Keep moving or die – improving FC Dallas in 2021

If you stand pat in MLS, if you stick with what you got, if you embrace “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” then you will go backward in the standings and everyone will get fired. 

You simply cannot sit still and just hope to get better.

Keep moving or die.

All sharks, apparently

FC Dallas has finished in the bottom half of the West standings three of the last four years (6th in 2020, 7th in 2019, and 7th in 2017). That’s not up to their usual franchise standard – Los Toros have finished in the top half of the standings more often than not since the Hunts took over (9 out of 16 times).

This bottom-half, four-year run – after Oscar Pareja’s double winner in 2016 – means this team doesn’t just need 1 or 2 upgrades, it needs large changes.

FCD has not been good enough. There’s only so much “we like our team” and “we trust everyone on our roster” that fans – and maybe owners – will take.  This is a competitive sport. Winning matters.

This is the time for the FCD technical staff to be ruthless. “Next man up” is for during the season, not between seasons.

With Austin FC joining MLS in 2021, there will be 13 teams in the West as Nashville SC is staying in the East for now.  So FCD had better step up its game.

That means now is the time – as we do every off-season – to have a discussion about improving the Huntsmen for 2021.  So here’s how Coach Luchi Gonzalez, TD Andre Zanotta, and Director of Soccer Ops Marco Ferruzzi can make the team better.

One Assumption – Tactics

Keep in mind as we go forward, Coach Gonzalez is unlikely to radically change tactics away from what we call Luchi-Ball. The various versions of a 4-3-3 are the base with maybe a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 thrown in from time to time.

Upgrade FCD’s Designated Players

This one is easy conceptually and harder in reality.

One of the biggest factors for the success or failure of any MLS team is the success or failure of said club’s designated players.

In 2020 FC Dallas – technically speaking – had four DPs rather than the three they are supposed to have because Pablo Aranguiz’s loan to U de Chile removed him from the roster in only partial ways.

Thankfully, Araguiz has finally been transferred as he was a perfect example of a failed DP signing.

The same could be said for Santiago Mosquera.  Santi was never able to stay healthy, couldn’t hold down the starting wing job, wasn’t able to produce a consistent effort over 90 minutes, and didn’t produce on the score sheet. 

It was particularly noticeable in Luchi-Ball that he couldn’t give the team the high energy, mobile game Coach G wants. Mosquera was earning way too much money for far too little production. It was time to go.

Bryan Acosta, a former World Cup player, has, from time to time, been a good player for Dallas. But in 2020 he was only available for approximately 50% of the club’s games.  That’s not good enough.

Health is hard to control, but it matters and the bottom line is the club hasn’t gotten enough play from Acosta.  He’s also been pretty inconsistent in performance.  Coach Gonzalez keeps going back to Acosta when he’s healthy probably due to the perceived weight of Acosta’s experience and salary.

Lastly, there’s Franco Jara. Reportedly the highest salary in club history with just seven goals to show for it. Extrapolate that to a normal schedule and you get 12 goals. That’s not good enough scoring punch for cost by a long shot. 

Is his low production due to general bad FCD offense or service? Maybe. But use your eyes: he’s 32, slow, and wants to false-9. That’s a bad fit for Luchi-Ball and there were plenty of balls in from wide for which there was no one in the box.

Solution

Acosta is under contract for 2021 so there’s not much that can be done here beyond hope he gets fit, gets coached up, finds his form, and excels.  I do, however, think the arrival of Andres Ricaurte, the emergence of Tanner Tessmann, and a (hopefully) healthy Paxton Pomykal means FCD could trade Acosta for something. I would try to move him, but I am not in charge so I don’t hold out hope.

In what would be the biggest, grandaddy-of-them-all move, FCD should use their once-a-season DP buyout on Jara to clear him off the roster. The Hunts probably aren’t going to “throw good many after bad” to buy Jara out. Hunts are gonna Hunt.

So far two of the four DPs on last year’s roster are gone already which is a great start. I hope for one more DP to go via trade, sale, or buyout.  I dream of all four being gone.

Now it’s up to Zanotta to fill at least one DP spot. Could it be two or three? *SIGH* Probably not.

Even filling just one DP spot isn’t easy.  The staff better have been working on it already.

Left Center Back Upgrade

It was sometimes painful to watch Reto Ziegler and Bressan play the left center back position last season. Both are slow and Bressan’s tiny bit of more youthful athleticism was balanced by his overreaching. 

Ziegler is one of the most cultured defenders this club has ever had but on the verge of 35 and out of contract it’s time to move on. He won’t be in Frisco in 2021.

Bressan at 27 was never able to win a starting job here until the very end when the off-field Covid shenanigans with Ziegler happened.  The fact FCD declined his option and is negotiating with Bressan (for a lower salary?) says to me that they see him as a backup.

I thought Callum Montgomery was ready to start. The fact FCD declined his option means that Luchi didn’t.  Nkosi Burgess is still a project.

Bottom line, this spot has to be upgraded athletically in 2021.

Solution

Simple, bring in a starting caliber lefty center back. Keep an eye out for transfer, signing, or trade rumors. 

FCD has an open DP spot and this might be a great place to use one.  Or at least get in the same ballpark and buy said player’s cap hit down with some MLS funny money as the club usually does. Like they did with Ziegler.

Solve the Front Line Mess

I think it’s fair to say not a single attacking player has had a good year for Dallas.

Matt Doyle

Amen, brother.

Left wing was a revolving door all year with no solution.  Mosquera is gone, Picault had moments of good play but was mostly inconsistent.  Ryan Hollingshead filled in some but is the left back on this team, not a wing.

Ricardo Pepi, Dante Sealy, Paxton Pomykal, and Jesus Ferreira all saw time on the left.  Ema Twumasi who was out on loan all year even got a cup of coffee at Café Aile Gauche.

Right wing saw a steady stream of Michael Barrios who is starting to show signs of decline as he approaches 30. Garbage minutes went to several others until Hollingshead started the last two wide right.

Franco Jara at the 9 we talked about in the DP section above. Pepi, while on the right track, is just 17 but is a contributor off the bench with the occasional spot start all along the front line.  Ferreira – who can play wing or as the 9 – spent most of 2020 playing poorly in midfield.

FCD scored a paltry 28 goals in 2020, the 10th worst total in the league. A defender, Hollingshead, was the 2nd leading scorer behind Jara with 4.  Ferreira, 2019’s club golden boot winner, had just 1 goal in 2020. Mosquera had 4 – a hat trick included.  Picault added 3, Pepi 2.

Goal scoring has to get better. Period.

Solution

Can the strikers be coached up? Can players return to 2019 form (glances at Ferreira and Barrios)?  You’d love to see it but it’s tough to count on that.

FCD better get a 9, a wing, and a prayer. 

The 9 needs to be a prime career player that Jara will see as a challenge. I would prefer this be where the club signs a DP, but doesn’t have to be a DP, as long said 9 isn’t an over 30-year-old or a 20-something-year-old.

The wing I wouldn’t mind a younger player via foreign signing or the draft/trade/Homegrown. Someone in their mid to low 20s, closer the being ready than Dante Sealy. Given that FCD only has two open senior roster spots this probably has to be a pick or maybe homegrown.

Ferreira might end up being the answer when it’s all said and done.

Replace Big Bad Bryan

Look, we all know Bryan Reynolds is being sold this winter. He’s gone.  That means FCD will have to replace him in the team.

This isn’t the spot for a big foreign signing because there’s a long list of names who can step up. Right back – in the FCD structure – is not a bell-weather position where the club will spend a lot of money. 

Nothing has really changed a whole lot from when I wrote out the list when Reggie Cannon left except perhaps the order. 

Solution

If I were a betting man, I would put a flyer on Ema Twumasi getting the first look at right back this winter. Coach Gonzalez loves him some flying, attacking backs. You may recall a year ago the gaffer first mentioned Twumasi as a right back.  He was supposed to play there for the Austin Bold.

Behind Twumasi is Eddie Munjoma, although I don’t think the Moon-Man is ready yet. Could he be ready by the start of the season? Maybe? Possibly? But that’s only a few months away and the few spring scrimmages probably aren’t enough playing time.  Munjoma needs half a season at North Texas SC, I think.

Then you get into the ideas like Ryan Hollingshead, Johnny Nelson, Bressan, a cheaper foreign signing, or a draft pick / Homegrown.

But keep an eye on Twumasi.

Get Healthy and Stay Healthy

When we talk about FC Dallas staying healthy, we’re really mostly talking about Paxton Pomykal and, secondarily, Bryan Acosta (see above DP talk).

The Frisco club has put a lot of faith, trust, and money in Pomykal. Paxton is a special player who does special things to win big games.  FCD is in desperate need of that. 

But this will be the second season in a row we’ve talked about Pomykal’s health and how important it is for Dallas for him to get better.  That’s a trend that needs reversing.

Solution

I honestly don’t know what the answer is.

Hopefully, his 2020 surgery has cleared things up for Pax.  Perhaps he needs to develop some wisdom as to when to go all in and when to hold back. I do believe part of his injury troubles come from his relentless, never quit, nature.

One answer might be to take Pomykal out of the meat grinder in the middle of the park and play him on either wing. 

FCD has gobs of 8s to play in Luchi’s preferred 4-3-3 and is short on quality wings.  So Paxton is likely available to shift out wide. That’s a move that might kill two birds with one stone (see above front line mess).

Summation – TL;DR

1. Sign one or two DPs – filling one of the next two items.
2. Sign a lefty center back.
3. Sign a 9 and a wing.
4. Replace Reynolds – Twumasi or Munjoma.
5. Get Paxton healthy – potentially move him to wing.

Man, that’s a lot of stuff that has to go right.

6 Comments

  1. If FCD is going to compete for MLS Cup or the Supporters Shield, the club must get better about identifying and signing good DPs. FCD was knocked out of the playoffs by Seattle, who had (at least) the best three players on the pitch in Lodeiro, Ruidiaz, and Morris (you could make an argument about Morris, but no one on FCD’s roster is at the level of the first two). If Portland was fully healthy, they have at least the best two players on the pitch in Blanco and Valeri (even at his advanced age and with his more limited impact). Unless you have borderline MLS best 11 players at every position, MLS Cup or Supporters Shield is a pipe dream without real difference makers. In a one-off match can you win? Sure. But that won’t get the Shield and short of pulling out multiple miracles in a row it won’t get you the Cup either. It’s showing up with a knife to a gunfight.

    The really good DPs are close to or at an 8-figure investment over 4-5 years considering transfer fee and salary. Rightly or wrongly, that’s just what it costs. After the failed Denilson and Davino signings, the Hunts have not been shopping in the upper end of the MLS player market. Chances are, they will not in the near future either. So if the goal is MLS Cup, we’re left hoping that either one or more of the homegrowns develops into an elite player while at FCD (fingers crossed for Pax) or that FCD gets lucky or gets better with their signings.

  2. 6th place is in the upper half – not lower half. And playoff positioning is less useful as a metric than ppg because some years the top half of the conference is better than others. The team has been above 1.5 ppg in 4 of the last six years.
    NB – Dallas has the longest streak for above .500 currently in MLS (7 years).

  3. Drop a dp 9 and not sign a dp 9 in favor of a dp lefty cb is wrong imo.

    Drop dp9, tam him if you cannot just get rid of. Sign a dp 9. Sign a dp winger. Sign an MLS vet cb to partner w hedges.

    I don’t believe in burgess future here.

    Im really questionable ema rb solution w munjoma, but so long as hohead and bressan are still around, fine try it.

    Hohead is the lb, Nelson isn’t the attacking lb we want, maybe he can be the lefty cb one day? At least in a back 3 he can work now. He doesn’t get forward enough.

    Bryan Acosta, when healthy is still our better cm. Santos can lock the 6 spot. Pax on the wing is foolish as it limits his range. Servania, needs minutes. Cerrillo regressed and was locked in at ntsc?

    I don’t buy ricaurte, thank you for the loan, you did well. He’s soon hitting 30 and already started to show limited mobility. Vision is excellent but only gets you so far, pirlo role doesn’t work here.

    I could easily clear half the roster, but that’s never practical. Guys like tessman will only get better, but can’t count on him still being here?

    Jesus… I’m thinking last name means more than his game right now. He hasn’t developed.

    Barrios, speed merchant losing speed… hunts gonna hunt and hang on to him until he’s 34…..

  4. I never understood how our TAM signings could work out so well and our DPs could be such consistent trash. You’d think it’d be easier to find a quality player when you’re spending more, not less, money. But with us it’s been the opposite. TAM guys like Reto, Ricaurte, Kobra, or even Bressan pan out while DPs like Colman, Santi, Pablo, and on an on crash an burn. It’s some serious WTF stuff.

    But I have confidence in the new regime. They have a much better strike rate so far and I’m optimistic that will continue.

    1. Eric,
      Acosta, Colman, Santi, Aranguiz were only DPs because of their transfer fees. They were actually TAM level players with regards to salary. Ziegler and Lamah were more expensive salyr wise but Dallas got both of them on free’s so they didn’t take up DP slots. Comparing any of Dallas DPs to the high end DPs most other teams have is an apple to oranges comparison. Jara is reportedly the first $1M plus salary DP Dallas has had (Gruezo may have gotten to $1M before he left).

  5. With a DP and 2 international spots available I give it 90% chance that our next DP signing is from Brazil. I remember a rumor early 2020 about FCD inquiring about a couple of attacking players from Gremio. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re not already trying to finalize a deal for one of the players we were linked to. As for the CB position I would be interested in Matt Beisler . SKC play a possession style system and it helps that he’s already familiar with the league.

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