The season is over, so here at 3rd Degree, we’re already moving on to 2023. FC Dallas had a great 2022 season and the build is ahead of schedule. “It’s a process,” said pretty much everyone who worked at FCD in the preseason before they blew the expectations out of the water.
“It’s a new era,” FC Dallas has trumpeted all season and boy howdy were they not kidding. The club has turned the corner and improved in virtually every phase of its organization.
But… to put it simply, FC Dallas didn’t win MLS Cup. So there’s room for improvement.
As usual, we have some ideas on how the team can make strides. Here are four ways FCD can take a step forward and compete for a title.
Yes, seriously. FC Dallas has a young core and, again, “it’s a process.”
If Los Toros stand pat, they should see progression in their young core. Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira, Alan Velasco, Edwin Cerrillo, Marco Farfan, Tsiki Ntsabeleng, Brandon Servania, and Maarten Paes – to name a few – are all in the first half of their 20s. They should continue to improve for years to come.
Even if only half of them improve the team will improve and most players improve till 27 or so.
It’s cheap and easy. And yes, FC Dallas will improve with this plan. The real upside is that this plan goes into effect whether you want it to or not. It’s the nature of time and the game.
FC Dallas might not get enough better to challenge for a title. Everyone in MLS will be looking to get better. If you stand pat, which is what this idea is, you probably get passed up.
Plus, if a few things go wrong, you regress, and then you are in big trouble. 2nd to 8th in the West was a 10 points difference in 2022. Plenty of teams will be ready to pass FCD if they slip up.
Jesus Ferreira had an amazing season and he’s only 21.
MLS Young Player of the Year with an 18-goal season that tied the club record for single-season goals. He’s already tied for 3rd all-time in the club scoring ranks and he’s going to keep improving for years.
So, can the team get more out of Ferreira?
I think it can by using him as an off-striker – his most natural position – in a two-striker system rather than as a false-9.
With a high striker to play off of, Ferreira could reach new heights of impact. I’m talking MLS MVP levels of impact. Jesus himself might score fewer goals but the two strikers together should get a lot more combined.
I would suggest a narrow diamond similar to how Philadelphia Union plays. It’s almost the shape FCD plays now with an inverted front line. It would look something like this.
FCD would probably have to buy out Franco Jara to make a run at this setup.
If you get the right 9 it will truly be explosive. Like Jason Kreis and Ariel Graziani in 2000 when Graziani had 15 goals, Kreis had 11 goals & 13 assists, and Oscar Pareja had 10 assists from midfield. That kind of explosive.
With the right guy, you might get two 15-goal scorers.
You may have already spotted it: Paul Arriola. Playing this shape takes Arriola off the field. Unless you play him at right back or something. Which, come to think of it, might be fun.
The other con is you have to hit on the 9. If you miss you’ve spent a lot of money – again – for a striker that won’t be playing. That would be Jarable.
It also puts a big burden on your outside backs leaving them isolated with a lot of ground to cover.
Not to mention a year’s experience playing in Nico’s 4-3-3 is kind of wasted.
Spend Big in Midfield
Right about now you might be thinking to yourself, “Wait, FCD has Sebastian Lletget and Paxton Pomykal. Plus Tsiki Ntsabeleng and Brandon Servania. Edwin Cerrillo and Facundo Quignon were fine!”
But from the midfield, there were only 14 assists all year. Pomykal and Lletget led the way with 5 each pretty much all from the free-8 position. FCD had no assist man in the top 30 of the league.
So here are the questions… Can Lletget at 30 years of age take a step forward and triple his numbers? Maybe. He had 5 assists in 10 games in 2022.
Can Pomykal get assists from the deep-lying role? Perhaps. Servania had 3 from deep in half the playing time.
But that’s a lot of perhapses and maybes if we’re talking about competing for an MLS Cup.
Perhaps the solution is to spend big on a playmaker in midfield.
The obvious version is to land a big-time playmaker for the free-8 spot. A Lucian Acosta, Carles Gil, a Dániel Gazdag, if you will. With a player of that caliber in the free-8, you might see an explosion of goals. Although it leaves Lletget and Pomykal fighting for PT, not to mention Servania and Ntsabeleng.
The not-so-obvious solution is to spend big at the 6.
I like Edwin Cerrillo, I really do. I think he will be a good player in MLS for a decade. But right now, he’s not elite. Both he and Facundo Quignon play a solid defensive game but neither is an elite passer, progresser, or creator from the deep spot.
What might FCD look like with an in their prime João Paulo, Micheal Bradley, or Kyle Beckerman in that spot? All of a sudden Lletget and Pomykal are going to look a whole lot better, find themselves freer, and play much higher. That should almost certainly result in more collective scoring and control of the game.
To do the 6-version, you’d have to figure out how to clear Qugnon off the books, I think. Three players at the 6 is too many.
It would need to be Facu and not Cerrillo because of Facu’s $786,000 base salary and international slot. Plus Q is 29 and E is 22. Therefore, you might have to burn the club’s buyout if you can’t trade or sell Facu.
The FCD midfield would go from good to great if you hit on the right guy. I like the 6-version better than the free-8. The 6 might be just a little bit more affordable and I think the Lletget/Pomykal combo is pretty good.
Like any of these big spend moves you gotta hit on the player. If you spend big, clear a spot, and miss… you will put a lot of weight on the remaining players and likely wouldn’t improve on the whole.
Improve the Defense
The last, but not least, idea is for FC Dallas to spend some coin to improve the defense.
“But wait,” I can hear you thinking, “didn’t FCD finish with the lowest goals against in the West with 37 goals allowed?”
Yes, they did. But they had 10 more goals allowed than Philly who allowed a paltry 26. The year FCD got to MLS Cup? 28 goals against.
Do you know the cliché “defense wins championships?” It’s a cliché for a reason.
Defense may not win the game but it can keep you in games and get you deep into the playoffs. And it damn sure helps win the game. It’s a lot easier to just get one goal than two.
And frankly, Maarten Paes propped up the D this year.
Everything from the 6 on back is up for review in this improved defense discussion.
Ema Twumasi is much improved, mostly on the defensive end. But he’s not a match for Marco Farfan yet. Speaking of Farfan, neither he nor Ema provides much going forward, an important aspect of most defenses in the modern game.
We can also look at center back. When both Matt Hedges and Jose Martinez are healthy the defense is pretty good. But both of them fade over 90 minutes. Hedges, who we all love, is 32 going on 33. He’s a step slower and gets banged up more. Martinez, whom the coach loves, has his “mysterious contact problem” that can cause his legs to shut down.
If we’re being completely brutal, as mentioned in our options post, FCD should probably not pick up Hedges’ option. Offer him something lower to come back perhaps? $500k? But I’ll stick with my take that Hedges deserves to be picked up on the probable $1 mil option.
Quite frankly it’s time for Nkosi Tafari to replace Hedges or Martinez, hell, I said that last offseason too.
If there’s some money to be spent, center back is a damn good value spot to spend some of it. A TAM signing perhaps?
I can make a case for multiple upgrades being possible without needing to cut much. One or two players might make a big difference. If they don’t work you can still go with what you had this year which was dang good anyway.
You risk disrupting what you have. The best D in the West is pretty good. Would it be better to “hold ’em” and stick with the solid group you got now?
If you go full-time with Tafari there will be some growing pains. That’s a large part of why I wanted that shift made in 2022.
You may ask, “Can FC Dallas pull some of these moves off?”
Short answer: Yes.
We’ll know more once the contract options happen – or don’t happen, as the case may be – at which point we can get more specific.
But Dan Hunt has been telling people that the club will have an open DP spot (I’ll explain some other time), an open U-22 spot (Schon sale), and cap space for at least one TAM signing.
My prediction? Idea 1 happens naturally and then I think a combo of 3 and 4 will be executed by the club.
We’re probably looking at 3 to 5 new players.