This article was written in 2017 as part of the 20th birthday celebration for 3rd Degree. It has received some light editing – mostly for format and pictures – upon moving to the new site.
Given there’s just not enough controversy and emotional discussion happening in the world, we thought our next 3rd Degree 20th Birthday Celebration post should be on something that could raise some heated discourse: FC Dallas All-Time Best XI. (Thanks @Crooke86 for the suggestion)
As a starting point, rather than just whip up my own FCD Best XI, I solicited some help. Joining me in making this Best XI are Peter Welpton (@peet2) and Andy Swift (@realswiftandy). Peter has been writing for and helping edit this blog since the very early days. Andy is, of course, the ex-general manager of the Dallas Burn and current Executive Director of the Dallas Cup. Both these fine gentlemen can be heard on The KickAround on the Ticket (@TheKickAround). By the way, you can find old episodes of The KickAround here.
So special thanks to Peter and Andy for lending a hand.
First, we had to answer two questions: which formation we would use and what for us makes a Best XI player?
The answer to the latter was easier: skill, talent, stats, trophies, records, awards, impact, and longevity with the club. We are not including what the player did somewhere else (a.k.a. the Hugo Sanchez rule). This is only about what players did in an FCD and Burn uniform.
The former question was a bit tougher. We thought about just making a list of the best eleven players regardless of position, but that would lead to some serious positional imbalance.
I first proposed a 4-4-2 as it would have provided the most positional balance and it is a shape that has been used quite frequently by the franchise. But in our discussion we concluded outside back was a problem area. FCD as a franchise has used a whole lot of converted mids and forwards as outside backs. While many of them were serviceable, it seemed to make our Best XI a bit wonky. Would a 4-4-2 really give us the best eleven players to wear the hoops?
In the end, we decided on a 3-5-2. The 3-5-2 was used extensively by Dave Dir in the early years and it still pops up now and again… but more importantly, it solved our biggest issue in central midfield. You’ll see it down below.
So without further ado, presenting…
3rd Degree’s All-Time FC Dallas / Dallas Burn Franchise Best XI
Let’s start at the front.
Off Forward – Jason Kreis
1996 – 2004 The first guy all three of us wrote down and our choice as the best player in club history. Scored the first goal in club history (and in Real Salt Lake history too). 1999 MLS MVP, he was the first American born player to win MLS MVP. First 15 goal/15 assist season in MLS history that same year. First MLS Golden Boot in franchise history, also in 1999. Seven-time MLS All-Star. 5-Time franchise Golden Boot winner and 2-time franchise MVP. Led the franchise in goals five seasons and assists three seasons.
In 2017 he was still the franchise record holder for games (247), starts (227), Minutes (20,290), corners (207), goals (91), game-winning goals (28), assists (65), game-winning assists (tied 19), multi-goal games (10), shots (686), and shots on goal (313).
With 91 goals, Kreis is ahead of the #2 all-time franchise scorer, Kenny Cooper, by 45 goals. That’s almost more goals than anyone else has scored in franchise history (Cooper has 46). He’s also 18 assists ahead of the #2 assist man, Oscar Pareja. Kreis still holds the single-season records for goals (tied 18) and assists (15) from that remarkable ’99 season. Currently still 6th on the All-Time Career MLS Goals chart with 108 (17 with RSL + 91 in Dallas). All that taking just 6 PKs, Zarco Rodriguez (7) and Damian (5) took lots of PKs for the Burn back then, just to name two.
Kreis quickly established himself as the go-to off-striker in coach Dave Dir’s primary 3-5-2 system. JK9 loved to play combinations and work with another striker. A good shooter from range, and a masterful free-kick taker, Kreis was also a scrappy goal poacher in the box. He was a terrific passer as well, playing with good field vision. Kreis piled up assists as well as goals during his time in Dallas.
Target Striker – Blas Perez
Note: The target striker was a really difficult choice. We had five prime contenders and two additional strong options, but in the end, we went with the eye test and chose…
2012-2015 Over four seasons in Dallas, Perez notched 36 goals for 3rd in FCD history (7 game-winners) with only 2 PKs and added 14 assists in only 97 games, 78 of them starts. Remarkably consistent with high goal output, he was FCD’s Golden Boot winner for 3 straight seasons with 9, 11, and 11 goals.
Blas was the prototypical high striker, operating in the center channel and frequently pulling double teams. He was also a dominant physical presence and a nuisance; annoying defenders, drawing both fouls and cards and generally making life hard for the opposition.
Honorable Mention Forwards: Kenny Cooper, Jeff Cunningham, Ariel Graziani, Eddie Johnson, Carlos Ruiz, and Dante Washington.
Left Mid/Wing – Fabian Castillo
2011-2016 Six seasons with Los Toros, 159 regular-season games (6th), 139 starts (8th). 34 goals (7th), 9 game-winners (tied 5th), and 30 assists (tied 6th with Chad Deering). Team MVP in ’15 and ’16, team Golden Boot winner in ’15. 2015 MLS All-Star and MLS Best XI.
A dynamic, game-changing type player who put back lines under stress. In 2015 he was arguably an MLS MVP candidate, leading FCD in scoring with 9 goals and 9 assists. The current FCD side hasn’t quite been the same since he left.
Honorable Mention Left Mid/Wing: Brad Davis, Brek Shea, and Mark Santel
Attacking Mid – David Ferreira
2009-2013 Five seasons with FC Dallas, 113 games, 108 starts, 24 goals, and 39 assists even while missing most of 2011 after breaking an ankle. 2010 MLS MVP (and MLS Best XI) with 8 goals and 13 assists leading Dallas to the MLS Cup Final. 2-time franchise MVP in ’10 and ’12. Led FCD in assists in 3 of his 5 years, missing out his first year when he finished with 7 (behind Dave van den Bergh’s 11) and in the ill-fated 2011 season. His 39 assists sit 3rd on the franchise all-time assist list behind Kreis and the next player in our XI.
He was constantly hunted by MLS defenders, ranking 3rd in the franchise fouls suffered board with 290, but was tough and gritty so he rarely missed games, broken ankle aside. Known to break defenses with the ball at his feet or with the pass, he could fight off most defenders with his bulldog strength.
Linking Mid – Oscar Pareja
1998-2005 The soul of the team and clubhouse leader for his 8-year career in Dallas. He played attacking, linking, and defensive mid in his time as a player. MLS Best XI in 2002, club MVP in 2001 and 2002. He still ranks quite high in many FCD stat categories: 4th in games (176), 4th in starts (144), 7th in minutes (12,543), 2nd in assists (47), 1st in fouls suffered (365), tied 1st game-winning assists (19), 4th in assists per game (.27).
An intelligent player, gifted at controlling the pace of play and baiting opponents into fouls. A tireless two-way player, Papi (his nickname even then) was capable of the game-changing pass or tackle.
As a coach, he’s arguably the most successful in franchise history.
Holding Mid – Leonel Alvarez
1996, 1998-1999 Despite only playing three seasons with Dallas, Alvarez’s presence and leadership influenced the franchise for over a decade. Kreis talked about Alvarez in a FourFourTwo interview, “From my point of view, the best player and probably the one I learned the most from in my entire career was Leonel Alvarez. It was massive to be able to play alongside him.”
Ted Eck respected Alvarez so much he changed his number from 12 to 14 to honor Leonel when he left in ’97, then to 41 when Leo came back in ’98 so Alvarez could have it back, then back to 14 again when Alvarez left for the final time after the ’99 season.
Leo was 1996 MLS Best XI and you could argue he should have been MLS MVP that year. A 2-time MLS All-Star in ’96 and ’98. Alvarez used to run extra training sessions for the defense or midfield in the afternoons after the squad had normal practice in the mornings. According to Brian Haynes, Alvarez would sometimes have the 5-man Burn midfield scrimmage against 11-man local Hispanic sides; full games 5 versus 11.
Honorable Mention Central Mid: Kellyn Acosta, Chad Deering, Mauro Diaz, Carlos Gruezo, Daniel Hernandez, Pablo Richetti, Alain Sutter, Juan Toja, and Simo Valakari.
Right Mid/Wing – Ronnie O’Brien
2002-2006 The last pure crosser FC Dallas had and arguably the best. MLS Best XI in 2004 and MLS All-Star in 2004, 2005, and 2006 leading FCD in assists each of those seasons. Franchise MVP in 2005. After playing 11 games for the Burn in 2002 following his transfer from Juventus mid-season, the club had high expectations for O’Brien in 2003 but that was derailed when Dema Kovalenko broke ROB’s tibia 3 games into the Southlake debacle.
With three excellent final seasons in Dallas, O’Brien ranks 4th in franchise history for assists with 35 and 4th in game-winning assists with 9. A terrific long-range passer and switcher of the ball, O’Brien also liked to shoot from deep. He’s somewhat surprisingly ranked 4th in FCD history with 244 shots and 3rd with 106 shots on goal, netting 12 times as a result. 101 regular-season games and 90 starts in his FCD career.
Honorable Mention Right Mid: Michael Barrios, Marvin Chavez, and Joselito Vaca
Left Defender – “Zarco” Rodriguez
1997-2002 Holding midfielder, wing back, marking back, outside back, center back, and sweeper, Jorge “El Zarco” Rodriguez just about did it all. He played six seasons for Dallas relishing the chances to get forward scoring 25 goals (8th in FCD history), with 18 assists (10th), in 155 games (8th) and 140 starts (7th).
Zarco is one of the unsung heroes of the Burn being named franchise Defender of the Year 3 times (’98, ’00, ’01) but never being named an MLS All-Star. He was, and probably still is, a massive fan favorite.
Center Defender – Matt Hedges
2012-Current The cornerstone of the current squad and one of its captains, Hedges is as valuable in the locker room as he is on the field. 2016 MLS Defender of the Year, the only winner of that award in club history, and 2-time MLS Best XI in ’15 and ’16. 3-time franchise defender of the year on ’14, ’15, and ’16.
In 6 seasons Hedges has been an impeccable defender and leader for this team. Hedges has made 177 appearances for FCD (3rd), 170 starts (2nd), and played 15,039 minutes (2nd); and he’s done it fairly cleanly with only 22 cautions, that’s 9th in the franchise despite all the games. He’s also dangerous on the offensive end having scored 13 goals, mostly with his head on set pieces.
Note: In 2019 Hedges passed Jason Kreis for the franchise records in starts and minutes played. He now sits on 236 regular-season starts and 20,848 minutes played. Hedges, with 243 games played should pass Kreis’ record 247 early in 2020.
Right Defender – Drew Moor
2005-2009 Legend has it, Drew Moor was 12 years old when he attended the first-ever Dallas Burn game at the Cotton Bowl in 1996. By the time high school rolled around, he was popping up in FC Dallas training. Moor made 123 appearances and 111 starts for FC Dallas over 5 seasons as a right-back or center back before being traded to Colorado in 2009 for Ugo Ihemelu.
A fan favorite in Dallas for his work rate and reliability, losing him was a blow to the franchise. It wasn’t a coincidence he wore the club’s iconic #14 in his time in Dallas.
Honorable Mention Defender: Jair Benitez, Eric Dade, Chris Gbandi, Clarence Goodson, George John, Zach Loyd, Richard Farrer, and Diego Sonora.
Goalkeeper – Mark Dodd
1996-1999 The franchise’s first and best keeper, Dodd played for Dave Dir with the Colorado Foxes before MLS was founded and was brought to the Burn by Dir at league launch. In 1996, Dodd was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and MLS Best XI. An MLS All-Star and franchise Defender of the Year in both ’96 and ’97. Played for the Burn from 1996 to 1999 making 92 appearances and 88 starts in the regular season. Dodd remains the franchise leader in saves (495) and save percentage (72%).
Perhaps his finest moment came in the 1997 US Open Cup Final against DC United, when a few days after his mother had passed in a car accident, Dodd stood on his head to help the Burn win their first piece of silverware. Unfortunately, Dodd’s career was cut a bit short when he tore ligaments in his right hand during the ’99 season.
Honorable Mention Goalkeeper: Kevin Hartman, Matt Jordan, Dario Sala, and Jesse Gonzalez