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Luchi Era: Year 1 Review

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We take a look back at Luchi’s first press conference, his vision and what he was able to accomplish in his first year as head coach.

MLS: FC Dallas at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The season is technically still going, with Dallas kicking off against Seattle next weekend but it doesn’t mean we can’t take a look back at how things have gone so far under Luchi Gonzalez. For reference, here’s when we covered his first press conference and the announcement.

Here’s how I rank Luchi based on what he said and what’s he’s accomplished.

The Values

“We are a club that is not going to prioritize buying stars, or bringing stars. We’re a club that’s committed to developing stars - star people, star players, star staff - in our philosophy. And I’m 100% in line with that.” - Luchi Gonzalez.

The first line is pretty easy to define and rate, though he probably doesn’t have much to do with it. But Luchi was very clear about this club’s mission and vision, and their values. With the exception of maybe Bryan Acosta, who was a Honduran international, FC Dallas did not buy any players of significant star power.

The second line is a little trickier to measure, as 10 months is hardly enough time to evaluate how a player is developing. However, there are enough signs pointing in the right direction:

  • Paxton Pomykal has developed into a starter and the face of the franchise
  • Ricardo Pepi made the jump from Academy - USL - MLS in less than one season
  • Jesus Ferreira became a starter and led the team in goals (8)
  • Brandon Servania has made the jump to MLS level, and probably into a regular starter
  • Thomas Roberts, John Nelson and Edwin Cerrillo played significant first team minutes

Nobody has batted an eye when five Homegrowns would regularly make the Starting XI, and the number of Homegrowns featured in the 18 can jump to 8 with regularity. If nothing else, Gonzalez has normalized the fact that this team will routinely feature Homegrowns and players who are barely old enough to vote.

The trickier aspect of evaluating this is that none of these players should have hit their ceiling yet, or even come close to it. The signing of Pomykal to an extension with a significant pay bump is certainly an indicator of the team developing their players, and putting their faith in them to take this club to the promise land. It’s still an on-going process, and probably not something that can be properly evaluated for another 3-4 years, but for Year 1, this is certainly headed in the right direction.

Rating: Incomplete (but trending A+)

Championships

“I believe there are several models that can compete in this league. Since it is a young league, I believe it is open to new ideas and new things. Atlanta’s model can win a championship. Seattle’s model can win a championship. Toronto’s model can win a championship. The Red Bulls model can win a championship. I believe our model can win a championship.”

I see championships can be won on three fronts: MLS Cup, US Open Cup and Supporter’s Shield. Though to be fair and to put Luchi’s comments in proper context, he was referring to just the MLS Cup. But I personally believe that all three warrant some kind of merit, so I’ll be including all of them.

So far in 2019, Dallas have been unsuccessful on two out of the three:

Open Cup: Round of 16

Supporter’s Shield: 13th

MLS Cup: TBD

Can this team win a championship using their values of development instead of buying? We’ll find out soon.

Rating: TBD

Style of Play

For us, that is done with 11 players that want to take care of the ball and possess the ball. 11 players where at any moment, any of them can be dangerous, attack, and create. 11 players that can transition and get the ball back. 11 players that are going to, if needed, defend the goal line. It’s a total football type idea. 11 players who can score in two passes or 20 passes and who know when to be dynamic, know when to be quick, and when to be patient and find a better opportunity to hurt the opponents back line. We want to be unpredictable for the opponent and we can disorganize them.

This one is also pretty mixed because there’s a lot to unpack here. So I’ll try to simplify it and break it down.

“11 players that want to take care of the ball and possess the ball.”

Rating: A

Dallas currently ranks 6th in the league in terms of possession at 52.6% according to WhoScored.com. That’s a significant shift from 2018 where they were 11th at 49.6% possession. And Dallas’ stats match the eye test, FCD does enjoy the majority of possession and it’s not just the 10 field players, but Jesse Gonzalez is often part of the possession build up.

“11 players where at any moment any of them can be dangerous, attack and create.”

This one is pretty fun to dissect depending on your point of view. Dallas finished the regular season with 15 different goal scorers which put them near the top in terms of distributing their scoring across different players.

MLS Number of Goal Scorers by Club

Club No. Goal Scorers
Club No. Goal Scorers
ATL 12
CHI 12
CIN 13
COL 14
CLB 11
FCD 15
DCU 11
HOU 9
LAFC 16
LAG 14
MIN 15
MTL 13
NER 13
NYC 12
NYRB 18
ORL 9
PHI 14
POR 11
RSL 11
SJE 11
SEA 10
SKC 12
TOR 16
VAN 16

(Tangent, the fun part of this research was definitely seeing Houston last with just 9.)

But while the goal scoring responsibilities were spread out well, Dallas under performed in their xGF (expected number of goals they would score). I probably don’t need any advanced statistics to show you this, as a simple eye test confirms that Dallas was pretty woeful in front of goal. Dallas ended the 2019 regular season with just a 44.7 xGF, which put them 17th in the league.

Rating: C

Conclusion

Dallas peaked in 2016, when Oscar Pareja led this side to a historic double and was an Achilles’ injury away from seriously contenting for the treble. Things looked promising in 2017 as Dallas made their way to first place in the summer, before suffering an epic collapse that ended the season out of the playoffs. 2018 ended on a limp; though Dallas did make the playoffs they were never really threatening to be more than playoff contenders at that point.

When Luchi took over for 2019, and Dallas cleaned out a lot of key players (Tesho Akindele, Roland Lamah and Victor Ulloa) from Oscar’s regime, it was clear that this would be a rebuilding year. Despite that, Gonzalez got this team to play some really sexy soccer (look at the clip below) but just couldn’t put it all together to create the scoring chances that he wanted from the possession.

That is sexy soccer and pretty impressive that Gonzalez could get his team playing with such composure and decisiveness on the ball in under a year. Now it’s about what kind of pieces can they add either from the transfer window or from NTSC and the Academy to round out Luchi’s vision for Year 2.