There’s no new FC Dallas coach yet, but that doesn’t stop us from doing what we do and that’s to lay out a pathway forward for FC Dallas as they try and rebuild the team. There is, however, a TD and a hands-on owner still around so you can expect roster moves to happen soon’ish. They won’t wait for a new coach either.
Here’s the bottom line, in 2021, FC Dallas had the second-worst season in club history. Yes, there are worse teams in MLS, but the idea that this team is “one or two players away,” to quote said hands-on owner, is frankly preposterous.
Bad seasons tend to lead to bad seasons. It’s hard to dig out of deep holes as there is usually a root cause.
In FCD’s case, this year’s playoff miss was just the 8th in club history. But 6 of the previous misses came in pairs.
2003 & 2004 – the Southlake Debacle (caused by HSG) and recovery.
2008 & 2009 – the end of Steve Morrow’s run and the transition to Schellas Hyndman.
2012 & 2013 – the final two seasons under Schellas Hyndman.
2017 remains the outlier, the meltdown after the “all in” on the 2017 Concacaf Champions League run with older, long-in-the-tooth players who then didn’t hold up – or didn’t care – once that CCL run ended. Coach Oscar Pareja pulled that one out of the decline quickly, rebounding in 2018.
Now comes a bottoming out in 2021 – as mentioned the second-worst season, statistically, in club history. Can FCD rebound or are we looking at a complete rebuild and likely back-to-back playoffs misses?
The answer could be a quick rebound if the club finds itself again. The way forward short and long term is the same – the FCD Way. Fight against this nature and it could be painful around here.
So what’s wrong with FCD? It starts in the back.
Defense Wins Championships
In 2021, FC Dallas gave up 56 goals. That GA of 56 tied for third-worst in all of MLS with Austin FC. Only Toronto FC with 66 goals allowed and FC Cincinnati at 74 goals allowed were worse.
Of these bad teams, FCD has by far the best goal differential at just -9. That’s because their offense is middle of the table. Houston Dynamo FC, Chicago Fire, and Inter Miami all have worse GDs… and that’s a list of pretty bad teams.
56 goals allowed is also the third-worst in FC Dallas franchise history. Only the 2003 Southlake debacle and 1998 (Dir’s worst season) are worse.
Solve the defense and this is a playoff team. Not an MLS Cup team, but a playoff team.
So what’s wrong with the defense? After all, 2020 was a pretty good defense (1.09 GAA).
The answer: Injuries, age, and declining skill. They also sold Reggie Cannon and Bryan Reynolds with it taking some time to figure out their replacement was Ema Twumasi.
Jimmy Maurer, Matt Hedges, Bressan, and Jose Martinez all had injuries at one point or another.
Ryan Hollingshead will be 31 in April and Hedges turns 32 that same month, Bressan is 29 in January and Martinez turns the same age in February. Maurer turned 33 last October and while keepers play longer than field players being in the 30s can mean more injuries. Facundo Quignon will be 29 in May.
One or two guys at this age might be ok, but having lots of guys 30 and up is an issue. Six in the neighborhood of 30 is way too many.
The offense for example has two, Franco Jara will turn 34 (good grief) in July and Andres Ricaurte just turned 30 in October (and it’s already being reported his buy option is being declined).
Now 29 years old should still be competitive, even if the decline is near or beginning. But there has been a decline in talent too. Quignon, so far, isn’t as good as Thiago Santos. Santos wasn’t as good as Carlos Gruezo. Bressan and Martinez aren’t, so far, as good as Reto Ziegler.
Play the Kids – The FCD Way
This brings us back to the FCD Way. The club has set itself up a terrific Academy and a talent pipeline that includes North Texas SC. A large chunk of the roster comes through this methodology – at least the Homegrown part – even if they do sell the cream of the crop.
The Homegrown signings are what keep Dallas ahead of the middle MLS pack most of the time. Every team drafts and signs foreign players, not all of them use their Academy. Dallas, Philly, and RSL have really helped themselves this way, to name a couple of teams.
FC Dallas needs to embrace this idea again. “Play the kids” and build with the Homegrowns.
Dallas used to employ this same concept with foreign signings. Buy/sign young and develop. We talked about the change in this concept last winter till we were blue in the face. There has been a change of late with older signings: Ricaurte, Bressan, Jader Obrian, Thiago Santos, and Faco. Only Szabolcs Schön and Freddy Vargas were young’ish.
FCD needs to embrace this young’ish idea again in foreign signings – as they did in the past with the likes of Fabian Castillo, Mauro Diaz, Michael Barrios, etc. – and in Homegrowns.
Spring Cleaning and a Run to the Dump
When you finish near the bottom you have to clean house, tidy up the roster, and trim some fat. It’s time for FCD to purge and purge more than you might think. Particularly on defense.
As the club rebuilds this thing, it’s key to rebuild with the players who have consistently come through for you. So embrace youth and performance, dump old and non-contributing.
Decline buy options: Phelipe Megiolaro, Andres Ricaurte, and Freddy Vargas.
Those three are easy.
Decline option: Bryan Acosta
There has never been a report on the length of Acosta’s contract. If he signed a ‘standard” deal then it is 3+2 and the three years are up. If that’s the case let him walk and decline the option.
Sidenote: At the Cocktails and Cleats event Dan Hunt said they have one open DP spot, which makes me nervous Acosta is coming back. Maybe Hunt misspoke. I really hope he just misspoke.
Why? Because at 28 (on Nov 24) Acosta’s almost certainly plateaued in his career and he’s blocking the path of Homegrowns. If FCD does keep him, they have to be willing to bench him. You will see why below.
Sell: Justin Che, Ricardo Pepi, Dante Sealy, and Thomas Roberts.
These kids are terrific, but FCD is a selling club and you can’t screw them over if legit top-end offers are coming in. Che – who projects as a center back – can’t really be built around for a couple of seasons cause center backs need time. Sealy hasn’t yet shown he’s up for starting but sure bring him back if no offers come in. Roberts too, if you get an offer, don’t stand in his way.
And Pepi is the hot, big dollar sale. I’d love to see him stay but I doubt he will.
Stuck With: Franco Jara, Jose Martinez, Facundo Quignon.
FCD probably can’t get rid of these three players.
Jara isn’t up for carrying a team and I doubt the Hunts will pay his contract buy-out. My info is that he has one year left.
Martinez was hurt a lot and has two seasons left. I still hope he can be valuable… we’ll see. He better be or else FCD will be eating his contract for two more seasons.
Faco has two seasons left too and his salary number is way higher than I expected and it might go up as these things tend to do. We’re talking DP level in 2022. He’s been ok, maybe even solid. But he’s the top player I want to see bought out – I’ll explain why below – I’d like to see the club move him on.
Get rid of as many of these three, if you can, in this order: Faco, Jara, Martinez.
Come on expansion draft!
These are the players FCD should retain and build around.
The young: Edwin Cerrillo, Kalil Elmedkhar, Jesus Ferreira, Caiser Gomes, Nicky Hernandez, Johnny Nelson, Paxton Pomykal, Szabolcs Schön, Brandon Servania, Nkosi Tafari, and Ema Twumasi.
And if they aren’t sold, then, of course, Ricardo Pepi, Justin Che, Dante Sealy, and Thomas Roberts.
Vets: Hedges, Hollingshead, Obrian.
You Gotta Earn It
There are a few players that have contracts that are up or could be waived cheaply. These players should all be waived, have their options declined, or just let their contract lapse. Invite them to camp if they want and see how it goes.
Out of Contract: Kyle Zobeck, Richard Sanchez.
Sanchez is technically a North Texas SC player but is in the same boat as Zobeck. With Phelipe seemingly gone, Sanchez might be worth an offer now. Zobeck can come back to camp to compete or maybe become a coach.
Option Decline: Bressan, Chris Shutler.
Bressan is the only older defender with a contract you can get out of. So let him go and see what the needs are. Unless you can trade or buy out Martinez or Hedges, then keeping Bressan as depth would be ok. Returning Bressan, Hedges, and Martinez, plus Hollingshead is a whole lot of old and slow.
Shutler was drafted last year and played for North Texas but, at the end of the season, he was being beaten out by Academy keeper Antonio Carrera for bench spots.
Homegrowns: Eddie Munjoma, Beni Redzic, Collin Smith.
All three should be brought to camp. Do well and stay with FC Dallas, do poorly and it’s North Texas SC again in 2022. Or cut/waived I suppose.
Smith should for sure spend another season with NTXSC as he remains a work in progress with upside as he learns right back.
Dallas only needs to take a step forward, back to the playoff contention. If they do it while getting younger they will set themselves up to compete toward the top end of the league down the line.
FC Dallas as an organization all the way up and down through the Academy, North Texas, and MLS uses a 4-3-3 base. This can either be the single-pivot 4-3-3 or the double pivot 4-2-3-1.
Given that formation, here’s the way forward.
1. Sell Pepi, Ferreira False 9
It seems quite likely despite Dan Hunt saying they want to keep him that Pepi will be sold this winter. That makes it vital they keep Jesus Ferreira as he’s your best bet to produce the goals in 2022. Starting Franco Jara at the 9 isn’t the way forward. Also, get a young 9 via homegrown (Nighte Pickering?) or draft.
2. Pomykal Inside
If Jesus is up top and Ricaurte is gone then there are no “10s” here and FCD will need to use the double 8 system (which we prefer anyway). It can be as a single or double pivot but either way, it’s two 8s.
You see, Paxton Pomykal needs to play in the middle as an 8 – “free 8” if you must – and Brandon Servania should also start as an 8. This is why it’s time to move on from Bryan Acosta. He’s in the way of all the 8s FCD produces. And there are loads more in the pipe.
Pomykal returning to peak form in his 2nd season after the big injury would go a long way to rebuild this team. Leave him outside on the wing and you will probably lose him.
3. Schon Starts
Point 2 makes Szabolcs Schön the left wing starter. I’m down for that. Schon’s 0.57 assists/90 would top MLS if he had the required minutes. Depending on how Elmedkhar looks, this might be a spot for a depth signing.
4. Get an Elite 6
FCD needs a legit, top-end 6 capable of the single-pivot if needed (it’s preferred in my book). Many of FCD’s defensive problems can be traced to the decline at this spot: Gruezo to Santos to Faco. Even Edwin Cerrillo – who isn’t ready to be a dominant MLS 6 – was outplaying Faco at the end of the season.
For me, the 6 is the single most important position to building a long-term, legit, MLS Cup contender. You need a Carlos Gruezo. FCD should spend here and don’t be shy. If you stick with Faco the rebuild will be slower as he’s just adequate and probably needs a double pivot. So buy him out and get a high-end 6.
Heck, even if they can’t get rid of Quignon, FCD should still sign a legit high-end 6. Use that TAM/GAM. Faco can sit on the bench and spot start. If they don’t get that MVP-type 6, Faco might lose out to Cerrillo who has more stamina and covers more ground.
Of course, this point in the plan doesn’t work if you can’t scout and sign someone in the Gruezo end of things.
5. Tafari Rising
Nkosi Tafari should be a lock starter at center back, paired with either Matt Hedges or Jose Martinez. Probably Hedges, pending health. Also, draft a center back or sign a Homegrown one. Maybe both. Hedges will need to be replaced soon.
6. Right Wing
A right wing piece is needed to challenge Jader Obrian. Assuming Dante Sealy isn’t coming back, use the club’s U22 initiative in this spot.
7. Promote an 8
Sign Diego Hernandez as a homegrown or loan Blaine Ferri from North Texas. Maybe both. Unless they keep Acosta. Ugh.
Feel free to pivot this as a double.
This is a 2 deep that can get you back in the playoffs. Can it win MLS Cup? Doubtful. But it’s back to at least being in the competitive end of the MLS spectrum. And that’s a start.
FCD can build from there.