After what was promised to be a thorough search, with some confirmation of both internal and external interviews, Nico Estevez was announced as the FC Dallas Head Coach yesterday with an official press conference scheduled for this afternoon.
Back a few months ago, I offered ways for FC Dallas to thread the needle on their coaching hire, someone to check off all the boxes for this team to keep moving forward. Those four broad emphases were pretty straightforward and not at all shocking:
- Youth Development
- Get More Out of Less
- Corner Kicks
How does Coach Estevez stack up from what we know?
On the youth development side, we can contend that FC Dallas got their guy. Not only does Estevez have extensive academy experience in his background, but he has also exhibited at least some ability to develop strong persuasive relationships with young players. The most notorious story is how Estevez convinced young phenom Yunus Musah to choose the US over other options, a choice that has paid dividends to a growing USMNT program. He has been instrumental in helping USMNT Head Coach Gregg Berhalter integrate many youth players. Many of these guys, including FC Dallas Homegrowns Ricardo Pepi and Jesus Ferreira, haven’t skipped a beat as they have taken their club form into the international stage.
Those are good signs.
Estevez has experience recognizing and developing talent, so he should pick up off of the strengths of Luchi Gonzalez and the FC Dallas Academy from the get-go. Maybe he can convince some youngsters thinking about leaving the academy to stick around. Plus, his connection to Berhalter and the national team seems like a nice bargaining wedge, an added incentive to help develop players to plug into the national team and thrive. Basically, this is the genius of this hire from Andres Zanotta and Dan Hunt. Kudos to them.
Unfortunately, we don’t know much about how Estevez can get more out of less. While he has a deeper resume than Luch Gonzalez did, we don’t have a great track record of management to look at. The USMNT is a bit of a different beast, and while no doubt he probably helped Berhalter figure out how to get use out of some guys who didn’t quite fit the tactics, it’s different when you get to pick the best athletes and playmakers from an entire national pool. What about a team that is partially constructed from veterans? What about young guys who hover at the edge of being good enough for the senior team? Can you get players to buy in?
We’ll have to wait and see on that for now.
With his experience, it seems like Estevez’s adaptability will be fine. He’s worked in different team setups and in the pressure cooker of international football. Sometimes, you need to figure out ways to get a result. Sometimes, you need to adjust to make things work for a specific player. I don’t have a doubt that he’s had to work through those questions with Berhalter more recently, especially around how to use guys like Christian Pulisic and Weston McKinnie for maximum effect. I don’t know that we have an indication that he has a preferred way to play, but something similar to a Berhalter-esque possession-based system indicates that the current roster won’t have to learn a completely new way of soccer under his leadership.
And finally, well, corner kicks may seem like nit-picking from my point of view, but a team that isn’t going to spend in the top tier of the league will need every goal that it can get. Can Nico focus on the little details to turn a lackluster result into points on the road? Can he help this team turn the corner on some of those dismal results they racked up this past season? I have no idea, but I can hope these kinds of questions came up throughout the interview process.
I didn’t mean to rehash my article, but at this point, while I wish we knew a bit more about Estevez and what he will bring tactically and stylistically to FC Dallas, it looks like a strong hire. I give credit for Hunt being open to someone outside the box, so to speak. They could have gone safer and picked someone they know well and knows FC Dallas well. Maybe they would have if Chicago had not grabbed Ezra Hendrickson. Or maybe Estevez was simply an unexpected applicant who grabbed their attention with his personality and passion and plan for the team.
For now, it’s a new day for FC Dallas. Hope springs eternal.