Barring an undefeated run to end the season, FC Dallas will complete one of the worst collapses in MLS history and miss the 2013 playoffs. With the team traveling to Salt Lake today, it feel appropriate to shift the focus to the off-season and next year. These last four games can have an important impact on next season, though.
Based on Drew's report, Hyndman is in trouble, so clearly many of his players can't feel their 2014 jobs are secure, either. There are only a handful of 2013 contributors whose names can be written in ink on the 2014 roster. Whoever is coaching, they should see Blas Perez, George John, Matt Hedges, Mauro Diaz, and Kellyn Acosta as assets worth holding onto. Erick and Walker Zimmerman have at the very least shown enough in his brief time here to warrant a spot in training camp, and it would be very surprising if he doesn't stick around.
Of course, almost all of the homegrown players will stick around, too. After all, when Steve Hunt of 3rd Degree talked to Dan Hunt, the Dallas owner made a point of talking up the youth national team pedigree of their young players, who are "the kids I like to bring up and have be professionals here.... That’s more my model." Doesn't sound like HSG would be at all open to cutting loose homegrowns unless they have had years to prove themselves and failed to do so. Of the 8 homegrowns on the roster, Victor Ulloa and Jonathan Top are the only ones who might fit that description, and either or both could go the way of Bryan Leyva and Ruben Luna in the winter.
So, who needs to produce during this final month in order to impress whoever is in charge of FC Dallas next year? While the salaries listed below are relevant, keep in mind that Tigres' partial purchase of Richard Sanchez' player rights should provide enough allocation money to allow FCD to bring in new players. Getting rid of larger salaries below could help, but which roster spots to open up is the big question.
One or both of Jackson (Base Salary: $144k / Guaranteed Compensation: $163,375) and Fabian Castillo ($60k / $66,250) should be sold this winter. Both have speed and ball skills to burn, but have historically over-dribbled and shot from bad spots instead of make the smart play. They have both drained the life out of myriad attacks, and even fans of their games should see these two as redundant. Fabian has the inside track, since he is 4 years younger than the Brazilian, and his decision-making has improved, especially in the last month or so.
Jair Benitez ($90k / $90k) It is simply unwise to be highly dependent upon 35 year old at a position at which speed is a vital asset. He, Michel ($60k / $81,500), Andrew Jacobson ($122,500 / $135k), JeVaughn Watson ($100k / $116,875), Zach Loyd ($92,372.50 / $136,997.50), Bobby Warshaw ($50,820 / 62,070), and Ramon Nunez ($65k / $75k) all need to prove that they will either challenge to start next year or be a cost-effective, useful bench option, with the latter probably the best case for the club. Outwardly, it seems Loyd and Nunez seem like the most likely to take steps forward to be starters in 2014. Stephen Keel ($46,500 / $46,500) kind of belongs in this paragraph as well, but on the veteran's minimum his spot really comes down to whether he beats out any homegrown or draftee that comes in to challenge at backup centerback.
Health is the major question mark for Peter Luccin ($90k / $131k), Eric Hassli ($237,276 / $262,276), and Ugo Ihemelu ($200k / $200k). It has to be noted that these are the 3 listed salaries that these are also the least trustworthy. Word is that Luccin re-negotiated his deal after his injury, Hassli is still being paid some amount be Toronto, and if Ugo can't recover fully in the next couple months, there has to be a good chance he would agree to having his contract bought out. Overall, if Luccin or Hassli show some level of promise, it all depends on what the club is truly paying them, and we just don't know that.
There are five goalkeepers currently on the roster. This year that made a tiny bit of sense, with expected international absences, but next year it must be cut down to the more normal figure of 3 keepers. One of Raul Fernandez ($150k / $237,500), Chris Seitz ($90k / 90k), and Richard Sanchez ($46,500 / 63,500) has to go. The club must have prices in mind for each, and the one who garners the best relative offer should clear out, making space for Jesse Gonzalez (who is certain to stay) to take the 3rd spot. Kyle Zobeck's ($35,125 / $35,125) best hope is the Hunts suddenly decided to launch a reserve club in USL Pro.
Which brings us to the two players whose October performances are most vital to the club:
David Ferreira ($625k / $730k) Projecting Ferreira going forward is very difficult to do without having a full picture of his health this season. We were told he played at 75%, and he seemed to be worse than that for a long stretch. When healthy he was actually quite productive. He really needs to step up and have a great month so that FCD can either feel confident in keeping him or allow them to offload DF10 without running a TFC special and continuing to pay much of his salary.
Kenny Cooper ($325k / $342,500) In 2013 Kenny has had career lows in goals per 90 (0.18), shots per 90 (2.26), shots on goal per 90 (1.04), goals per shot (8.1%), and goals per shot on goal ( but he probably played more midfield minutes than he every has before. Goals are a notoriously fickle mistress, and while it's frustrating to watch a striker during an unproductive season, it is not at all unusual for one of Cooper's quality to have an off year, especially if misused, then bounce back the next. Over his MLS career, Cooper has averaged 0.44 goals and 1.46 shots on goal per 90, which is his expected output next year if used properly.
The general career arc of strikers and Cooper's career specifically says that he is very likely to regress up to the mean next year. If he struggles this month and Dallas offloads him on a discount, it will be a bad outcome for the club. Cooper playing well and scoring a couple goals this month could vitally boost confidence in him inside and outside the organization, and insure that whether he stays or goes he will do so under proper valuation.
So that's 20 players who should not feel very secure that they will return next year. Most of them will be back, because it would be foolish to think the club could bounce back quickly from an overhauling two thirds of the roster. There is real talent on this team, but the current pieces don't really fit together as a team. It will be up to the new skipper to figure out which ones will work together next year and how.