The word process became a buzzword around Toyota Stadium in 2022. Marketing materials preached the New Era, which was oft described as a process by Head Coach Nico Estevez, Technical Director Andre Zanotta, and President Dan Hunt.
In the opening press conference a year ago, the word “process” was used 14 times. In the first year of a new coaching cycle, coming off the second-worst season in franchise history, the tempering of expectations is a wise strategy.
The rest is history. Jesus Ferreira stepped in with a record-equaling season. The new faces of Marco Farfan, Maarten Paes, Paul Arriola, Alan Velasco, and later Sebastian Lletget, all found their footing. Paxton Pomykal and Matt Hedges put their respective injuries behind them. An impressive third-place season only marred by a disappointing showing in the Western Conference Semifinal in Austin.
Perhaps suitably after a playoff defeat that seemed to lack belief, “mentality” is the focal point word for 2023.
“I think the guys have arrived with a good mentality,” said Estevez told 3rdDegree.net on the opening morning of preseason training. “They know that we fell short last year. We had a great season, and then we have to build up on top of that, right? That mentality that we didn’t finish in that way and we have the opportunity to go farther.”
In the past, we’ve heard quotes about instilling certain elements from the world’s leading clubs, and Coach rightly reeled off names of Champions League winners in regards to mentality, describing expectations of challenging for silverware year in and year out. The difference is that it’s more than just giving names and hoping it connects.
This winter Coach Estevez spent time observing Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the offseason, spending time with compatriot Julen Lopetegui – a former Head Coach of Spain, Porto, and Real Madrid. A trip home to Valencia saw meetings with Rino Gattuso, another coach dialed into the expectation of winning with a World Cup and two Champions League titles to his name as a player.
FC Dallas assistant coaches were busy this winter too. Javier Cabello visited Barcelona, and Peter Luccin‘s trip home to France no doubt took in at least one of his former big-name clubs – Paris Saint Germain, Olympique Marseille, and Girondins de Bordeaux. As one of France’s golden generation, Luccin is well versed in the pressures of expectation as several of his teammates in the 1997 French U-20 team went on to win the 1998 FIFA World Cup in front of a home crowd.
With the word process used more sparingly, has Dallas skipped a few steps in said process? Coach doesn’t believe so, citing a conversation with two-time UEFA Manager of the Year Rafa Benitez many years ago that likened preseason to riding a bicycle.
“As soon as [the players] start doing things, they start to have memories about how you work, then they start getting sharp and understanding things quicker,” explained Estevez. “I think we’re not starting from zero. What we’re doing is starting in a similar point as we did last year, building our style of play again.”
“But we can skip some things that we had to do last year.” Coach Esteves continues, “because you can see the players already have it. Where we want to introduce new ideas, new strategies, new instruction, [that’s where] you start from zero.”
Coach talked about the notion of learning new things while sharpening up on the old as an addition to the process, creating a fundamentally sound team that can be tactically flexible and mentally tougher.
While it’s not being said quite as much, if Oscar Pareja’s mantra was ‘Busca la forma’ (Find a way), then Nico’s may well be ‘trust the process’.