We made it. It’s finally here. We can close the book on FC Dallas’ maddening 2021 season and look forward, with hope, to 2022.
Over the past month or so, we’ve undertaken to sketch out one detailed scenario of how the offseason could play out. First, that meant taking some of FCD’s transfer windfall and finding DPs at ST and W to replace the (presumed) outgoing Ricardo Pepi and insert a second high-gravity attacker to pair with Jesus Ferreira. Second, that meant cashing in on some of FCD’s success growing CMs to raise the floor of FCD’s attack for the next three to four years (if FCD wanted to bring in San Antonio FC’s Jose Gallegos instead of Stroud, I wouldn’t complain). Today, that means packing in the corners of the roster with high-value players that either solidify 2022 for FC Dallas or invest in the future.
A LCB Contender and CB Depth
Matt Hedges and Jose Martinez both have guaranteed contract years for 2022. Nkosi Tafari is either out of contract after this season or in an option year. Regardless, MLS roster rules make it pretty difficult for such a player to leave for another club inside the league if the first club doesn’t want him to, and Tafari has proven with his development and play that FC Dallas shouldn’t want him to leave. Expect a new long-term contract with a substantial pay increase.
Of the 2021 CB group, that leaves Justin Che and Bressan to sort out. The club has a 2022 option on Bressan, but it may not make sense to keep him considering he’s making more than $500k and probably the third option at RCB behind Hedges and Tafari and not comfortable enough at LCB to challenge a healthy Martinez. If they don’t bring back Bressan, FC Dallas will need another starter-caliber CB for the rotation, preferably one with a strong resume at LCB.
Although the club could look for such a player outside the US, the International Roster Slot math doesn’t favor it*. The top starter-ready LCB prospect in MLS is young Aboubacar Keita in Columbus, but I’m not sure why, even if FCD could come to terms with the Crew, he’d accept a trade considering he’s the heir apparent in an aged depth chart at his current club. LAG’s Nick Depuy can play on either the left or the right and has been good when he plays, but the Galaxy keep signing players over him – he’d be cheap on the wage bill if the trade price was right. Outside MLS, Forrest Lasso and Paco Craig have been the best CBs in the USL for half a decade. Craig’s a fantastic distributor, but the lefty Lasso, 28, has twice been USL Defender of the Year and is always anchoring great defenses for good teams and threatening on set pieces – think of him like Matt Hedges pre-Luchi Gonzalez. He’s out-of-contract with Tampa Bay after this year, would be on reasonably cheap wages, and probably wants one last shot at MLS. Forrest Lasso’s my pick.
*In case you care, here’s a handful of veteran LCB options close to the ends of their contracts that FCD could pursue from overseas: Mikel Villanueva of Santa Clara, Alex Munoz of Tenerife, Borja Lopez of Sporting Gijon, Valber Huerta of CD Universidad Catolica, Jose Canales of Libertad, Hedgardo Marin of FC Juarez, and Jorge Arias of Olimpia.
Justin Che will likely be sold this winter, probably to Bayern Munich. NTSC has this guy Caiser Gomes on loan from Portugal who makes a ton of sense to fill that roster spot set aside for a high-upside CB prospect. If it’s not him, maybe it’ll be his fellow loanee Lucas.
A backup LB
Ryan Hollingshead remains a top-three-ish LB in MLS despite his affinity for gaffing away goals once every five to ten games. However, because he’s 30, FCD should be actively looking to get his medium-term successor in the door. With Jonathan Gomez gone (pour one out) and the next high-level Academy LB still under 17, the club must look to the outside.
Trusty John Nelson was drafted to be that guy in 2019. Although he arrived at the club as one of its best players against the ball, injuries and other factors conspired so that he couldn’t develop into the on-ball progressor the modern game needs (all the red here, especially in the progressive categories, is not good). Certainly, it doesn’t make me feel nice to suggest this given he’s coming off major surgery, but FC Dallas should decline his (likely) option this offseason and start looking elsewhere.
The college SuperDraft will be one place to do so, but there are also two players with NTSC worth passing the ruler over. Derek Waldeck, 23, was a 2020 FCD draft pick from Stanford who converted from midfield to LB with NTSC and has played a ton of minutes there over the last two years. He’s a learner and a leader and he’s improved massively since getting to NTSC, but I worry about him as a 1v1 defender, especially athletically. “Kazu” (Christian Ferreira), 22, is NTSC’s second-leading-scorer this season with 6 goals from 19 starts, 13 of which were as a LW, while on loan from Coritiba in Brazil. He’s not as big as Hollingshead, but he’s similarly simple yet effective with the ball and an understated athlete in his own way. Plus, he’s got great instincts for finding pockets of space. FCD would have to be confident that he would buy in to being a full-time LB, but with that buy-in, there’s a lot there to build a pretty tantalizing projection around. Without knowing who’s available in the draft, I’d bump Kazu up to the first team as a two-year project (Munjoma can backup both LB and RB for FCD in the meantime).
Some new GK depth
It’s not a giant leap of the imagination to predict that both of FC Dallas’ backup GKs will be gone next season. GOATbeck’s contract expires after this year as an over-30 career backup. Truly, I hope he decides to stick around the club in some role, but there are better uses for a third-string GK slot. Phelipe’s loan from Brazil expires this offseason and his play has not justified the rumored cost of acquiring and paying him.
My view for a while has been that NTSC’s GK tandem, former HG Richard Sanchez and 2021 draft pick Colin Shutler, are in a bake-off for the 2022 backup spot behind the recently extended Jimmy Maurer. After a season of data, I’m ready to call that competition for Colin Shutler. My eye test says he’s steadier than Sanchez, especially playing the ball without his hands, and the data back that up. On the other hand, the NTSC job has shifted from a 50/50 playing time split between the two to Sanchez starting every game and Shutler getting replaced on the bench by U19 GK Antonio Carrera (see below). I’m weirdly hoping that’s because Shutler’s injured and NTSC hasn’t disclosed it.
For the third GK spot, local outlet 3rdDegree has reported consistently on their podcast that ’04-born GK Antonio Carrera, younger brother of U17 World Cup vet Nico Carrera, has been training almost exclusively with the first team for months. That’s a massive indicator that he will be a Homegrown in the near future. With Shutler backing up Maurer in 2022, Carrera can start most games for NTSC to get game time.
A backup CM
As discussed elsewhere, we’re trading Brandon Servania for solidity on the front line. Alongside sending Andres Ricaurte back to Columbia after his loan expires this offseason, that leaves only Paxton Pomykal and Bryan Acosta for the more progressive pivot role and Facundo Quignon and Edwin Cerrillo for the more defensive pivot role. You’ll remember that we’re banking on Jesus Ferreira continuing his fuego form as a 10 and backing him up with Jared Stroud and Nicky Hernandez.
With Acosta’s international duty and Pomykal’s injury history, you’d like at least one other trustworthy body in that spot. Guys like Ema Twumasi could cover in an emergency, but we’d prefer not to break the RB spot to fix the midfield. The player for this spot should be (1) cheap, with a total roster cost less than ~$200k after accounting for wages and fees, (2) facile at moving the ball both horizontally and vertically, and (3) willing to take a short contract. I see a few different paths here.
Option 1: Go find some pro who can do this for cheap, either in MLS / the USL or an American playing overseas. Kind of like what Minnesota did when they got Jacori Hayes from FCD. MLS options: Seb Berhalter (loan), Renzo Zambrano, Daniel Crisostomo, etc. USL options: Jose Francisco Torres, Paulo Del Piccolo, Cam Lindley, Aodhan Quinn, etc. Yanks Abroad options: Ian Harkes, Mix Diskerud, etc.
Option 2: Promote Blaine Ferri or Mikey Maldonado from NTSC, but more likely Ferri. Maldonado is a better ball-striker, duel-winner, and athlete, but I suspect Ferri’s speed of thought, close control, and surprising bull doggedness would make him more likely to fit in MLS.
Option 3: Use your high draft pick in this spot because you signed Kazu to play LB
Honestly, maybe pick one from each and have them all trial against one another in the preseason. Forced to choose ex ante, I’d go with Jose Torres: he’s a World Cup vet, a CCL champ, and a many-time Liga MX winner who’s playing very well for the Switchbacks in USL-C. Bonus points because he’s a local legend looking to coach post-career, so maybe you can restock the Academy coaching talent pool after a year playing with the first team. Plus, you don’t have to worry about late-career frailty because he’d only play 400-500 minutes the whole year anyway. Both Ferri and Maldonado have NTSC contract options for 2022 if you want to keep them around.
We’re at the end of the road of our offseason preview series, the results of which you can see below. Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of where FC Dallas’ roster sits leaving the year and what kind of moves are realistic to improve the squad. If there’s anything else I’d add, it’s picking the best possible LB with FCD’s first round college draft pick to shore that spot up against injury a bit better.
In this particular scenario, FC Dallas would add close to $400k in wages on net prior to re-signing Tafari (assuming the two new DPs cost a little less than $2 million annually between them) and would likely be net positive in terms of GAM used to trade for players. Incremental investments in transfer/agent fees or wages would increase the cost but could be funded via planned player exits.
Assuming an average or better coach, if both new DPs hit (is top quartile in their position among MLS starters) and Pomykal returns to form as a CM, this is a comfortable playoff team and an outside contender for a home playoff game. Crucially, it also sets up FCD to run out Jara’s contract without much pain, and then reinforce for an MLS Cup push in 2023.
FC Dallas Offseason Roster Moves
|Ricardo Pepi||$200k||DP Striker||$900k|
|Freddy Vargas||$160k||DP winger||$750k|
|Andres Ricarute||$450k||Daniel Rios||$140k|
|Brandon Servania||$230k||Jared Stroud||$81k|
|Justin Che||$80k||Jose Torres||$90k|
|John Nelson||$115k||Caiser Gomes||$80k|
|Kyle Zobeck||$85k||Antonio Carrera||$80k|