By any and all measures, FC Dallas was a middle of the pack team in 2019, except perhaps for one key standout stat – 24.12, the average age of the FC Dallas roster, the youngest in MLS.
The goal in professional sports is, of course, to improve from season to season, to get better, to win more games, and, hopefully, win trophies.
So just how exactly can Coach Luchi Gonzalez make his FC Dallas team better for 2020 and win some trophies?
Well, I’ll tell you.
1. Use the entire roster
This season FC Dallas had too much dead weight on the MLS roster.
Teams are limited to 30 players with 2 optional spots. The bottom 10 spaces on the roster for lower-paid, developing players, mostly Homegrowns and Generation adidas. If you checked the FCD official Roster section of MLSSoccer.com in the latter half of the season you would have seen that FCD technically had one roster position open.
29 of 30, you think, that’s not bad.
Except they didn’t because they had five players on loan: Moises Hernandez (San Antonio FC), Pablo Aranguiz (Unión Española), Francis Atuahene (Austin Bold), Ema Twumasi (Austin Bold), and Dante Sealy (North Texas SC). Sure, FCD had right of recall on all but Aranguiz, but they pretty much never exercised it. Three of those players were listed as “unavailable” on the MLS roster page, yet three of the five were still taking up roster space and two weren’t listed on the roster page at all. And one of them was a Designated Player.
To make matters worse, four more players on FCD’s roster didn’t play for the team this season in a single MLS game: Eric Alexander, Cristian Colman, Callum Montgomery, and Kyle Zobeck. Admittedly as the 3rd keeper, Zobeck would be a surprise to play. You might as well say it was 10 players as Edwin Gyasi might as well not have played (82 minutes).
That’s 10 players out of 31 total under contract not contributing to the team for most of the season. Roughly 32%, basically a third of the roster. That’s not good enough.
And that doesn’t even take into account Ricardo Pepi (71 minutes) and Bryan Reynolds (112 minutes).
Player loans aren’t a bad thing in and of themselves and a depth player or two that are developing and don’t play is also fine. But five loans and four zero game players is too much, particularly since three of the zero game players are veterans.
FCD needs to fill up the roster with players Coach Gonzalez trusts and will use. If for no other reason than squad rotation that helps the team stay healthier, fresher, fitting, and sharper over a long season.
Point one leads to point two.
2. More competition at positions
Because FC Dallas didn’t use their complete roster, there wasn’t enough competition at every position.
In an ideal professional team, you should have two mature, prime of their career players at each possession. Now in MLS, that’s a bit unlikely but more usable players will certainly help.
The point being, it’s important at the professional level for there to be legit competition for places everywhere. Every player on the field needs to be pushed and challenged. To breed an environment for winning, players need to be under pressure. Pressure creates better players. Mistakes should have consequences.
This is why youth players are moved up to face older competition. This is why a segment of the fan base screams about promotion and relegation. This is why the playoff chase and playoff games in MLS are important even if your team isn’t an MLS Cup challenger.
And, full roster or not, it mostly comes down to the coach’s decisions. Poor games and mistakes by starters should lead to sitting the bench. Too often in 2019 players who didn’t perform stayed on the field the next game.
Was there anyone to challenge Michael Barrios at right wing if he had a bad game? No. Despite Reynolds progress was he really challenging Reggie Cannon to start? No, in emergencies Bressan, a center back, played on the right. Did Jimmy Maurer ever seem like he would take Jesse Gonzalez‘s spot when bad decisions were happening? Was Bressan threatening Matt Hedges or Reto Ziegler’s place? How about Bryan Acosta as the 6 after Carlos Gruezo was sold?
Only at left back – early on anyway – at the 9, at left wing, and at the 8/10 did we see shifts and changes. And pretty much all but left wing became ingrained down the stretch run. Challenge for positions needs to happen everywhere on the field.
Points one and two now lead to point three.
3. New Players
If you want to see FCD use more of the roster and if you want to see more competition, then FCD will need to add some players. And remove some too (already started, but not done).
Thanks, Captain Obvious!
Coach Gonzalez and the front office will need to clear out some of the dead weight and bring in some new pieces. Yes, a piece or two from North Texas SC, the FCD Academy, or from college could be added, but that’s not enough. Some veteran domestic or foreign signings will also be necessary.
Specifically, FCD needs some to add/subtract at left wing and at the 9. Plus a little depth at center back and at the 6. I’ll get into why some other time because that’s a full article in itself.
4. Get mean
The current FC Dallas roster has a lot of nice people in it. They are all quite pleasant to talk to and seem to be good people. Luchi preaches family and there is a great team vibe from outside the locker room.
But sometimes on the field, you have to get nasty. Sometimes you have to get mean. Bryan Acosta draws a lot of yellow cards but that’s not the same thing.
I’m talking about hardnosed, ruthless, win at all costs type leaders like Daniel Hernandez, Chad Deering, Leonel Alvarez, Adrian Serioux, or Pablo Richetti. I’m talking about a player that might take a teammate, his team, the opposition, the ref, or even the game by the neck and give it a shake and a talking to. Heck, such a player might even give his own coach a cutting look or word from time to time.
Sometimes you need to have someone just a little scary to play against. Someone who makes it uncomfortable for the opposition.
FCD is a developmental club, can someone at FCD develop this mentality or does it have to be innate? Good question.
5. Be Patient
All of which leads me back to this – the last way FC Dallas can improve is related to all the youth and development.
Just be patient.
It’s not just the players, the club has a young coach who just came off his first season of pro experience too. Coach Gonzalez showed so good qualities. He also made some mistakes but he’s been quite frank about them and has shown that he learns. He should continue to improve for many years to come.
The same is true of his players. This team at its core has multiple teenagers and kids who can barely drink legally.
Jesus Ferreira – 18 (leading scorer, 2nd in assists), Paxton Pomykal – 19 (3rd in assists), Brandon Servania – 20, Reggie Cannon – 21. And a large number of fringe players in the same veins: Ricardo Pepi – 16, Dante Sealy – 16, Bryan Reynolds – 18, Thomas Roberts -18, Edwin Cerrillo – 19, Johnny Nelson – 21. Not to mention whatever else comes out of the Academy.
Just be patient. These players are all going to mature and improve. Most pros don’t hit their prime till 26 or 27, keepers even later.
Will all of them still be here then? Probably not. But a core will remain and this team could be lights out in a few seasons when these guys are 22 to 23 or so.
It’s just a matter of time and patience.