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Scouting FC Dallas’ newcomers ahead of the 2021 season

FC Dallas was busy this offseason, so let’s break down the newcomers to see what they’ll bring to the table.

I’ve been wearing glasses since I was fifteen – and that was long time ago. I mention this because my glasses affect how I see everything and in the case of FC Dallas my lenses filter the game through the prism of youth development first and winning MLS Cup and the Supporters Shield second. Welcome to my FC Dallas scouting report.

In case you haven’t been obsessively digging for details on the team for the last five months (and if you haven’t been, we can still be friends), let me begin by bringing you up to speed on the fresh faces we will be seeing:

Jose Antonio Martinez – the 28-year-old defender most recently of SD Eibar in La Liga is filling the hole created by the departure Reto Zeigler and the reviews are positive.

Freddy Vargas – I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard Matt Doyle on MLS Extratime comment that Dallas needs a goal-scoring winger. In the 22-year-old from Venezuela side Deportivo Lara, we may actually have one. The left winger has scored three goals so far in preseason. Let’s hope that continues.

Jader Obrian - On the right wing, Obrian takes over for Michael Barrios (who joined fellow Dallas alum Kellyn Acosta in Colorado). The 25-year-old Colombian from Rionegro Aguilas is drawing comparisons to Fabian Castillo for his speed, and he too has chipped in goals this preseason.

Kalil ElMedkhar – A former University of Kentucky standout, Dallas picked up the 21-year-old former Philadelphia Homegrown prior to the draft. In limited minutes, he’s played on the left wing and provides depth for now and potential for the future.

Nicky Hernandez – Dallas first round draft pick, Hernandez played for NTSC last season and previously for SMU. The 22-year-old provides depth in midfield and proof of concept that NTSC can prepare young players who are not from the Academy to make the leap to MLS

Szabolcs Schon – After rumors surfaced a month ago, FC Dallas has recently signed the Hungarian 20-year-old left winger from MTK Budapest. A former Ajax youth player, Schon will provide competition for minutes when he arrives later this summer.

Beni Redzic – the 31st Homegrown signing from the Academy, the 18-year-old winger will by fighting for minutes behind O’Brian and previous HG signing Dante Sealy but seems likely to spend the bulk of the season at NTSC.

Before we move on, let’s pour one out for off season departures Michael Barrios, Santiago Mosquera, Fafa Picault, Bryan Reynolds, Thiago Santos, and Reto Ziegler.

How are we going to play?

Dallas spent much of the 2020 season playing in a 4-3-3 with Ryan Hollingshead providing overlapping runs and timely service from his LB position and RB Bryan Reynolds combining with Michael Barrios on the right. The left wing was mostly a revolving door of mediocrity and Franco Jara led the line but provided few of the highlights. In the middle of the pitch, Andres Ricaurte and Tanner Tessman were the free 8s of an inverted midfield triangle and Thiago Santos played the pivot at the 6. The center back combination of Matt Hedges and Zeigler/Bressan with Jimmy Maurer minding the net provided enough stability to ferry Dallas into the playoffs.

For 2021... it’s going to look different.

Let’s start in the back. I expect that we will still primarily start in the 4-3-3. Maurer is the man in goal and I don’t foresee Brazilian Phelipe Megliolaro seriously challenging him. While many expected Hollingshead to remain on the left, Luchi has moved our utility man to the right where he’s still finding his way – though Hollingshead did make a nice run into the box in the final preseason match with Houston and he scored off a beautiful pass from Ricaurte. John Nelson has been solid defensively (as expected) and has provided some service into the box – but he doesn’t make the runs that Ryan makes. Hedges and Martinez have the looks of a solid pairing at the back but still need time to learn to play together. With the sudden departure of Santos to Gremio, the midfield shape will change. Against Austin, Dallas employed a double pivot with Edwin Cerrillo and Bryan Acosta while Ricaurte played further up the pitch.

And then up top... well, whatever you thought of Jara last season, you will probably still see him that way. But he leads the forward line with new wingers Vargas and Obrian - and they are exciting to watch.

Against Austin, this formation shifted into a 4-4-2 or 4-2-4 or 4-2-2-2... call it what you will (I’m calling it the all-attack formation). The wingers remained high as Ricardo Pepi and Jesus Ferreira replaced Jara and Ricaurte. Fresh off his stint with the U23s, Ferreira bagged a goal against Austin and another against Houston (when he was playing the 9). One of the keys to the season will be how Luchi gets Ferreira onto the field in places where he can be successful – and this formation was exciting to watch.

In contrast, in the first match against San Antonio and the more recent match against Houston, Dallas ran out a 3-4-3. Going back to my glasses metaphor from above, let me admit that I don’t like this formation - and I outright hated it in the San Antonio match when Dallas couldn’t muster an attack or sustain possession in the midfield. The game ended in a draw (though we later won on PKs). While it provides solid defensive presence, it sacrifices a central midfielder that we needed to break Houston’s press. Bressan slotted in as the right center back beside Hedges and Martinez. Hollingshead and Nelson pushed forward to wing backs. To their credit, Acosta and Ricaurte covered a lot of ground in the middle of the park and the team kept a clean sheet. It’s worth noting here that while Santos played the defensive midfield role against San Antonio, Cerrillo did not get that call against Houston which could tell us where he ranks in pecking order.

So where does that leave us?

I have several questions to consider as we move into the regular season:

  1. What is our objective?
  2. Where does Ferreira play?
  3. What about Paxton?
  4. What have I missed?

The first question returns to the goal of FC Dallas youth development. Selling young players is the means by which the club earns a profit. Last year, it was Reggie Cannon and Bryan Reynolds. This year, I’m preparing myself to see Pepi and Tessman move on to greener pastures – and depending on how things go... maybe Ferreira. But I think for that to happen, they need to beat the players ahead of them. I know I’ve been critical of the DPs Dallas has brought in recently, but I think I’ve accepted that the club’s goal is not to buy a Carlos Vela or Josef Martinez or Lucas Zelarayon. The goal is to bring in players who make us competitive and set the bar for the success of our Homegrowns. The goal is for Pepi or Ferreira to beat Jara for the job. For Tessman to beat Acosta. For Thomas Roberts to challenge Ricaurte. For Vargas to become the next Carlos Gruezo – stick around for a season or two, level up and move on. So if we’re going to win MLS Cup with the FCD model, Ferriera, Pepi, and Tessman need to level up and take those spots.

As for where Ferreira plays, he’s wearing the #9 jersey, which is a statement of intent. I would love to see him play underneath Pepi as a second striker, but we’re not really built for that, so the all-attack formation is likely only coming at the end of matches when we’re hunting a goal. Last match, Pepi finished the game on the wing with Ferreira up top – which gets both players on the field. But not necessarily in positions that enable them to be most successful – which the club needs them to be in order to sell them for the highest profit.

And then there is the Paxton Pomykal question. Rumor has it that he did sneak into the second San Antonio match for the final 30 minutes, but that game wasn’t streamed and I haven’t seen him this preseason. Rumor further mentioned that there was a minor setback (which wasn’t unexpected) and the club is bringing him along slowly. Where he plays when he’s ready, I’m unsure. He’ll need to beat someone for a spot - and I’m good with that.

What else, friends?

The only other question I had coming into the preseason was who would play on right back – Eddie Munjoma or Ema Twumasi. And the answer is Hollingshead. I’ve heard that Twumasi is injured, and Munjoma did come in for Nelson to finish the game at Houston. I’ll keep an eye on him.

Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think.