Going into 2017, FC Dallas’ one big strength seemed to be its defense. It had a strong sense of continuity with Matt Hedges, the 2016 MLS Defender of the Year, rising star Walker Zimmerman, and seasoned veteran Maynor Figueroa. Newcomers included loanee Hernan Grana who had a stellar stint with the Columbus Crew a few years back. Ryan Hollingshead and Atiba Harris both seemed competent outside back options. A few youngsters, including Aaron Guillen who flashed some solid minutes as a left back, also rounded out what seemed like a solid core.
And then, well, 2017 happened.
FC Dallas’ defense was certainly not all that was ailing this team, but it didn’t help. Zimmerman got injured, and afraid perhaps to thrust in some rookies, he and the squad got burned in key games. Harris (pictured) clocked in some minutes, but while he is a savvy veteran, he isn’t up to the par of Hedges. And seriously, something happened to Hedges in the Gold Cup. Bruce Arena got into his head. Hernan Grana miraculously got an All-Star game nod despite being at best inconsistent.
Seriously, I still have this miserable GIF:
With the roster cut on Monday, it’s clear now that the team who gave up 48 goals this past season (which is actually decent considering) is in a rebuild mode along the back line.
When you do a home makeover, you can go a couple of routes - you can gut the place and start fresh (ala LA Galaxy this offseason), or you can apply a fresh coat of paint and a key upgrade here or there. I can’t decide which route FC Dallas is taking just yet.
Are they gutting the place?
You can argue that FC Dallas is for the most part re-making their defensive backline. Sure, Zimmerman and Hedges are still around, plus jack-of-all-trade Hollingshead who might be a left back or a right back or a striker or goalkeeper or whatever Oscar Pareja decides each day the guy suits up. Reggie Cannon got exactly one minute of MLS minutes, so he’s still a rookie in 2018 (though not technically according to how rules work). Anibal Chala, on loan back in Ecuador last season, will also be a new face, promising speed on that left side. Figueroa is negotiating a return, which would be nice considering how depleted this team will be.
It’s not inconceivable that FC Dallas will look for a starting CB and a starting RB this offseason, leaving Chala, Hollingshead, and Figueroa to platoon that left back position. I’m not saying Zimmerman is going to lose his starting spot, but a solid veteran could very well unseat the guy who faded spectacularly down the stretch. I don’t think that happens, but I didn’t think this team would miss the playoffs. So who knows?
If this team ends up with Chala, Hedges, a new CB, and a new RB or even a back line of Chala, Hedges, Zim, and some new RB, you are essentially looking at a complete revamp of this back line. At least two players might be earning their first significant minutes in MLS play. That’s knocking down some drywall and rebooting the project. There is bound to be a steep learning curve involved for some of those new faces.
Are they just looking to upgrade?
Outside back was a position that FC Dallas could have used help managing. Late in the season, Figueroa courageously poked in a couple of goals, but that kind of presence was sorely needed earlier on. I think the back line just didn’t work out. Grana might have had a few good games, but either the communication wasn’t good enough or he never got comfortable in his role. Figueroa was nice if you want a conservative defense-first left back who only dared dip his toes in the offensive half on full moons.
If Hedges and Zimmerman both get healthy and back in form, this team can easily aim to slot in Hollingshead at left back, hardly a rookie. This gives an opportunity for Chala to earn his minutes and ease into MLS play. FC Dallas then just looks for a competitive RB and some depth in the center. I don’t know if Reggie Cannon can start right away as an outside back, so he might continue to work his way into minutes here or there.
Finding one solid RB is probably a more reasonable and cost-effective solution than scouting two starters without breaking the bank. That’s the thing about upgrades - they aren’t as exciting as gutting the place, but they aren’t as expensive either.
Or is there a new formation in the works?
Some of my fellow writers have long argued that Pareja dreams of a 3-5-2, with Hedges, Zimmerman, and Figueroa working as a trio. In this scenario, Chala and an attacking right wingback would be advanced up the field, creating havoc for Maxi Urruti, Michael Barrios, and Mauro Diaz to enjoy. I don’t know if Hollingshead would be useful in this role on the right side. Does Cannon posses these skills?
Wildcard: Adonijah Reid, the young Generation Adidas Canadian who actually plays on the wing, was spotted in a practice session at right back. Could this be the solution?
Switching to such a formation still would require an investment of central defensive depth and a right back that fits the mold. It seems risky to me, but if this was Pareja’s game plan all along, this could be the moment and opportunity to give it a shot. What else does he have to lose? This offseason is a window to bring a new flavor to this team.
A new formation is kind of like selling your house and buying an RV. It’s an adventure. I think fans would be up for an adventure.
Oh, and about our goalkeeping...
With Chris Seitz and Eduardo “Pollo” Cortez gone, Jesse Gonzalez is currently the only goalkeeper under contract on the roster. We knew this might be the case heading into the offseason. Jesse is definitely this team’s present and future at that position, but this means the team will need to shop for a reasonably priced veteran to back him up. Carlos Avilez, who FCD signed to a USL contract, might be a shoe-in for a spot on the depth chart if they need him.
Fans are right to mourn the loss of longtime shot stopper, Chris Seitz, but a decent backup keeper should be available in the re-entry draft. I don’t think there is panic around this position as Jesse has been very healthy and solid in his time and growth. Of course, could we still see the fruition of those rumors about a big name foreign GK coming to FC Dallas?
What do you think?
Is FC Dallas’ defense essentially being gutted? Is it just a bit of a makeover? Or is Pareja going to unveil something completely different? Share below.