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Quick Burns: What was the biggest surprise from FC Dallas in 2019?

A lot of good things happened in 2019, but what was the most surprising thing we learned from FC Dallas?

MLS: New York Red Bulls at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 season is indeed over for FC Dallas, as much as we don’t want to accept that still today. We’re slowly rolling into offseason mode around these parts and as we do, our staff has come together to look at some surprises that they learned from the team in 2019.

What stood out to you that was surprising in 2019? Let us know below.

Nathan Hill - Brandon Servania in the middle.

We had many midfield surprises in 2019 as the lineup shifted. Edwin Cerrillo started out the year on a meteoric rise. I expected him to own that spot, since he played so well and so clean. However, like many youngsters, he experienced some struggles especially after he didn’t get many minutes at the U20 World Cup. Brandon Servania, however, came out of that experience on fire, locking down the position and becoming key to FC Dallas’ success. This team has such talent in the midfield, so it says something that in the biggest game of the year that Servania was trusted by Luchi and staff to get the start. Next year, those spots are going to be tightly contested with Paxton Pomykal, Edwin Cerrillo, Jacori Hayes, Bryan Acosta, Jesus Ferreira, and Brandon Servania fighting for opportunities. It’s an exciting problem to have for such a young team, so credit to Brandon for making his mark and all but locking in a spot for next season.

Jason Poon - Brandon Servania

Gonna have to agree with my colleague Nathan here. We all knew Servania could ball, but didn’t think he would make a case to start for the first team this year. If anything, I expected him to be a prominent starter for North Texas. Cerrillo falling off a bit, and the sale of Carlos Gruezo opened the door of opportunity.

Bonus: Ricardo Pepi. Again, we all knew he could ball but I don’t think any of us really thought he’d dominate the USL-1 Level right out of the game like he did.

Drew Epperley - Ryan Hollingshead

Maybe it isn’t a total surprise but the veteran fullback beat out a TAM-level player (though that could be questioned now) in Marquinhos Pedroso in preseason and then held off some strong competition from guys like Bressan (another TAM signing) and rookie John Nelson. He also played center back, in the midfield and on the wings this year. He was a Jesse Gonzalez yellow card away from having to play emergency keeper in the playoffs too.

Needless to say, Hollingshead’s game rose to a new level for me this year, which was not something I was expecting out of him. Now he is a key part of the defense and a veteran leader that this team will lean on for the coming years.

Jeff Loftin - Luchi Gonzalez

Hands down the biggest surprise to me was Luchi and his development as a top-level manager. Getting used to the league, the impact of travel and wear & tear on players, squad rotation and handling all of the emotions and personalities in the locker room were all challenges that he had to face head-on. I am incredibly impressed with him and with how the team’s mentality changed. Yes, there were young fresh faces, but the team seemed unified and determined the whole season. The playoff game in Seattle exemplified this as the team went behind several times and never gave up, never stopped playing their game. The young players like Servania were great and really impressed me but nothing compares to how pleasantly surprised I am with Luchi this year. He got the most out of the players we had, including guys like Hollingshead - who was incredible this year and has a case for POTY for the team. So, so, so impressed.

Scott Hiney – Ryan Hollingshead

I wrote about this back in September, but 2019 was an anomaly of a season for Hollingshead in several ways, even beyond his scoring output. For one, he was apart of a backline that, by-and-large, stayed together all season as he, Hedges, Ziegler and Cannon each started at least 26 league games — with Ryan, Reto and Matt starting at least 32.

On top of that, his offensive breakthrough was incredibly necessary during a stretch of the season that preceded Zedenek Ondrasek’s rise and following Jesus Ferriera’s solid start to the year. As a player who prides himself on his attacking acumen, that came to the forefront this season at the exact time it was needed.

If you told me in March that an FC Dallas defender would finish third in the team’s Golden Boot race, I would’ve assumed that — more likely than Hollingshead catching fire — Reto Ziegler found himself a bunch of penalty kick opportunities. I’m overjoyed that such a consistent and reliable player for the club was able to notch himself a Best XI-caliber season.

Mohammad Bushnaq - FCD's Goalscoring

From Colman being unable to play a single minute in MLS this year to Jesus turning in a FC Dallas Golden Boot performance, FCD's goalscoring was nowhere near what I expected it to be. As always, this team spread the wealth around with scoring. Badji bagged six goals but so did our Swiss army knife (see above). Mosquera also contributed five, but I honestly thought we would have a double digit goalscorer this year and it did not happen.

Enter Kobra: The man had a whopping one start in 26 matches yet managed to turn it on as the season progressed. He finishedone goal behind Jesus in the Golden Boot race with seven on the year and I genuinely believe he would have had ten goals at least had he featured more. Maybe next year, but that was the most interesting development over the course of the season. The continued distribution of scoring wealth for this team.

Jose Carmona - Luchi played the kids!

I know that you’re thinking to yourself that FCD always plays the kids, and has been one of the top teams for Homegrowns in MLS for the past 5 years. This is true to some extent, but all Homegrown minutes are not built the same. Take for example, this season’s MLS leaders in Homegrown minutes, Real Salt Lake. Bravo to RSL, who lead MLS with an amazing 12,274 regular season HG minutes, spread across 9 players. Now take a closer look at the makeup of those numbers, and you’ll see that all but one of those HG players were 22 years old or older at the end of the season, with the lone teenager getting a total of 4 minutes. New York Red Bull, and the Philadelphia Union, the other top clubs for HG minutes, both also have an older Homegrown roster.

FC Dallas on the other hand, had 9 players get MLS minutes who were 21 years or younger. 7 of those players were teenagers, with Jesus Ferreira and Paxton Pomykal as the top 2 teeneagers to earn minutes in MLS. Include all the 21 years or younger players across MLS, and FC Dallas had 2 of the top 3 players in minutes played, with Jesus and Reggie Cannon as those players. FC Dallas actually had 5 of the top 21 players for minutes played, 21 years or younger in all of MLS, with 4 of those players being teenagers (Jesus, Pax, Brandon & Cerrillo). These were meaningful minutes, with Cerrillo bringing up the rear at just over 940 minutes.

In the past, other teams could argue that FC Dallas did not have an MLS II squad, and therefore had to find minutes for their kids. That’s not an argument that applies today, as many a Homegrown, got plenty of minutes with North Texas SC. Luchi fielded the youngest team in MLS, with an average age of 24.8 years old. With a promising young roster at North Texas SC likely to provide multiple players to the teams 2020 roster, there’s a very real chance that 2020 could dwarf this season’s Homegrown/youth minutes totals.

Ben Lyon - The incredible success of North Texas SC

A developmental club winning both the regular season (handily with a goal difference of +22) and the playoffs in their inaugural season with a first time professional coach is a superlative achievement. What’s more they did that with a constantly rotating cast of characters. North Texas used a whopping 38 (!!!) different players on their way to the crown, and of those, 13 were amateurs/academy players at some point during the season. They even managed to get Michel a game.

The club achieved and often exceeded all of their goals for this season in regards to development, getting minutes for first team players, and winning with a style that mimics the first team all while imposing their will on the league. You simply could not ask for more out of this team, and it is an extremely exciting development for FC Dallas.