FC Dallas 25th Season Top 5 All-Time Rankings – Most Underrated

As we continue to celebrate the 25th season of FC Dallas, we’re on to Part XIX of our top 5.

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 XIX we’re talking about players who were slighted by fans, media, or even their coaches. Guys who didn’t get their due.

Special thanks for participating in this underrated ranking:
Dustin “El Jefe” Christmann – FCD’s 1st Fan, founder of the Inferno, former 3rd Degree writer
Steve Davis – The Dean of Dallas soccer writers and current FCD color commentator
Dave Dir – The Burn’s 1st coach, former color commentator
Chamo Jones – former 3rd Degree writer
Kevin Lindstrom – 3rd Degree writer since 2000
Damian Wright – former 3rd Degree writer

What makes someone “underrated” is kind of subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all.  As a result, the voting in this category was by far the most varied of our rankings.  17 players got 1 vote each, none of them make the list. The guys who did make it got 2 or 3 votes each and that was enough in this top 5 to rank.

Even our winner had just one first-place vote, he tops the list by having two other votes higher than anyone else. The entire Top 5 were very tightly bunched in particular with #1 through #3 bunched and then #4 through honorable mention just a skosh below.

Top 5 FC Dallas Most Underrated

5. Tesho Akindele – 2014 to 2018

7 June 2014 – FC Dallas forward Tesho Akindele (#13) controls the ball in front of Colorado Rapids midfielder Jose Mari (#6) and defender Drew Moor (#3) during the MLS game between FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. FC Dallas won the game 3-2. (Matt Visinsky, 3rd Degree)

Our number five most underrated player came in at number four on our Off-Striker rankings.  Drafted by Oscar Pareja in 2014, Akindele was a big contributor off the bench and spot starter during his time in Dallas.  While he never grabbed a full-time starting spot, his value to the team is often overlooked.

Akindele scored 24 goals and 8 assists in 133 games but made only 67 starts.  He’s 1 of only 7 players in club history with a hat trick and has the 2nd highest scoring percentage in club history with a 19.4% goals/shots ratio. He was a big part of the 2016 Double-Winning team.

Being named MLS Rookie of the Year in 2014 is certainly a big recognition, but Akindele was mostly ignored both nationally – and by many people locally – after that. 

His numbers in five seasons in Dallas were solid, but not outstanding, but considering his versatility, studious ways, locker room demeanor and – a big one here – his tendency to hit important goals, he’s on my underrated list. Just think how many times manager Oscar Pareja, during his years in Dallas, trusted Akindele in any number of positions as a 2nd-half sub. 

Steve Davis

4. Jorge “Zarco” Rodriguez – 1997 to 2002

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Zarco, as he was known in these parts, landed at no. 8 in our center back rankings (it was a Top 10 rather than 5), no. 5 in our right back rankings, and no. 2 in our utility rankings. Plus he received votes in the holding mid, left back, and off-field impact categories.  So certainly, among our committee at least, there is a lot of recognition of what an amazingly versatile player and top-notch leader he was.

Rodriguez was a massive part of Dave Dir’s teams.  A fantastic leader and tireless worker, Coach Dir could count on Zarco to start in any position in the back half of the field. Rodriguez would fill in and close a close a different gap each season. And he almost always did it at an All-Star level.

In Dallas we knew his value: 1998 Burn MVP and 3-time Burn Defender of the Year (1998, 2000, 2001). But zero MLS All-Star nods or MLS Best XIs in an era with a lot fewer teams in the league is a slap in the face for a player of this caliber.

Zarco played 116 games for the burn in 4 positions. He was one of the most versatile players in club history. His ability to perform at a high level in multiple roles made him a team and fan favorite but I always felt it made people underestimate his abilities outside of the local market. 

Dave Dir

3. Atiba Harris – 2009 to 2010 and 2015 to 2017

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Harris had two stints with FCD. The first time as a striker/winger under Schellas Hyndman and the second time as a right back under Oscar Pareja. Harris made honorable mention in our right back list and tied for 5th in our right wing/mid list.  Since leaving FCD he’s been a center back (and captain) for OKC Energy.

41 games and 40 starts as a forward from 2009 to 2010 with 6 goals.  84 games and 63 starts with 5 goals form the right back position between 2015 and 2017.

Forget about national recognition, Harris doesn’t even get the local recognition he probably deserves, even from me. In doing this series, I have come with hindsight to value Harris more than I did when he was a player.

Harris gave the team a level of physicality that was sorely needed. An enforcer that always made sure to let the opponent know that if they wanted to get physical, they were going to get hurt. 

Chamo Jones

2. Michael Barrios – 2015 to Current

Michael Barrios hits a striker against San Jose Earthquakes, May 20, 2017. (Matt Visinsky, 3rd Degree)

You would think the number one right wing/mid in club history and one of the best players for the franchise of the last few years wouldn’t be underrated. And in a way you would be right as he’s not underrated, he’s criminally underrated.

Since 2015, Barrios has made 139 starts and played in 160 regular-season games with an amazing 30 goals (7th best in franchise history) and 39 assists (4th best). Just last season he tied the franchise single-season assist record.  11 game-winning assists (5th), 0.25 assists/game (7th), and 0.29 assists/90 minutes (6th) are also spectacular stats.  And he’s pretty much always healthy, plays a crap ton of minutes, and is just about unreplaceable in the lineup.

And yet, he’s got a lone 2017 FCD MVP to show for it.  Again, zero All-Star nods and zero MLS Best XIs. In fact, you rarely hear about him getting love in the national media or larger soccer fandom at all.

Is it the language thing? Cause it’s amazing how disrespected Barrios is.

Seems odd, perhaps, to say a guy who will probably finish as the club’s 2nd all-time assist leader is “underrated,” but here we are. The speedy winger just never quite seems to get his full due, especially for someone who has been such a consistent attacking threat over 5+ seasons.

Steve Davis

1. Richard Mulrooney – 2005 to 2006

Richard Mulrooney chats with FC Dallas assistant coaches Steve Morrow (back to camera) and Marco Ferruzzi. (Jason Gulledge, 3rd Degree

And number one on our list, the 2006 MLS Comeback Player of the Year – Richard Mulrooney. 

Mulrooney was part of a very good 2005 FC Dallas side but blew out his knee during the season.  If not for his loss – a large contributor to the 2nd half of the season fall off (10-2-3 first half, 3-8-6 second half) – that 2005 team would have had a legit chance at a serious run. Returning in 2006, Mulrooney was a huge part of the Colin Clarke’s wire-to-wire first place side but still had to be named a commissioner’s pick for the 2006 MLS All-Star game.

And yet, Mulrooney hardly ever gets talked about in these parts in terms of the best players to come through Dallas. Heck, he was only an honorable mention in our Linking Mid Top 5 (he received top 5 votes as an attacking mid and holding mid as well).

Perhaps the 2 seasons he was in Dallas wasn’t enough? All he did was win 2 MLS Cups with San Jose (2001, 2003) before joining Dallas and another one with the Houston Dynamo in 2007 the season he left FCD.

After Clarke was fired, Steve Morrow and Michael Hitchcock traded Mulrooney to Toronto for a partial allocation and the #2 overall pick in the 2008 SuperDraft pick (Brek Shea).  Not that Shea wasn’t a good player or anything.  

Mulrooney is currently the men’s soccer head coach at the University of Memphis.

Mulrooney came here to FCD from the San Jose Earthquakes, where he was the holding midfield for the 2001 and 2003 MLS Cup winners, he was the midfield engine of what was, at the time, the best team in Burn/FCD history, the 2006 team. He was traded to Toronto, then Houston, where he won another MLS Cup in 2007. He was pretty good.

Dustin Christmann

Honorable Mention

Jair Benitez – 2009 to 2014.  Benitez was our number one ranked left back. So I think it’s clear we local media rate him, but nationally he was way under the radar.  Over 5 seasons, he played 153 games for Dallas as a terrific, modern, two-way player from the left back spot for some of the best defensive teams in club history.  He still ranks in the top 10 for the club in 5 categories.

But despite that, Benitez was never named an MLS All-Star nor an MLS Best XI. In fact, during his time he was never even named FC Dallas Defender of the Year. Dario Sala (2009), Kevin Harman (2010, 2011, 2012), and Matt Hedges (2014) took home those awards instead.

People give him a hard time because he wasn’t a consistent assist producer on offense, but his speed allowed him to engage on offense and still for the most part do what he needed to do on defense.

Kevin Lindstrom
24 August 2013 – FC Dallas defender Jair Benitez (#5) reacts after missing the target on a shot during the MLS game between FC Dallas and the San Jose Earthquakes at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, Texas. The game ended in a 2-2 tie. (Matt Visinsky, 3rd Degree)

Heath Pearce – 2009 to 2010.  Coming back to MLS from a solid career in Europe, Pearce was a massive part of the two year build up and run to the 2010 MLS Cup under Schellas Hyndman.

During his time with FCD, Pearce played at a high level all over the back half of the formation in a Zarco Rodriguez type manner.  He was also an out spoken leader of the team both in the locker room and in the media.

Perhaps the person that most underrated Pearce was Coach Hyndman. Hyndman traded – or allowed Barry Gorman to trade – Pearce following the 2010 MLS Cup for either Pearce’s public chatter (the club made him shut down his twitter account) or because of the back and forth on whether Pearce was healthy and available or not, depending on who you ask.

Even though he was a left back, he had 10+ assists as a right back. No one else even close. 

Damian Wright
Heath Pearce prior to facing DC United, May 8, 2010. (Matt Visinsky, 3rd Degree)

What’s Next?

The best of the best.  The Top 5 players in franchise history.

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