FC Dallas is still searching for the club’s first MLS Cup title, but it has earned another title along the way, that of high-level talent factory.
Luchi Gonzalez has watched several talents leave the FC Dallas pipeline for greener pastures in Europe, most recently Bryan Reynolds, all while keeping FC Dallas competitive, and 2021 should be no different. In fact, if there is going to be a difference heading into the new season it is that FC Dallas will be leaning on foreign talent more and homegrown talent less, at least initially.
FC Dallas revamped its squad this winter, bringing in a pair of exciting South American wingers as well as a talented Spanish centerback to strengthen the defense. Adding those new players to the attacking trio of Franco Jara, Bryan Acosta and Andres Ricaurte will give FC Dallas a much more experienced group than we are used to seeing defend Toyota Stadium.
That doesn’t mean Gonzalez won’t find opportunities for his impressive collection of homegrown talent. Tanner Tessmann is poised for a prominent role in the Dallas midfield, while Jesus Ferreira should get a chance to bounce back from a disappointing 2020 on the club level. There is also young striker Ricardo Pepi, who is anxious to take on a bigger role with the first team after playing well in USL.
Then you have Paxton Pomykal, the 2019 breakout player who endured an injury-plagued 2020 and has gone from future star to a bit of a forgotten man in American soccer circles. Can he regain the form that once made him one of the most promising youngsters in MLS?
FC Dallas should be a playoff team, and should once again be a handful in the postseason, but how Gonzalez manages his collection of foreign upgrades alongside a crop of youngsters eager for playing time will determine whether Dallas can be a title contender or just a team on the playoff fringes.
Here is a closer look at FC Dallas heading into 2021:
2021 FC Dallas Season Preview
2020 Finish: Sixth in Western Conference (9-6-7, 34 points, lost in Western Conference semifinals.)
Key Additions: Freddy Vargas, Jose Martinez, Jader Obrian, Kalil Elmedkhar, Szabolcs Schön
Key Losses: Thiago Santos, Reto Ziegler, Michael Barrios, Fafa Picault, Santiago Mosquera, Brandon Servania (loan), Callum Montgomery
Newcomer to Watch: Jose Martinez
Reto Ziegler’s departure from FC Dallas after three solid season left the door open for the club to upgrade after riding with the 34-year-old Swiss defender, and upgrade is what FCD found in Jose Martinez, a 28-year-old Spanish defender with a good pedigree, skilled left foot and the size and strength to be a force in a way Ziegler wasn’t.
Martinez’s arrival spells great news for Matt Hedges, who should now be able to spend less time covering for his partner in central defense and more time focusing on his specific assignments. If Martinez enjoys a smooth transition into MLS, then Dallas could boast one of the best centerback tandems in the league.
Pressure is On: Tanner Tessmann
FC Dallas sold Brazilian midfielder Thiago Santos to Gremio in the offseason in a deal that left a big hole in the FCD midfield, but also created an opportunity for a young player like Tessmann to step up. The 19-year-old, who recently made his U.S. Men’s National Team debut, is more a box-to-box midfielder, but has held up well at times when called upon to play as more of a pure defensive midfielder.
That being said, replacing Santos’ defensive presence will not be easy. The Brazilian established himself as one of the more underrated defensive midfielders in MLS. Tessmann is a different kind of player, and not nearly as strong defensively, but Luchi Gonzalez could make a tactical adjustment to provide some more support. He could also put his trust in Tessmann to handle the role, while also taking heart in the knowledge that he upgraded his central defense, which should put less of a defensive burden on the defensive midfield role.
It’s never easy keeping a team on an upward trajectory, especially when it sells its best young talents while its veterans age and slow down, but FC Dallas made a concerted effort to revamp the roster, and the additions FCD made to the roster look like they will be upgrades.
Start with the team’s wingers. Newly-acquired Jader Obrian and Freddy Vargas are young and speedy and should be able to stretch defenses if their preseason success was any indication.
You can also point to Colombian midfielder Andres Ricaurte, who isn’t a new arrival, but after joining the team in the middle of the 2020 season, he should show improvement on a promising debut season in Texas now that he has had a full preseason and more time to adapt to a new league. The left-footed playmaker showed some great glimpses last season, but he should feel more comfortable in 2021, and having a pair of young and speedy wingers on either side of him can’t hurt either.
Defensively, the departures of Reto Ziegler and Bryan Reynolds will mean a new look to the back-line, with John Nelson expected to step in for Reynolds, and Jose Martinez slotting into the left centerback role. Nelson should help bring more defensive solidity to right back, though he will struggle to match the attacking threat Reynolds could provide.
The change from Ziegler to Martinez should be a considerable upgrade. As much as Ziegler was a dependable defender, he had his limitations, and at the age of 34, he had clearly lost a step. In Martinez, FC Dallas has a much more physical presence who will also be better on the ball, which should help the backline in general, and centerback partner Matt Hedges especially.
Given those upgrades, it is understandable why there is a sense that FC Dallas will be a tougher team to deal with in 2021.
“We know that we have higher achievements,” Gonzalez said. “We want to improve our football. We want to improve our ability to press. We want to improve our purpose with the ball, and our ability to play vertical and get forward, and to dominate the ball.
“There’s a lot of things we have the opportunity to improve.”
Those improvements Gonzalez wants to make should be easier to achieve with a revamped roster that has more overall speed and strength than in 2020, and if the newcomers adapt quickly to MLS then FC Dallas could be a prime candidate for a considerable team improvement.
“I think with the players that we have this year we should be competing for an MLS Cup,” Hedges said. “Last year we beat Portland in Portland, had a good game against Seattle, one set piece decided it. We had our chances. I think we’re close. We just need things to bounce our way, and get the job done.”
FC Dallas Roster
Goalkeepers: Jimmy Maurer, Phelipe Megiolaro, Kyle Zobeck.
Defenders: Bressan, Nkosi Burgess, Justin Che, Matt Hedges, Ryan Hollingshead, Jose Antonio Martinez, Eddie Munjoma, John Nelson.
Midfielders: Bryan Acosta, Edwin Cerrillo, Kalil Elmedkhar, Nicky Hernandez, Paxton Pomykal, Andres Ricarte, Thomas Roberts, Brandon Servania, Tanner Tessmann.
Forwards: Jesus Ferreira, Franco Jara, Jader Obrian, Ricardo Pepi, Dante Sealy, Ema Twumasi, Freddy Vargas.