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What went wrong for FC Dallas in 2021

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Yeah, it was mostly bad in 2021.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

To say that 2021 didn’t go the way we had hoped may be an understatement.

FC Dallas did not live up to the preseason expectations that were placed in the club with a young core that pushed Seattle in the playoffs. Everyone thought the team under Luchi Gonzalez was moving in the right direction.

Instead, a dreadful season from top to bottom. Gonzalez is out and gone and the team is set to enter what could be a fairly large rebuilding mode this winter.

As we begin our offseason coverage, we’re going to take a deep dive here today as to what all went wrong in 2021. I’m sure we missed a thing or two since the list was fairly exhausting but this is a good place to start.

Imports didn’t live up to the hype

The one thing I have to remind myself every preseason, don’t buy into the hype. I remember watching the clip of Freddy Vargas scoring a really nice free kick in the preseason and we all thought, “Hey, this guy could be it,” or “maybe we found our next star on the wings”.

Yeah, well, we all know that wasn’t the case with him.

Needless to say, we have to stop buying into the preseason hype on these unknown imports to the roster. Before it was guys like Santiago Mosquera, Anibal Chala, Anton Nedyalkov, Pablo Aranguiz, or even the draft picks like Adonijah Reid, Timo Pitter, or Callum Montgomery. Hell, even a slew of Homegrown players over the years that haven’t panned out after the early hype with guys like Jordan Cano, Kris Reaves, Coy Craft, or Aaron Guillen to name a few.

It wasn’t just Vargas that failed to live up to the hype. Jader Obiran took a long while to figure things out this season (six goals and three assists in his final 12 games was a massive improvement on the first few months). Facundo Quignon also had his moments that looked fine at times but nothing substantial. Jose Martinez was decent but not nearly the guy that looked happy to be here back in March once the season wrapped up.

From now on, I think we need to use the preseason as a smaller gauge on new players. Give players time to truly show what they are able to do without the expectations that sometimes we, myself included, place on these guys. Sometimes having a lower bar of expectations leads to a positive outcome because you aren’t as disappointed when things don’t pan out.

Designated Player choices continued to be wrong

MLS: Los Angeles FC at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

If you look at the club’s history of DPs, the track record is largely terrible. For every good you get with a Carlos Gruezo, David Ferreira, or Mauro Diaz, you get an equally bad run with guys like Denilson, Aranguiz, Mosquera, Cristian Colman, and now you can easily add probably both Bryan Acosta and Franco Jara to that mix.

I do think Acosta had his moments at times this season, but when he was your best player during a stretch of winless games, that isn’t a good sign either.

But Jara was the main issue here. Anytime you spend $3 million on a guy in this league, they have to produce. It is an absolute must that they do. Both Marco Ferruzzi and Luchi Gonzalez put a lot of stock in what the 32-year old could do on and off the field for the club. Probably a bit too much stock considering how well Ricardo Pepi was playing at times this season.

In the end, Jara finished the season with four goals in the final ten matches to push his season total to seven goals. That was pretty much the same output he had in a covid-shorten 2020 season.

Moves from within MLS didn’t look good

Just look at the last couple of seasons with the list of players leaving through trades within MLS. Some moves made plenty of sense at the time, like trading away Tesho Akindele to Orlando or Maxi Urruti to Montreal, or Jacori Hayes to Minnesota. All of those trades showed that those were expendable players due to the depth at their positions at the time.

But the last couple of years we started to see trades of guys like Dominique Badji to Nashville, Michael Barrios to Colorado, and Fafa Picault to Houston. While Badji may not feel like a big deal, he did look better when he was shipped back to Colorado from Nashville (five goals in 12 games for Colorado isn’t terrible).

The hurt was Barrios and Picault. Both didn’t just look better in their new places, they also found ways to hurt their old clubs. Picault ended his 2021 season with a career-high 11 goals and five assists while scoring one goal in every Texas Derby meeting in 2021. Barrios had one of his best seasons since 2019 as he scored eight goals and added in six assists while scoring two goals against Dallas.

Age, injuries, and lots of errors hurt the defense

MLS: FC Dallas at LA Galaxy Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

One of the cornerstones of this club for the last half-decade has been the defense. Even when the offense wasn’t producing in games, you could almost always count on the defense to step up and at least secure a point. But 2021 saw the turn of individual errors, injuries and in some cases, age disrupt what was such a stable core group of the team. The club gave up 56 goals this season, tied for the worst in the Western Conference with Austin.

The big loss was seeing veteran leader Matt Hedges go down with an injury that kept him out of the lineup for some time (he only played in 20 games this season). Once he did return from injury, it looked like it had taken a step or two off his game. The same could be said for Jose Martinez, who was brought in to be Hedges’ center of the defense partner.

The positives though with this group was seeing the likes of Nkosi Tafari, Ema Twumasi and Justin Che step up. While the defense had their issues a lot this season, these three young players got plenty of minutes that will help down the line.

Most players just didn’t fit the system

In a way, we have to define whatever system Gonzalez was trying to do earlier in the year, followed up by some sort of a defensive-minded system that Ferruzzi wanted to employ towards the end. Really, there was no true system in 2021 and it may not have mattered given how the roster that was built just didn’t have the chops to carry out the task.

If you go back to the beginning when Gonzalez was wanting to do a 3-5-2 kind of look or whatever variation of that, he had older center defenders in Hedges, Martinez and Bressan. None that really had the pace to keep up with some of the strikers in MLS.

Then if you look at guys like Jara, he’s not at a point in his career to be a lone-striker. His pace, his ball possession, his passing just did not do well in a long-striker setup. Paxton Pomykal is another example of a guy that got put out of his natural position in the middle of the field to play on the wings. While he was more than capable of doing it, it just didn’t click.

Timing of coaching change made absolutely no sense

MLS: FC Dallas at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I know we will go deeper into the coaching search in the coming weeks but this was a major part of this season when the club opted to part ways with Gonzalez. Sure, it was a disappointing run this year for Gonzalez and the Texas Derby loss was certainly a final nail in the coffin. But the timing just did not add up.

Dan Hunt and Andre Zanotta both sat at a press conference and went on and on about how confident they felt that the team could still reach the playoffs with eight games to go. They were confident that Ferruzzi was their man, even though they had the opportunity to make him ‘the man’ a couple of years before that when Oscar Pareja left for Tijuana.

Ferruzzi ended his eight-game run with just one win a trio of draws and some truly disappointing losses. And yeah, no playoffs despite the confidence he was given from the front office.

I remember saying at the time of the firing that it felt like when the club let Schellas Hyndman go years back, but this one could have easily taken place after the season and not with eight games to go.

Fan experience continued to decline

Lastly, I don’t know about you but Fortress Frisco is gone and dead for me at this point. This group ended the season with just five wins at Toyota Stadium. Five! Only Cincinnati and Toronto had fewer home wins in 2021. That tied the dreadful Southlake season of 2003. Yeah, it was bad.

The team was throwing away points left and right either with draws or losses. It almost seemed as though the on-the-field product was a direct result of the in-the-stands product. Just walk around the stadium on a game day and you’ll probably know what I am talking about. The experience is just lacking compared to previous years, the energy in the stands feels burnt out and the atmosphere of game day is just kind of gone now. I won’t get into the weirdness with the main supporters’ groups either, though that is a possibility for another day.

Hopefully, the club takes a serious look at this kind of thing this offseason and finds a way to inject some life into the fan experience again. I know some of the covid-related restrictions probably kept them from doing things they would like to do but as those lift going into 2022, their gameday experience needs new life. Maybe getting a new PA announcer to spice something up could be a start, or work on getting some pregame traditions going again (as cheesy as the Lamar statue scarfing could be, it was missed), or find a way to market the club better to draw people......yeah I know that is beating a dead horse for the millionth time. I’ll stop there.

Alright, let us know what went wrong for you in 2021 with this club below. We’ll dive into some positives here soon enough, thankfully there were some good things this year that we can discuss.