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After Dark Preview: Where do we go from here?

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While we plan an end of season After Dark podcast, let’s think about the big decisions the team faces this offseason, starting with roster questions.

MLS: FC Dallas at San Jose Earthquakes Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Well, friends and fellow Dallas fans, the end is here.

FC Dallas concluded 2020 on a bit of a high note, so we went into this season excited to see what Luchi Gonzalez and company could do, especially with some promising signings.

Months later, there was little joy in watching this team plummet to painful depths.

I join you eager to turn the page on 2021.

At least we can take some positives from the year:

  • FC Dallas claimed the first-ever Copa Tejas, crushing Austin FC along the way.
  • Ricardo Pepi and Jesus Ferreira look like stars that deserve their success.
  • Nkosi Tafari has emerged as a legit long-term CB to build around.
  • Paxton Pomykal got healthy.

But we are left with a lot of negatives that will linger:

  • Is Dan Hunt really committed to having a franchise that can win?
  • Are we sure the front office staff is capable of getting it right in regards to a coaching change and future transfers?
  • Why are high-priced veterans underperforming in Dallas?
  • Was cutting Luchi really a fix?
  • Are fans being heard about the stadium experience? Are supporters groups being... supported?
  • Will the team make the right choice on the next head coach?

For fans of FC Dallas, we have a lot of waiting to do as we see how the team navigates the aftermath of this strange season where very little went right.

I’ve got a few potential scenarios for us to consider. We will discuss these soon on an After Dark live show to break down the season and let it vent. Look for some extra voices added into the mix. Follow me on Twitter for the details: @nathanjhill.

Scenario One: FC Dallas stays conservative.

Let’s assume that Dan Hunt truly believes this team is capable of winning with just a few additions. Let’s also assume the team is going to be stingy in the offseason and limit the number of incoming players. The good news is there is a core of a team that can be competitive in MLS if transfer moves don’t work out.

This is not an ideal scenario, but it is a good thought experiment.

In this scenario, Jesus Ferreira is moved into the striker role, and Paxton Pomykal is finally moved back to the center to wreak havoc and spring attacks. Schon and Obrian bring heat and dynamism on the wings. Servania serves as that other playmaker bombing out of the midfield to cause disruption, win balls, and spring attacks. Quignon or Cerrillo provide cover to our defense. While I like imagining Edwin locks down the spot, maybe Quignon needs a couple of months break and gets his head and body right to be the kind of defensive midfield presence that he is capable of being.

The backline and goalkeeper stay consistent per the last two matches, although I am one of those fans not sold on Twumasi as anything other than a solid roster presence.

This scenario assumes that Bryan Acosta is sold, that Franco Jara continues in an off the bench role, and that the team only brings in other project-type players who aren’t ready to compete right away for a starting spot.

The key question is - would this lineup get FC Dallas into a playoff spot?

I don’t know. While it could be a fun lineup to watch, we saw lots of mistakes from the defense. We saw wasted opportunities with similar lineups. Maybe they can fix those things and keep improving. Maybe there is enough youth who will take 2021 to heart and get stronger during the offseason. It’s possible, and really, you know, with a solid coach and game plan, there are points to be had in MLS with a team like this.

Ultimately though, I don’t think sticking pat will be enough. The team can’t just expect to slowly improve - they need to improve rapidly.

Scenario Two: New Coach, New Formation

A new coach could look at the roster and try to get the highest quality players on the field together at one time.

This scenario suggests that Dan Hunt makes it a priority that Franco Jara is the guy going into 2022.

Jara always plays better as a second striker, where he can serve a little more as a Target Man upfront. Jesus Ferreira would then work in tandem with him as that pure second striker to cause chaos and havoc, spearheading attacks. Obrian has shown he can be a capable speedy force, so a playmaking star left winger would be a priority for signing, spending a significant chunk of the transfer budget to bring in a guy from Europe or South America with a proven track record of assists and set-piece specialist skills. Schon would still have a vital role as a bench option and push Obrian for minutes.

I would prefer a more active pairing in the central midfield, but again, this banks on Quignon and his high salary paying off next to a relentless Pomykal (with Servania as a backup). If Bryan Acosta sticks around, maybe he locks down a spot here as well.

A 4-4-2 isn’t the sexiest formation in the world, but it might work with these particular players, especially a legit left winger.

Note: I thought about going with a 3-5-2 here, but it just hasn’t worked super well in Frisco.

Scenario Three: Aggressive Turnover

Let's say Dan Hunt gives Zanotta permission to clean house and build around the young players with the kinds of transfers that will really help the team take a step forward.

Players leaving Dallas include Bryan Acosta, Franco Jara, Bressan, Johnny Nelson, and Quignon (in addition to Ricardo Pepi). Maybe Brandon Servania is traded to create some more flexibility. Maybe we get permanent transfers for Dante Sealy and Thomas Roberts, building up a nice chunk of budget space and transfer/silly money.

This formation includes at least two new Designated Players. First, Dallas spends close to $6-8 million on a solid in their prime striker. The player needs to be legit somehow. Second, they bring in a true midfield destroyer as a Designated Player to cover ground and lock down the defense, utilizing another big chunk of change (although relatively smaller than a striker would require). Edwin Cerrillo continues to develop as an understudy. Finally, they go out and find from MLS or abroad a veteran left winger and veteran right back to push the youngsters but also provide clarity and consistency in those positions. Schon, Twumasi, Hernandez, and other development projects still have roles to play.

The midfield is super aggressive. Ferreira as a deeper midfielder is interesting, something we saw briefly on Sunday. Pomykal is given permission to run around and mess with our opponents with his energy and creativity. That destroyer is legit, someone we haven’t seen since Gruezo. They sit back deep, disrupt, and organize. A new left winger earns a chunk of the salary budget but delivers and the same for a right back who has the experience and isn’t going to learn on the go for once. The key will be both have good crossing ability, so they immediately improve the offense and provide more opportunities for our attackers to finish.

I don’t know how you find all these players and do it on a tight budget, but you have to try, right?

Conclusion

As much as I would love to see an aggressive scenario, I don’t know that the front office has done a great job identifying and signing big time DPs or even solid veterans in a while. Do players want to come to Frisco? Or would Dallas have to overspend to bring in good enough guys? Scenario Three is a pipe dream, but I like the idea if Zanotta could guarantee some success and Hunt would say yes to a big outlay of cash.

Scenario Two seems more likely to me for a lot of reasons. For one, I don’t think Scenario One guarantees playoff success. Yes, you can expect some growth from young players, and I think moving Paxton Pomykal into the middle would make a big difference for this team. But the team should have done better this season if that lineup would have worked.

Whatever coach comes in is going to need to work with the tools in the shed, and Franco Jara is the highest price tool. Unless he gets a surprise transfer, expect more minutes from him and a strategy built around amplifying his skillset in 2022, for better or for worse.

Still, I hope I am wrong. This offseason can go in a lot of directions. The questions are going to remain until opening day next year.

In the meanwhile, what do you think? What do you want to see FC Dallas do?

Poll

How do you want FC Dallas to prepare for 2022?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    We have a core that can win right now. Give them a chance.
    (2 votes)
  • 21%
    A new formation and look with a few additions is the way to success.
    (6 votes)
  • 71%
    Go aggressive. Sell, sell, sell. Buy, buy, buy. Spend big, Dan Hunt.
    (20 votes)
28 votes total Vote Now