Thirteen games into the season, FC Dallas sits a couple of points above the playoff line at 5-5-3. There have been some stellar performances with youngsters and veterans showcasing what is possible under Coach Luchi’s new possession-oriented approach, but there have been stumbles and struggles too. While Luchi has shown some willingness to go pragmatic in key games to secure vital points, he’s also been doggedly determined to create a new “FC Dallas way” for how this team and franchise is going to leave its mark on Major League Soccer.
Earlier this year, Gonzalez told MLSSoccer.com, as reported by Sam Stejskal, “Pep Guardiola said that the academy shouldn’t play like the first team, the first team should play like the academy. I think that kind of says it all.”
No surprise, the youngsters who know Coach Luchi have thrived with new opportunities so far this season. Paxton Pomykal has become a linchpin for the offense, and the squad has struggled when he is out. Edwin Cerrillo is in the running for rookie of the year, a huge story since this kid only signed a homegrown contract in February. (Fellow writer, Ben Lyon, points out that when Cerrillo starts, FC Dallas is 5-2-2.) Jesus Ferreira is the likely goal scorer FC Dallas have vainly tried to find in free agency but now find sitting in their lap. He’s pitched in 4 goals and 2 assists to this point. SuperDraft pick John Nelson is quickly acclimating to the team style enough to make veteran Marquinhos Pedroso a surplus to the team’s needs.
Veterans have had their moments too, though, as Michael Barrios stakes a claim to being team MVP to this point in the season (2g/5a). Matt Hedges and Reto Ziegler are adjusting to expanded roles, even if it places more pressure on them to distribute with precision. Ryan Hollingshead has quickly gained the trust of his new head coach and is being deployed all over the field to help the team in the midst of call ups and injury issues. Number one goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez has never looked better, while Bryan Acosta and Carlos Gruezo are making game day midfield selections tough. So far, Coach Luchi has quilted these various pieces into the beginning of something intriguing.
What sets the FC Dallas apart this year, even more so than previous years, is the youth movement — an incredible gift and incredible challenge. In years past, FC Dallas might have filled out its roster with a few high risk, cheap loan options from Central America, while other teams in the league might have opted for league minimum veterans on the tail end of their careers. Now when someone goes down, however, Luchi is turning to teenagers. Homegrown youngsters with high ceilings but real learning curves as they adjust to Major League Soccer. It’s a weird but wonderful problem to have.
As deep as the roster is in potential and talent, in recent weeks, it’s been clear that some gaps remain. Some of the youngsters need more seasoning and minutes through FC Dallas’ USL League One team, North Texas Soccer Club. Injuries, red cards, yellow card accumulation, and international call ups are requiring Luchi to be creative and make do with a “less is more” approach. In particular, when Barrios is out, the team has struggled. So far, Gonzalez has opted to try Santiago Mosquera, Pablo Aranguiz, Ferreira, Ema Twumasi, Ryan Hollingshead, and Dominique Badji on the wings to keep the attack humming, mostly without success. With that summer window coming open, fans are wondering - could a talented winger be in FC Dallas’ sights?
But putting those challenges aside, is the roster the right mix of players and talents to play Luchi ball?
Luchi has repeated the refrain that this team continues to “build” and “find their way”. What players might help this team live into that new style of play ahead of the curve? Is Luchi telling Dan Hunt what he needs to be successful? And is FC Dallas ready to bring those guys to Frisco?
Dan Hunt recently indicated the team has the cap space, international spots, and roster flexibility to make some significant signings happen:
What Hunt doesn’t say is the other side of the coin - who might be leaving Frisco this summer? With so many youngsters showing well, some larger European teams are going to look at bolstering their future with bright American players. Frisco looks like a potential one-stop-shop. Coach Luchi was clear early on that the team’s mission is to compete for championships while developing talent to sell across the pond. It’s an exciting approach, even if it means some players fulfilling their potential while wearing something other than a Dallas kit.
Predicting transfers is tough, but who might be leaving? Who might be sticking around despite rumblings from within and without?
Who Will Stay
- Reggie Cannon is a solid RB, and while he would likely depart for a smaller fee than some other youngsters, is he ready to make such a move? A number of clubs will keep an eye on him, for sure, but he needs this year to continue to show his growth and versatility. After a solid breakout season, Reggie is being asked to adjust his game to Coach Luchi’s system as he works his way into the fringes of the USMNT squad with consistent play. Ultimately, this challenge will make him an all around better option for future suitors and systems.
- Badji has been a bit of a rollercoaster. After a strong preseason, he’s missed some terrible sitters. His most recent showing against Los Angeles FC, despite continuing to deal with nagging injuries, highlights his athleticism as a wing player. Though some fans are not happy with his play since arriving last year, he likely sticks around for the time-being. Maybe an expansion team comes calling, but FC Dallas needs as much depth on the wings as they can muster right now.
- Barrios has been at the center of a few rumors for a while now, but he has been the most consistent and exciting player for FC Dallas over the past few seasons. Sure, he frustrates fans from time to time, but FC Dallas should try to make Mikey a permanent fixture in Frisco for years to come. He seems like the kind of player, even as he climbs in age, who will be a good soldier, solid mentor, and important piece for this roster. It would take a really ridiculous fee to pry him from Frisco, and the kinds of teams interested wouldn’t likely be able to meet that valuation anyway. He stays.
- Cerrillo is on track for rookie of the year, but his sudden meteoric rise will also cool any rumors for him. Teams will likely want to see more, so FC Dallas gets to enjoy a better Victor Ulloa with room to grow for foreseeable future. Cerrillo could be a longterm franchise piece, but there is always the possibility that a strong U20 showing will change that prognosis fast.
Who Could Go
- Aranguiz is definitely a work in progress. He’s young, and he is showing some fight in the expanded minutes he is getting. Ultimately, though, with 0 goals and 0 assists to his name, Pablo is not looking like a difference maker. While FC Dallas may not have lost their faith in him, it’s hard to imagine Dan Hunt refusing a decent offer if it comes in. I think a loan would do him well even in the worst case scenario - if FC Dallas is ready to move on.
- Pomykal has the telltale signs of a future FC Dallas legend, but will he be here long enough? With his hot start to the season and now an international stage to display his gifts yet again, some team is going to come calling with a tempting offer padded with solid future fees to make it extra worthwhile to FC Dallas to let their phenom go. There are plenty of teams, including one called Bayern Munich, who might be looking to restock with young talent. I hope Paxton gets to stick around to the end of the season, but I don’t see how a team with an opening in the midfield could resist taking a shot on this emerging star.
- Ferreira is also lighting it up, and while I can see FC Dallas doing everything they can to hold on to him for as long as possible, a sizable fee is in his future. Period. The question is when. Fans would hate to lose both Jesus and Paxton in a single transfer window, but it gives an opportunity for the next youngster to step up and build on FCD’s reputation as global developer of stars.
- Carlos Gruezo is an intriguing candidate. He might stick around, but this summer portends to be a great time for him to make his next career stop with plenty of young talent ready to replace him in FC Dallas’ lineup. Carlos has shown growth as a professional. He’s been consistent and consistently underrated in the league. While the defensive midfielder may not command a huge fee, some team is going to take a hard look at the guy and be very happy with what he will bring to their pitch.
One Crazy Thought
- Jesse Gonzalez has been with this team for a long while, and though it seems nuts to think he might depart soon, is there a better young American goalkeeper who can immediately step onto a bigger stage and keep teams in it with incredible saves? It’s only a matter of time before some club takes interest in him, especially one or two in Mexico. Maybe Jesse will get the respect he deserves in such a scenario and become USA’s preferred No. 1 choice?
- Who do you think is going to stay and go this summer?
- What one position do you hope Hunt and company target in the summer to bolster FC Dallas’ chances of postseason success?
- Which youth player will command the highest fee?
- Will FC Dallas buy more players or sell more players this summer?