Hunting a new 9 train

With countless European clubs interested in FC Dallas’ homegrown striker Ricardo Pepi his upcoming departure is all but a guarantee. As such, FC Dallas will need to find a replacement to fill the top-scorer-void that the young forward will leave at the club.

So, as we do at 3rd Degree, we made a list.

Below is said list of potential strikers from across the league and the globe to fill in at striker should Pepi depart.

A note before diving into this list: this list is important whether or not the club and/or new manager decides to stick with Jara as the starting striker. Not only is a strong striker critical to the success of a club but so is having a backup that can challenge for the starting spot and light a fire under the starter to push them to be better.

Before the final list, let’s look into the most successful MLS scorers this year to try to glean any insights from their success.

Successful MLS Scoreres in 2020

Below are the top 10 goal scorers through October 21st of the 2021 MLS regular season. I have three additional outliers from the top 10 who I believe make interesting additions to the list: Chofis Lopez, Brian White, and Cristian Arango. These players have been included due to, in my opinion, exceptional play.

What makes them good?

Short answer: xG. (For more information on xG click here.)

Those with high xG performance, meaning they score more goals than expected based on the position of their shots, are typically extremely clinical. For the most part, anyone on the top-scoring list is going to fall into that category. They tend to be pricy.

The most surprising overperformance is Lopez, who has scored 7 goals above expected, with other noteworthy players including Salloi, Bou, and Kreilach, each of which can strike the ball with power and precision.

On the other end of the spectrum, Tati Castellanos is far behind the mark, and the only other notable underperformance is Buksa, but one under-expected does not indicate a poor striker. Players who underperform xG tend to be cheaper and can thus be a good value if they can reach their xG. Good value is something we know the Hunts crave.

Here is what sets these players apart: Kamara is a natural finisher, Salloi is a threat outside the box, Bou wallops the ball with ferocity, Pepi finishes perfectly, and Chofis hits bangers.

Nationality

While not the most important factor, nationality can have a substantial impact on various intangibles necessary for MLS success and the cost of acquisition. Of the 13 listed, 4 players are South American, 3 are Eastern European, and 4 are from North America.

As such, most of our replacement search will be involving players from those areas

Age, Designation, and Previous League

Five of the 13 of the above successful MLS scorers are above the age of 30 and five are 25 or younger. In MLS, this age gap is probably related to price and value.

There’s nothing specific to glean from this info but it is interesting that only 3 top scorers – Hany Mukhtar, Lopez, and Arango – are in the designated “prime” for soccer athletes between 26-30.

According to their own rosters, five players are International players, six are Designated Players, and two are homegrown players. To bring in a high-scoring talent it is usually going to take at least an International slot and often a DP slot.

I included players’ previous leagues in hopes of gleaning any relevance between MLS success and the league a player most recently played in. I was met with no such luck in finding a theme but the most common trend seemed to be Liga MX and various South American leagues.

Historically, MLS players hailing from the Scottish Premiership as well as various Eastern European leagues also seem to find success.

The Stats

The sports analytics world has a subset that is quite infatuated with xG, Expected Goals. As such I believe it is a good, not perfect, way of measuring a forward’s performance. Goals/90 is another important stat for strikers, as it is an indicator of how often they score.

The current golden boot leader is Ola Kamara, hailing from Norway and returning to DC United after an unsuccessful stint in the Chinese Super League. He averages a goal more than once per 90 minutes, which would be head and shoulders above the pack if not for the quick success of LAFC forward Cristian Arango.

Despite his career year thus far, NYCFC’ Castellanos has more room to grow, as he is trailing in many key metrics. Not only is he scoring five goals behind his expected goals but he also has the worst G/90 on the list.

Bou and Kreilach’s ability to wallop the ball is on full display on this list, as they are able to far exceed their expected goals by thumping the ball past the keeper.

The Candidates

Below, in no particular order, is a list of various players of different backgrounds, ages, and leagues that I believe would make valuable additions to FC Dallas.

Two Argentines

Jose Lopez and Alexis Canelo both hail from Argentina, a country that, historically, has been dominant in North America.

Lopez (age 20), in particular, is having a breakout season with Lanus, scoring 9 in 17 thus far. The young Argentinian seems to have good areal prowess as well as the strong ability to make great runs at defensive lines.

Lopez’s Transfermarkt valuation jumped from $75k to $8m on 10/20. His contract expires on December 31, 2023.

Canelo is valued at $4m according to Transfermarkt, his contract expires June 30, 2022.

Two Rangers

The Rangers’ strikers Alfredo Morelos and Kemar Roofe are both interesting potential targets. Both are high-quality strikers that would be instant starters in the league. Rangers’ financial struggles have continued and such a situation may leave the club more open to bids for these quality strikers.

“El Buffalo” Morales was a hit for Rangers for some high-quality seasons but his ability has been tailing off.

Morelos is valued at $12m on Transfermarkt, with his contract expiring on May 31, 2023.

Roofe is valued at $5m, with his contract expiring May 31, 2024.

Two Czechs

Czechs Tomas Pekhart and Jan Kuchta strike contrasting profiles but are both intriguing ones.

At 6’4, Pekhart strikes an intimidating figure and at 32, he brings a strong veteran presence up front. Kuchta is no slouch either at 6′ and at 24 is still on his way to entering his prime.

Kuchta does not physically cut the intimidating figure that Pekhart does, but has been lethal for his club, Slavia Praha. He has started the Czech Fortuna Liga season on fire, with 6 goals and 4 assists in the team’s opening 8 games, as well as a hand full of Europa league goals and assists in 2020-21.

Pekhart’s Transfermarkt valuation: $800k, his contract expires June 30, 2022.

Kuchta’s Transfermarkt valuation is $4m, his contract expires June 30, 2024.

Pekhart has strong positional play and would be most available for a reasonable fee. An experienced Czech striker joining FC Dallas from the Ekstraklasa… Kobra 2.0?

Two Inside MLS

MLS Strikers that would be good additions as well are Revs’ Adam Buksa and Vancouver’s Brian White.

Though not statistically the most impressive, Buksa has had strong performances in MLS and has put himself in the right positions to score.

White, on the other hand, was traded mid-season to VWFC from NYRB, and has been on quite the tear for the ‘caps to put them in the hunt for the playoffs. Aerially dominant and positionally adept, White’s resurgence in Canada has been a fantastic storyline.

Buksa’s Transfermarkt valuation is $4.5m with his contract expiring December 31, 2022.

White’s Transfermarkt valuation: $1m, unknown contract expiry date. If I were guessing for the intra-MLS transfer fee I would put it around $750k-$1m in allocated money, given his transfer from RBNY to VWFC was $400k.

Brian White Hat Trick

Two of Intrigue

Other intriguing potential signings include Rogelio Funes Mori and Ignacio Ramirez.

In 2008 both Rogelio and his brother Ramiro trained with the FC Dallas Academy. Since then, the striker has gone on to have a stellar career, winning a handful of Trophies with Monterrey and scoring goals regularly.

Ignacio Ramirez is an intriguing possibility, as the young Uruguayan was purchased over the summer by french side St. Étienne, who have struggled as of late in Ligue 1. Ramirez was electric for his club, Liverpool Montevideo, before arriving in France. Ramirez has only featured for 107 minutes thus far for an ASSE side struggling for goals. If the club and the striker see to it that more playing time is needed then the potential for a deal to be struck is likely.

Funes Mori’s Transfermarkt valuation is $6.5m, his contract expires June 30, 2024.

Ramirez’ Transfermarkt valuation is $2.5m, his contract expires June 30, 2022.

The Conclusion

The Expensive Choice – Funes Mori

Historically, FC Dallas does not often splash the cash for players, and when they do, rarely does it pan out. But if they choose to splash the cash for an experienced DP striker, Rogelio Funes Mori should be a top target for the club. A well-rounded striker with a great right foot and strong aerial prowess.

Funes Mori’s Transfermarkt valuation is $6.5m so he’s gonna be super pricy, particularly since he’s now playing for Mexico. That’s not something the Hunts’ have gone after historically.

Affordable Vet – Tomas Pekhart

For a veteran international that will not break the bank, Tomas Pekhart would likely make a quality addition to the squad. A true target man with a strong presence on the field and an eye for positioning, the big Czech could be a strong presence that has been missing since Kobra’s departure.

Pekhart’s Transfermarkt valuation is just $800k and with his contract expiring at the end of June 2022 he might be the kind of player the Hunts love to bring in mid-season.

The MLS Choice – Brian White

But if the club is looking to spend cheaply with an intra-MLS move, Brian White has great potential to continue this purple patch and perhaps even make a career out of it. Strong in the air and able to find the right spots to score, White is certainly worth a look for the no. 9 at the club.

White’s Transfermarkt valuation is $1m. If I were guessing for the intra-MLS transfer fee I would put it around $750k-$1m in allocated money, given his transfer from RBNY to VWFC was $400k.

Brian White (Courtesy MLS)

4 Comments

  1. I struggle to believe Vancouver will give up White for so little. He was surplus to requirements at NYRB (where they replaced him with two foreign signings, Fabio and Klimala, who have both been good) which is why his value was so low. If Vancouver thinks he’s a league-average-or-better starter at #9 as a 25 year old, they’d be crazy to sell for $1 million or less.

    If you want an intra-league option, I think the price and play combo on Andre Shinyashiki is much better

    1. Also, the Jara deal has soured me on buying guys that are 30+ and putting them on long-term, expensive deals, especially guys that weren’t quick to begin with. Strike Pekhart, Funes Mori, and Canelo off the list, imo.

      1. There is always a risk with older players especially, with injuries and mentality playing a big role in that. But 5 of the 10 top scorers in the league are above 30 and could be an indication of the importance of a veteran presence up top. Colman was a relative young forward when he was purchased and didn’t work out, while Kobra was turning the door on 30 when he arrived.

        Also the last time FC Dallas traded for a Rapids forward it did go well… and Shinyashiki is primarily a LW rather than a striker, still a great player though. MLS deals are always weird, could always throw in some draft picks and an international slot and take some allocated money off.

  2. I feel like strikers from Liga MX have a tendency to struggle in our fast ,physical, and athletic league. I’d love Morelos from Rangers but he’s probably too expensive for us.

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