 17 assists, 63 fouls committed, 127 fouls suffered, and 8 cautions. McCarty led FCD in assists in 2007.
McCarty was usually the corner kick taker for the club too – 113 corners taken in Dallas, 10th in club history – partially because of his passing and crossing ability but also because he’s listed at 5’9”.
Unfortunately (stupidly?), at the end of 2010, FCD Head Coach Schellas Hyndman and Technical Director Barry Gorman left McCarty exposed during the expansion draft in order to protect Eric Alexander. McCarty was promptly selected #1 overall by the Portland Timbers then immediately traded to DC United.
After DC, McCarty played for New York Red Bulls, Chicago Fire, and now Nashville SC for a total of 270 regular-season games with 15 goals and 41 assists. Two-time MLS All-Star in 2016 and 2017 and MLS Best XI in 2015.
Damn! Can you believe FCD practically gave this guy away for nothing? Covered SO much ground. Developed into SUCH a good leader. And had an uncanny ability to get his head on set pieces — never mind that he was usually the smallest guy on the field.Steve Davis
3. Kellyn Acosta – 2013 to 2018
A product of the FCD Academy, Acosta was the 7th Homegrown signing in club history after being named 2012 US Development Academy Central Conference Player of the Year.
Eligible for FCD starting in 2013, Acosta became a full-time starter in 2015. During his time in Dallas, Acosta played 162 games with 135 starts over 6 seasons with 13 goals, 17 assists, 121 fouls committed, 106 fouls suffered, and 14 cautions. An MLS All-Star 2016 and 2017. 2016 Supporters Shield winner and 2016 US Open Cup winner.
Acosta still holds the club record for youngest player to play a complete game at 18 years and 18 days of age against the LA Galaxy in August of 2013.
Halfway through the 2018 season, Acosta requested a trade and was moved to the Colorado Rapids in exchange for Dominic Badji. Acosta remains with the Rapids today.
Winning the double breaks the tie between him and Dax McCarty. He was also the more talented player although McCarty has proven the more consistent professional. But make no mistake, Accosta was a key component as that linking player for that Double-winning side in 2016.Kevin Lindstrom
2. Chad Deering – 1998 to 2003Embed from Getty Images
The first US National Men’s National Team player to be allocated to the Burn.
A Parade All-American at Plano High and US Youth International, Deering played one season at Indiana before heading to Germany. Deering played for German sides St Pauli, Weber Bremen, Schalke 04, Rosenborg (Norway), Kickers Emden, and Wolfsburg – only seeing significant playing time with the later.
Following the 1998 World Cup, Deering signed with MLS and was allocated to Dallas.
Deering was a prototypical two-way central midfielder that was far more common at the time. A quality passer and defender, Deering could also beat players on the dribble. He was also mean as hell on the field – a quality sometimes needed in a team – and frequently ruthless and demanding off of it as well.
Deering played 147 regular-season games for Dallas with 132 starts and 13 goals. He still ranks 9th in franchise history with 0.23 assists per game, 6th in corners taken with 203, 7th in cautions with 28, 3rd in fouls committed with 239, and 9th in assists with 30. Deering was named an MLS All-Star in 2001 and 2002.
Deering led the Burn to the playoffs every season in a Dallas uniform until the Southlake Debacle.
Following his departure from FCD at the end of 2003, Deering dabbled with the Dallas Sidekicks, DFW tornados, and Charleston Battery. Deering has been coaching youth soccer for years with Solar and Blackwatch. He’s currently the President and Director of Coaching for Dallas Rush FC in McKinney, TX.
A World Cup player who, after his arrival, maintained his level and became the leader in that middle of the field. He allowed players like Oscar Pareja to perform their game at a higher level.Carlos Alvarado
1. Óscar Pareja – 1998 to 2005Embed from Getty Images
After beginning his career with Independiente Medellín and Deportivo Cali in Colombia, Pareja was originally signed by MLS and allocated to the New England. Pareja played just 13 games for the Revs prior to being traded to the Burn for Damian Alvarez in 1998.
For 19 seasons as a player, captain, and coach – Pareja was the heart and soul of the Dallas franchise.
Initially a pure playmaker, Pareja played most of his Dallas career as a linking mid with some time as a holding mid mixed in. Wonderful passer, terrific dribbler, tough as nails, willing to play through pain, and an amazing leader… Off the field, he was a gentleman and a wonderful person full of heart.
Burn MVP in 2001 and 2002, MLS Best XI in 2002 but shockingly he was never named an MLS All-Star. He still ranks in the top 10 of an avalanche of franchise records.
Games Played: 176 – 5th
Starts: 144 – 4th
Minutes: 12,543 – 7th
Assists: 47 – 2nd
Shots: 187 – 9th
Fouls Committed: 328 – 2nd
Fouls Suffered: 365 – 1st
Fouls Suffered, Single Game: 8 (ironically vs Colorado in 2002) – tied 1st
Cautions: 38 – 1st
Game-Winning Assists: 19 – tied 1st
Assists per 90 Minutes: 0.34 – 5th
Pareja retired at the end of 2005 but was also an assistant coach that year and remained on the staff through 2011 with a short stint as a US U17 assistant coach in the middle (parts of 2007-2008). In that time he launched the FC Dallas Academy as it’s Director.
In 2012, Colorado hired Pareja as a head coach, but after 2013 he stepped down to take the FC Dallas job (a move that required the Hunts to pay the Rapids a first-round pick and some allocation money).
Following the 2018 season, Pareja jumped at a chance to coach in Liga MX for Club Tijuana, a.k.a. Xolos. After one season he was let go and for 2020 took the head job with Orlando City.
Oscar came to Dallas as the heir apparent to Valderrama in Columbia so everyone expected a true 10. Instead, he was less a creator and solidified the role of connecting the lines. He was much stronger defensively than people gave him credit for and had the vision to play the killer ball.Dave Dir
Richard Mulrooney – 2005 to 2006. With a 13-year MLS career – including three MLS Cup – Mulrooney’s time in Dallas is just a blip. Drafted by San Jose, Mulrooney was traded to Dallas along with Arturo Alvarez for Brad Davis.
Mulrooney was part of a very good 2005 FC Dallas side but blew out his knee during the season. Returning in 2006, he was a commissioner’s pick for the 2006 MLS All-Star game and won the MLS Comeback Player of the Year award that season. All total, Mulrooney played 32 games in Dallas with 3 goals and 11 assists.
Richard’s short career [in Dallas] with injury makes his impact very underrated for me. I thought his 2006 season with 9 assists was one of the best ever in Dallas.Dave Dir
Paxton Pomykal – 2016 to Current. I was frankly surprised to see Pomykal’s named pop up on our list. Certainly a skilled and exciting young player, I expect him to be a great 8 someday, I just don’t think he’s there yet.
Certainly. Pomykal’s a terrific talent, a quality dribbler who’s willing to take players on, and a tenacious hard worker. Some of our panelists clearly feel Pomykal is already a complete two-way player even if I don’t.
The 15th Homegrown player in franchise history, Pomykal signed in 2016 after winning two DA Championships and a Dallas Cup Super Group title. Paxton finally broke into the lineup in 2019 and has played 35 games total in Dallas with 23 starts, 3 goals, and 5 assists. A US Youth International, Pomykal earned his first senior cap in 2019.
Obviously, the bulk of his career is still to come. Could he someday top this list?
Man, I hate recency bias so much, but I look at the linking midfielders that this club has had over the past 25 years, and I have a hard time saying that any of them are head and shoulders above Pax, and when you consider what he represents and you look at his age, and it’s hard to pick anyone else.Dustin Christmann
Eric Alexander – 2010 to 2011, 2019. Drafted out of Indiana by FC Dallas in the 3rd round of 2010, Alexander spent only 3 seasons of his 13-year MLS career in Dallas – although he did not make in appearance in his final 2019 return season.
A solid two-way player who was better than the sum of his parts, Alexander was a fan favorite in Dallas during the 2010 MLS Cup run and finished with 39 games, 28 starts, 2 goals, and 3 assists over his two season in hoops.
He was traded to the Portland Timbers in August 2011 for Jeremy Hall despite the fact just 10 months earlier he had been protected over Dax McCarty in the expansion draft. He went on to play for the Red Bulls, Impact, Dynamo, and FC Cincinnati.
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Alexander was so strong as part of the stable of midfielders during the run to MLS Cup that FC Dallas was willing to let go of McCarty. Remarkably calm on the ball. Great at maintaining possession with a short passing game. Very effective when pushing forward on the attack.Chamo Jones
Andrew Jacobson – 2011 to 2014. A sometimes futsal player, Jacobson went to France to play for Lorient after coming out of Cal as a senior in 2007. Back in MLS, he played for DC United (2009) and Philadelphia Union (2010) before being traded to FCD prior to the 2011 season for a 2nd round pick.
98 games and 85 starts over three and a half seasons in Dallas with 5 goals and 7 assists, 132 fouls committed, 110 fouls suffered, and 14 cautions. Jacobson led FCD in assists in 2011 with 5.
Jacobson was traded to NYCFC in July of 2014 and wrapped up his career with the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2016-2017.
Very much a typical worker, Jacobson was never really flashy, but he helped be the glue in the middle of the field.Kevin Lindstrom
The FCD Academy Pipeline
There’s been an explosion of linking mid talent coming out of the Academy in the last few years. Kellyn Acosta, Weston McKennie, Chris Cappis, Paxton Pomykal, Brandon Servania, and Tanner Tessmann to name a few.
You could arguably put Thomas Roberts and Alex Zendejas on this list as well. Plus you could include North Texas guys like David Rodriguez, Imanol Almaguer, and Gibran Rayo – although they are all three hybrids – as well as a chunk of names coming out of the Academy in the next few years like Cesar Garcia.
It’s honestly ridiculous.