With one week to go until the regular season, it’s time to dip our toe into forecasting the team’s fortunes for 2020. In that vein, I see 5 big questions that will have the biggest impact on the quality of the FCD season… Good or Bad.
Let’s dig in.
Progression of Youth?
We all know by now the mantra around FC Dallas is the Academy and youth progression into the first team. For 2020, this progression is twofold and will be the biggest factor impacting this season and beyond.
Factor 1 – How much better can the youth stars get? The players who are already the core of this team: Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira, Reggie Cannon, and Brandon Servania.
Their individual and collective progression – they are all far from their career peaks and should progress for many years to come – will be the single biggest factor in the rise of this franchise over this season and the next several to come.
I’m actually really excited for this one, we could be witness to something special over the next few seasons. And hopefully this season.
Factor 2 – Who’s next? The youth movement here isn’t just four players after all. Which young player is the next breakout star? Striker Ricardo Pepi, attacking-mid Thomas Roberts, defensive-mid Edwin Cerrillo, outside back Bryan Reynolds, or winger Dante Sealy?
Or is it someone yet unsigned like U19 linking-mid Tanner Tessmann?
Is Pomykal Healthy & What Position Does He Play?
Speaking of young talent, there are a fair number of observers who cite Paxton Pomykal as the best player FCD has. He certainly is a difference-maker, something FCD needs.
Yet due to injuries, Pomykal started only 20 regular-season games last year. This spring in the middle of his return from core muscle repair surgery, Pomykal developed an abdominal issue (probably) from overcompensating to the surgery recovery.
So the key question is, can Pax get healthy and stay healthy? I don’t think we’ve seen him at 100% since the middle of 2019. When he does get healthy, what position will Pomykal play?
Right now Jesus Ferreira is the starter at the free-8. Bryan Acosta and Brandon Servania are injured but when healthy are both up for the start at the linking-8 position. Fafa Picault and Santi Mosquera are competing for left wing. And Michael Barrios just broke the club single-season assist mark at right wing.
So how does Coach Luchi Gonzalez get Pomykal on the field?
If he gets fit by opening day the answer may be linking-8 simply because both Servania and Acosta are still going to be out. Pomykal didn’t start the final tune-up against Inter Miami though, so it’s not highly likely.
Can the Veterans Hold Up?
Despite all the youth, FC Dallas still has a large’ish reliance on veterans in the squad. Reto Ziegler is 34, Zdenek Ondrasek (aka Kobra) is 31, Franco Jara will turn 32 shortly after he arrives this summer, and the newest signing Thiago Santo is 30. That puts all four into the declining phase of their career trajectory, although they are all four still quite good of course.
Let’s face it, it’s damn hot in Texas during the summer. Due to Toyota Stadium being a bowl, it can get north of 120 degrees on the field.
On top of that, the MLS season is a grind. Thankfully for FCD, they aren’t involved in Concacaf Champions League or MLS/Liga MX Leagues Cup.
So there is still a massive load on these players. So far, Bressan doesn’t seem ready to take Ziegler’s starting spot. Sure Matt Hedges is still in prime career form at 29, but that’s still a large load on the 34-year-old Ziegler. Someone, probably Bressan, needs to make 10 starts for Zeigler in my estimation to keep FCD’s Swiss captain in top form for the all-important playoffs. Hedges too, for that matter, needs breaks.
Can Kobra at 31 replicate his end of 2019 form? Can he do it on the road? If not him, will Franco Jara be the answer at 32? Baring a Ricardo Pepi explosion of progression or a Jesus Ferreira return to the 9, that’s two long-in-the-tooth strikers carrying the load.
Thiago Santos as good as he looks this spring is a very key cog at 30. There’s no single player than can replace him at a similar level. Bryan Acosta isn’t a real 6, Edwin Cerrillo – who I think has a big future – isn’t ready to carry the load as a single-pivot, and Johnny Nelson is green in that spot. If Santos goes down, it means at least a tactical shift and perhaps a formation shift too.
Reggie Cannon – Sale or No?
It really just seems like it’s a question of when and not if Reggie Cannon heads to Europe. Despite the talk by the Hunts of re-signing Reggie – which, as I talked about on the last podcast, could happen – Reggie really wants to go. The World Cup is just over the horizon and Cannon is in a four-way battle for the USMNT right back position.
If he’s in Dallas all year, great. That’s super positive for the season outlook as Reggie is a fantastic outside back. If he does stay someone will still need to fill in for The Cannon when he’s with the US for the Olympics or for World Cup Qualifying.
Of the likely candidates, none are perfect options. Bressan isn’t really an outside back, Johnny Nelson is a lefty, Bryan Reynolds is young (but is probably the closest to a like for like replacement), and Eddie Munjoma while a little older than Bryan has no pro-experience and will mostly play for North Texas SC in 2020.
If Reggie is going to go midseason, then it’s absolutely vital that one of the above options gets at least 5 starts before Cannon leaves to ease the pain of becoming the full-time starter. There will be some discomfort for the collective team and the individual who has to take over midseason no matter what. Becoming a starter at mid-season is not an easy task
Actual Squad Rotation?
FC Dallas doesn’t spend money on multi-million dollar players. There is no Carlos Vela type player with his name written in pen on the lineup sheet. What Los Toros do have is some fantastic squad depth, mostly from its youth. There isn’t a bunch of dead weight on this roster.
Due to the depth and the positional flexibility coach loves; Luchi has actual, legitimate multiple starting options at almost every position on the field. That’s a tremendous luxury to have.
I wrote last year that the implementation of squad rotation would go a long way to improving this team. If Coach Gonzalez can keep his team fresher and sharper over the course of the season by using multiple players at each spot his team will have a better overall record and should be in better condition for the playoffs.
Not to mention that competition for places pushes players to higher levels as being a lock for the lineup can lead to complacency. Nothing pushes a player like a challenge for his starting spot.
Perhaps only the 6 and right back are missing true starting challenges heading into the season. Although you could argue center back needs one more challenger.
I’m looking at you, Callum Montgomery. Don’t bother buying a house in San Antonio.