FC Dallas 25th season top 5 all-time players – high strikers

As we continue to celebrate the 25th season of FC Dallas, we’re on to Part XI 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 XI we move to our final position, High Strikers.  The 9s.

Special thanks for participating in this high-striker 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

High striker was the most competitive position in our rankings with 4 different players getting #1 votes which I feel strongly is indicative of the quality of 9s that the club has had.  These are the best goal scoring studs in club history. 

Those 4 high strikers also had the tightest vote spread, I think, of any ranking as well.  None of them were unanimous among our 9 voters but all 4 got a large number of votes compared to our 5th place winner and down.

Top 5 FC Dallas High Strikers of All-Time

5. Eddie Johnson – 2001 to 2005

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Johnson got an honorable mention as an off-striker, which shows his versatility, but it’s as a 9 he played his best soccer for the Burn. I did talk about him a fair bit in the off-striker rankings so I’ll hit a few things again here.

Johnson was one of the youngest players to ever sign with MLS and was quite honestly in need of seasoning and experience in an Academy or lower division team.  Johnson instead had to do it the hard way by training with a pro team until he could force his way into the side.  Over his first two seasons he played in 21 games but only made 3 starts with just 4 goals for his efforts.

The breakout began in 2003 at the age of 19 when he started to mature on and off the field.  22 games, 13 starts, and 3 goals matched his first two seasons combined and led to the 2004 explosion when he led the Burn in scoring (12 goals, 3 assists) while playing alongside Jason Kreis or Toni Nhleko.

The arrival of another player on this list hampered Johnson’s playing time in 2005 – just 15 games with 5 goals – and after the season he was traded to Kansas City. 

Johnson has 63 caps with the US of A.

Supremely talented but immature in his years in North Texas. Also, he was far from the finished product while in Dallas Burn colors. But, again, size, speed, and talent mean a lot – and a lot of people forget MLS was once offered $6 million for Johnson. That’s a LOT of Garber Bucks! 

Steve Davis

4. Blas Perez – 2012 to 2015

4 May 2014 – FC Dallas forward Blas Perez (#7) controls the ball in front of New York Red Bulls defender Kosuke Kimura (#27) during the MLS game between FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. New York won the game 1-0. (Matt Visinsky, 3rd Degree)

Despite the fact he preferred the number 7 to honor his father, Perez is the purest #9 in franchise history.  Big and strong, he was the proverbial post up, back to goal, power striker.

For 3-straight seasons (2012 to 2014) he led FCD in scoring before starting to slow in 2015 at the age of 34. Final numbers in Dallas: 97 games, 78 starts, 36 goals (3rd most in franchise history), 14 assists, and 5 red cards (tied FCD all-time lead with Leonel Alvarez).  He still has the 3rd highest scoring percentage (shots/goals) in club history at 18.3%.

Perez had a really impressive career with 232 goals in 556 games while playing for 20 different club including Nacional, Deportivo Cali, Tigres, Pachuca, and Municipal.  He’s been capped 122 times by Panama with 43 international goals.

After 2015 Dallas traded him to the Vancouver Whitecaps for Mauro Rosales.

Blas Perez was the resurrection of the target in Dallas for me. Strong on the ball with incredible fight he was the kind of target striker teams hated to play against. While his goal per game rate was not high he was able to hold the ball like no other and allowed Dallas to use their pace in an era of the counter-attacking style.

Dave Dir

3. Jeff Cunningham – 2008 to 2010

9 Jeff Cunningham bulls past a DC United defender, September 13, 2008. (Rags Gardner, RII)

Cunningham was 31 with 99 MLS goals by the time he joined FC Dallas in 2008 for the price of a 3rd round pick but he still had a couple good goal scoring seasons in him.  An over the top type 9, Cunningham’s style fit well with Schellas Hyndman’s direct, physical, and athletic system.

After a few poor seasons in Salt Lake and Toronto, 2008 saw Cunningham start slowly for FCD with 5 goals in 11 games, all starts, but that will still the most goals he’d had in 4 seasons.  

But then came 2009. With the arrival of David Ferreira and Dave van den Bergh in Dallas, Cunningham exploded with 17 goals winning the MLS Golden Boot for only the 2nd time in club history (amazing what good service will do eh?).  Tack on 8 assists by Cunningham and you have one of the best single seasons in club history, perhaps 2nd only to Jason Kreis’ 1999.  

Cunningham was named MLS Best XI (13th in club history), MLS Player of the Month for September (1 of 6 players to win PotM in club history), and FC Dallas MVP.

In 2010, as age was catching up, Cunningham still led FCD in scoring with 11 goals in just 13 starts although he did have 14 sub appearances too.  It makes one wonder if the 2010 MLS Cup might have gone differently if Cunningham had started.

After 2010, FCD passed on bringing Cunningham back and he returned to the Crew but never regained his elite goal scoring form.  He last played for the San Antonio Scorpions in in 2012.

His final FC Dallas numbers are 66 games, 47 starts, 33 goals (5th in club history), and 11 assists.  As a fun side note, he’s the oldest player with a hat trick in club history.

Cunningham also holds the FCD record for goals in a game with 4 against Sporting KC on August 1st, 2009. He’s still 4th in game-winning goals (10), 3rd in multi-goal games (7), 1st in goals per 90 minutes (0.69), and 1st in scoring percentage (21.6%)… That last stat makes him the best finisher in franchise history.

Cunningham has been capped 14 times by the US and once by Jamaica.

One of the most prolific scorers in club history with several multi-goal games including the one time he scored 4 against Kansas City. I remember his machine gun celebration when FC Dallas hung half a dozen goals on the Galaxy at their house the year before the team made its cup run. A preview of what was to come. Had he put away his chance towards the end of overtime in MLS Cup, he could have been #1 on this list. 

Chamo Jones

2. Ariel Graziani – 1999 to 2001

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Like another famous FC Dallas striker, Graziani started his career at Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina where he was actually a teammate of Diego Maradona.

By the time he joined MLS for just under $2 million in 1999 he was already a big time striker. After just three games with the Revs, Graziani was traded to the Burn for Leonel Alvarez.

After scoring 4 goals in 8 games at the end of the ’99 season, Graziani went on an amazing playoff tear with 5 goals in 6 games.  Over the next two seasons he flourished in partnership with Jason Kreis as the high 9 to Kreis’ off-striker runs; scoring 15 goals with 3 assists in 2000 (Burn MVP) and 11 goals with 8 assists in 2001 (Burn Golden Boot). 

Graziani was impressively accurate shooter and to this day has the end best shot to shot-on-goal ration in club history with 53.9%.

After the 2001 season, the Burn traded Graziani to San Jose for Ronald Cerritos and all Graziani did was lead the Quakes in scoring with 14 goals and 5 assists.  SJ too dumped him as he didn’t combine well with Landon Donovan.

Despite being born in Argentina, Graziani has 34 caps with 15 goals for Ecuador.

Throughout his career, Graziani has always been very difficult to manage and coach.  The two and a quarter seasons in Dallas are actually the longest single stint with one team in his career as he wears out his welcome so quickly.

According to Wikipedia, Graziani is the vice-mayor of a small town called Empalme Villa Constitución in Argentina.

If you’re going to trade the single most consequential player in your team’s young history, you’d better be getting something good. And the Burn did when they traded Leonel Álvarez for him in mid-1999. Not only did Graziani give an immediate scoring boost to a team who was starting to founder because every other team in the league had started focusing on marking up Jason Kreis, but he knocked in double-digit goals in 2000 and 2001 and combined with Kreis to make for a scoring tandem that this team has not seen since.  

Dustin Christmann

1. Carlos Ruiz – 2005 to 2007, 2016

Carlos Ruiz scores the MLS Goal of the Decade against DC United, May 28, 2005. (Courtesy Tony Quinn)

El Pescadito, or Fish, ‘cause, you know, he flops all over the place… joined LA Galaxy back in 2002 after starting his career with Municipal in Guatemala.  Seasons of 24, 14, and 11 goals followed.  Ruiz was the 2002 MLS MVP and a two-time Golden Boot winner. He was also the kind of player everyone hates to play against.

But then in 2005, Landon Donovan wanted to come back to MLS and the Galaxy were forced into a trade with Dallas to obtain the #1 Allocation ranking and the Texas club took Fish in payment.  (Credit to Colin Clarke for digging his heels in and demanding Ruiz).

Over the next three seasons, Ruiz scored 31 goals in 68 games (62 starts) with 9 assists.  In that time, Ruiz took home three FCD Golden Boots and two MLS Player of the Month awards (1 of 6 players to earn a PotM in franchise history).  He also won the MLS Goal of the Decade award for his bike against DC United in 2005. He was named an MLS All-Star in 2005 and 2006.

After 2007, Ruiz basically held out for a trade back to the LA Galaxy and got his wish moving back in January 2008 for cash and a pick.  

After bouncing around with 8 different clubs following his 2nd stint in LA, Ruiz re-signed with FCD on the 2016 roster freeze date, his 37th birthday. Ruiz scored his 32nd and final FC Dallas goal – and the final goal of his career – on October 16th, 2016, in a 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders in the penultimate game of the season.  

Those 32 goals still rank 6th in franchise history.  He’s also tied for 5th in multi-goals games with 5 (with Graziani and Perez), ranks 3rd in goals per 90 minutes with 0.53, and stands 4th in scoring percentage with 18.1%.

Ruiz has played 133 times for Guatemala with 68 goals. 

Carlos ‘El Pescadito’ Ruiz had already proven himself in MLS and scored enough goals in Los Angeles to establish himself as one of the best forwards MLS has ever had.  He controlled the game and scored goals in the smallest of spaces. FCD fans were fortunate to see his last professional goal against Seattle in 2016. 

Carlos Alvarado

Honorable Mention

Dante Washington – 1996 to 1999. After his college playing days at Radford, Washington began his pro career indoor with the Washington Warthogs in 1994 and 1995. He signed in MLS with the Crew partway through 1996 but was traded to the Burn after just 3 games for the rights to Brad Friedel.  (Wait, what?)

Washington was just what the Burn needed, a striker to run the high line. After 6 games (2 starts) and 1 goal in 1996, Washington became a full-time starter in 1997 and led the team in scoring with 12 goals and 6 assists.  He was twice the MLS Player of the Week and was named an MLS All-Star.

After a solid 1998 (28 games, 21 starts, 7 goals, and 5 assists), Washington began to lose PT in 1999 (21 games, 10 starts, 4 goals, and 4 assists).  After Graziani arrived at the end of ’99, Washington was traded back to the Crew for a pick. He became a stalwart for the Crew over the next three seasons.

During his time in Dallas, Washington notched 24 goals in total with 15 assists in 85 games with 58 starts. He has 1 of 7 hat tricks in FCD history, is tied for 8th in multi-goal games, has the 6th best goals per 90 rate at 0.41, and has an impressive 3rd best shot to shot-on-goal rate with 53.6% (just .3% behind Graziani).

Talented, tough and brave in the box. And about the best teammate anyone could ask for.

Steve Davis
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Kenny Cooper, Jason Kries, and Maxi UrrutiThe Off-Strikers who sometimes played as a 9

All three of these guys were asked to play for the club as a 9 despite not really being one. They all three were good enough to get votes in this #9 rankings but none got enough to make the Top 5. 

Kreis specifically got two #1 overall votes here – which should reinforce for you how good he was – but didn’t get enough votes overall.  I’m sure if we had combined the striker roles he would have finished #1.

These three men were the top three choices in our Off-Striker Ranking so I’m not going to dive into them again here.  Their presence on this list as honorable mentions is a strong indicator of their quality even if slightly out of position.

One Season Wonder

Hugo Sanchez – 1996. If you have ever wondered who the best player to ever play for FC Dallas is when taking into consideration their entire career, the answer is Hugo Sanchez. 

And it’s not even close. It’s not even country mile close. It’s maybe an ocean close.

Sanchez is the greatest Mexican player of all time and Concacaf Player of the Century. 

At his peak with Real Madrid (283 games, 208 goals) Sanchez won 5 straight league titles, a Copa del Rey, a UEFA Cup, and 5 overall Pichichis (top scorer) including 4 in a row making him the only player to do so in Spanish history without sharing the award.

Sanchez started his career at 18 with Pumas (188 games, 97 goals) and also played for San Diego Sockers (32 & 26), and Atletico Madrid (111 & 54).  In his later years he played for Club America, Rayo Vallecano, Atlante, and Linz before coming to the Dallas Burn at the age of 37 where he proceeded to score 6 goals in 23 games.

Sanchez played 58 times for Mexico and was part of three World Cups (‘78, ‘86, and ‘94). If Mexico hadn’t missed the World Cup in ‘82 and ‘90 he would have played in five.

This list would be truly incomplete without Pentapichchi. Although he was a walking example of the stereotype of  MLS’ signing of over-the-hill players for ethnic reasons, a stereotype that occasionally and unfairly gets rolled out 25 years later, he was definitely a player that got people’s attention and sold tickets in that first year. I was at D/FW Airport when he arrived in May after his season in Austria and in those days before 9/11 where anyone could go right to the gate, the scene at the gate was a madhouse. I’m sure that his fellow passengers who disembarked before him were wondering what was going on.

Dustin Christmann
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What’s Next?

Now you might think we’ve just about covered our bases and if you mean in an individual position sense you would be right.  But these Top 5s have been fun and I’ve come up with a few more things to rank. 

So what’s next?

Head coaches.  The gaffers, the managers… that’s what’s next.

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