Young Ricardo Pepi has been FC Dallas’ obvious top prospect for more than two years now.
He crushed USL League One at age 16 in 2019. His stats coming out of his age 17 season made him look like the best MLS strikers of the last decade. Now, in his age 18 season, he’s on the verge of setting the teenager scoring record in MLS while also breaking through as a top #9 for the USMNT on the doorstep of the World Cup.
Let’s assume he’s sold this offseason. He may not be. It may not be smart for FC Dallas to do so. But that’s a conversation for another time. Let’s assume they do.
The last time FC Dallas bought a premium attacker, they signed Franco Jara to a pre-contract in early 2020 for a per-year amortized value of about $3 million. Since then, FCD has sold $20+ million worth of players (Aranguiz, Kobra, Cannon, Tessmann, Reynolds, Santos), and may sell that amount again this winter if both Pepi and Che leave. Some (most?) of those funds will be invested outside the roster, but FC Dallas could have a financial heft in the transfer market this offseason that will shock followers of the club. I think it’s likely we see two signings at or above the Franco Jara-level of total financial investment. Given Jara’s demonstrated lack of effectiveness, those two should be difference-makers at winger and #9.
Below, I’ve organized a few different types of targets for FC Dallas to look at as they seek to refill the cupboard at ST. Within each, I’ve leaned on a heuristic from way back when I was looking at colleges by including Stretch, Target, and Safe players in each section. My favorites for FCD of these “shortlist” players are indicated in bold as well. I don’t have any inside information about FC Dallas’ actions – this is meant to be an illustrative list of players FCD might target.
TYPE 1: CONCACAF STARS IN EUROPE
These are players with ties to North America in sub-optimal club positions in Europe. With the right financial package and promises of playing time or status, FCD might be able to lure them to Frisco.
MARIANO DIAZ – [Age] 28, [Transfermarkt “Market Value”] $11mn, [Current Club] Real Madrid (Spain), [Int’l Affiliation] Spain / Dominican Republic, [Stretch/Target/Safe] Stretch
Diaz is about as “Stretch” as the Stretch tier is going to get. On comfortable, mid-seven-figure wages in a comfortable backup role to Karim Benzema at one of the biggest clubs in the world, Diaz would no doubt be happy to keep coasting on the back of his pedigree as a Real Madrid academy star and one awesome season on loan at Lyon in France. That said, there’s a reasonable scenario where Real Madrid pre-contract with star FW Kylian Mbappe and meet the buyout for Erling Haaland next summer, and the return of prodigal son Luka Jovic from Germany this summer may have bumped Diaz to third in the depth chart at ST anyway. Madrid may be looking to sell.
SHAMAR NICHOLSON – 24, $2.75mn, RSC Charleroi (Belgium), Jamaica, Target
Nicholson tore up the Slovenian top flight for two years before moving to Belgian mid-table club Charleroi in 2019. Two productive seasons (>0.5 npG+A / 90 in each year) and a hot start to 21/22 later, Nicholson is one of the most proven STs in CONCACAF. He’s a big-bodied point-man with a facility for winning aerials, finding space around the box, and putting shots on target. With Michail Antonio now representing Jamaica, it’s possible Nicholson has been superseded as the starting #9 for his country for this World Cup cycle, but you can pencil his name in as the top option for the 2026 cycle. A bid of $3-5mn with $1-2mn in wages could bring Nicholson back to North America.
KEMAR ROOFE – 28, $5.5mn, Rangers FC (Scotland), Jamaica, Target
The England-born Jamaican really kicked off his career in the third-tier with Oxford United before three fairly productive years at Leeds United in the Championship. However, he left for Anderlecht before Leeds’ promotion season, and then couldn’t stay healthy in Belgium. Another mid-seven-figure transfer, this time to Rangers, led to more success both domestically and in Europe. He plays all over the front line for Steven Gerrard and the Scottish Champions, and he’s another recent recruit to Jamaica’s national team.
FRANTZDY PIERROT – 26, $880k, Guingamp (France), Haiti, Safe
A Colorado Rapids draft pick in 2018, Pierrot spurned MLS and decided to start his career overseas in Belgium. After reasonable success there, he moved to Ligue 2 in France and has entrenched himself as a solid performer for his mid-table club. Just as importantly, he’s been tremendous for Haiti on the international stage, picking up 17 goals and assists across about 1,600 total minutes in high leverage games.
TYPE 2: STARS IN AMERICAN LEAGUES
This is one of the most popular types of players for MLS clubs to target, with Franco Jara, Raul Ruidiaz, Alan Pulido, and many others coming to the USA in this situation recently.
PEDRO – 24, $15.4mn, Flamengo (Brazil), Brazil, Stretch
The big, silky Pedro broke through early in Serie A, scoring 10 goals and grabbing two assists in his age-20 season at Fluminese before a big-money move to Fiorentina in Italy (despite a recent ACL tear). He never really settled in Florence and has since moved back to Brazil with Flamengo, where he’s in his second season of very good production. His play earned a spot on the fringes of Brazil’s Olympic team, but he didn’t make the plane to Tokyo. It would probably take at least a $15mn bid to get him from Flamengo.
NICOLAS LOPEZ – 27, $6.6mn, Tigres (Mexico), Uruguay, Stretch
This one’s a bit of a bummer because I’ve been keeping tabs on this guy for a while, but he’s breaking out in the Apertura, leading the league in goals, which will raise his price beyond FCD’s range, likely. Lopez was an Uruguay U20 star who couldn’t make it in Europe, but then had a solid stretch of seasons in Brazil at Internacional before Tigres bought him. After a season stuck behind the legendary Gignac, he’s now starting every game at his preferred position and smashing in goals. Stylistically, he’s a little different than the guys FCD usually targets, but a lethal goal-scorer nonetheless.
JONATHAN RODRIGUEZ – 28, $8.8mn, CD Cruz Azul (Mexico), Uruguay, Target
Perhaps Rodriguez needs no introduction. For the last half-decade, he’s been one of the best goal-scorers in Mexico for one of Mexico’s most successful clubs. Crucially, Rodriguez appears to be out of contract at the end of 2022, so FCD could maybe get a discount. That calculus becomes even more compelling when you consider Cruz Azul already has high-profile Mexican prospect Santi Gimenez and effective Columbian veteran Bryan Angulo behind Rodriguez on the depth chart.
JUAN DINENNO – 27, $5.5mn, UNAM Pumas (Mexico), Argentina, Target
You may remember that Dinenno was linked to FCD back in the winter before signing a new contract with Pumas. Since, he has, by and large, continued his good form for Pumas, and appears to be in a similar situation as Rodriguez – his contract expires at the end of 2022.
RIBAMAR – 24, $660k, America-MG (Brazil), Brazil, Safe
Ribamar has trod a fascinating path in his career so far: Brazilian Serie A breakout at age 18, high dollar transfer to the 2. Bundesliga that only lasts a year, a return to Brazil where he finds success again as a 19/20-year-old, even higher dollar transfer to an Egyptian club, that subsequently loans him to a Saudi Arabian club, where he struggles. Next, a loan back to Brazil, where he plays sparingly but well and runs out of his contract before moving back to Brazil permanently on a free transfer. He has a bit of “It didn’t work for any of them, but it could work for us” about him, but he’s a bulldog of a forward who works very hard on defense and in creating shots. Maybe he makes sense for FCD if they redeploy the money saved on his transfer to investing more heavily on the wings.
TYPE 3: QUALITY PLAYERS NEAR CONTRACT EXPIRATION
More and more frequently, the international transfer market has shifted towards players running down their contracts to gain leverage for higher wages and more choice in the process of finding a new club. The below players all have contracts expiring next summer, opening the possibility that FC Dallas could swoop in and do something similar to the Franco Jara deal, where they signed a pre-contract for him to join in the summer, or the Szabolcs Schön / Facundo Quignon deals, where (I think) they paid a small fee to cancel the final few months of their contracts.
DIVOCK ORIGI – 26, $13.2mn, Liverpool (England), Belgium, Stretch
Origi has stuck around on a very good, very cohesive Premier League roster for a long time, has been pretty productive on a /90 basis, and has scored some massive goals in both domestic and international competition. Certainly, he would have the defensive chops Luchi craves from his #9s given Klopp, Mr. Gegenpress himself, kept Origi around for so long. A veteran of the 2014 World Cup, Origi has largely been excluded from the Belgian senior team since 2016. As one of the lowest-paid players on Liverpool’s roster, FCD could match his wages without totally breaking the bank, but it would still be a Jara-esque contract. Of all the “Stretch” players listed, Origi’s the one I’d go after the hardest.
LYS MOUSSET – 25, $9.9mn, Sheffield United (England), France/Senegal, Target
A top prospect and French YNT regular coming out of Le Havre in 2016 as a 20-year-old, Mousset went on to be a backup ST for five seasons in the Premier League – three with Bournemouth and two with Sheffield United. With Sheffield back in the Championship, he’s running down his contract for a struggling team. Could FCD be willing to take on a high-upside reclamation project?
ALEXIS CANELO – 29, $4.4mn, Toluca (Mexico), Argentina/Mexico, Target
Canelo, like Rodriguez, is one of the top scorers of the last half-decade in Mexico, and he shows no signs of slowing down. With a contract expiring next summer (with an option year thereafter), he could maybe be pried away from Toluca. The question is whether FCD should invest in the post-prime seasons of an ST given how poorly that tactic has gone with Jara.
ERCAN KARA – 25, $3.85mn, Rapid Vienna (Austria), Austria, Target
The first of two Rapid Vienna forwards in a row, Kara is on his third straight year of very strong per-90 production for one of the better clubs in Austria after rising up the pyramid there. That time period included a solid run in the Europa League for Rapid Vienna last year, in which Kara had three goals and assists over about five games played. Early prime and productive – exactly what FCD is looking for.
TAXIARCHIS FOUNTAS – 26, $3.3mn, Rapid Vienna (Austria), Greece, Target
Kara’s running mate is on a very similar trajectory: putting together his third good season in a row as one of the best scorers in Austria. He’s got more minutes on his legs after breaking through at a young age in Greece, though, and plays a more all-around game than Kara.
DANILO – 22, $4.62mn, Ajax (The Netherlands), Brazil, Safe
Bought in 2017 by Ajax while a Santos youth player, Danilo has mostly been an unused backup with the first team or a second-division superstar except for one great year while on loan at FC Twente in 20/21. He’s another, like Origi, who would be coming from a high-level training environment that emphasizes many of the qualities FC Dallas craves. If Ajax can’t make it out of the Champions League group stage this fall, or if Danilo continues to get no playing time, a winter move may be appreciated by all parties. Make no mistake, he’s a high-quality player.
TYPE 4: THE FREDDY VARGAS / SZABOLCS SCHÖN ZONE
One move that FCD Technical Director Andre Zanotta has shown a proclivity for is signing out-of-the-way, high-performing youngsters with a chance to quickly ascend the ladder for their (mostly) mid-to-lower quality national teams. Signing Szabolcs Schön (the second-youngest member of Hungary’s recent World Cup Qualifying roster) from the Hungarian top flight is one such example. Another is signing Freddy Vargas (the second-youngest member of Venezuela’s recent World Cup Qualifying roster) for the Venezuelan top flight. Another is getting Phelipe on loan from his role as a backup at Gremio with the at-the-time reasonable expectation that he would be with Brazil at the Olympics.
If one of the below players were the only ST FCD brought in this winter, that would be a problem. If they were bought in tandem with a player from above to give Jara a challenge for the backup spot, that would be fine by me. Given that, I’ll eschew the Stretch/Target/Safe designations for this section.
ALLAHYAR SAYYADMANESH – 20, $2.2mn, Zorya Lugansk (The Ukraine) on loan from Fenerbahce (Turkey), Iran
A star in the 2017 U17 World Cup for Iran, Sayyadmanesh was involved in a few friendlies in 2019 with the senior national team, then went until a friendly against Syria this Spring before making another appearance. Those U17 performances earned him a move to Turkey and a subsequent loan to Lugansk, where he’s been a very strong backup option at a young age for a good team in a league of similar quality as MLS. That loan expires this winter with an option to buy, indicating Fenerbahce’s willingness to sell; should he not be sold to The Ukraine, FCD could swoop in for $1-2mn.
ABDULLAH AL-HAMDAN – 21, $770k, Al-Hilal Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), Saudi Arabia
Unlike Sayyadmanesh, Al-Hamdan still plays in his home country, where he’s been a key player for a while, earning a move to table-toppers Al-Hilal last season. At the same time, he’s been his country’s first choice #9 since he was 19, notable for a national team similar in quality to Honduras with a real shot at qualifying for Qatar 2022. He might require a $1.0-1.5mn fee to get him to Frisco.
SHAYNE LAVERY – 22, $55k, Blackpool (England), Northern Ireland
A graduate of Everton’s developmental setup, Lavery played a few years in the Northern Irish first tier as a top scorer before going back to England this summer to serve as Blackpool’s backup. He’s been very good in that role so far. A veteran of the Northern Ireland YNTs, Lavery broke through with the senior team this Spring and gave a good 60’ against the US in March. Could $300-500k pry him out of Blackpool?
JOVAN MARKOVIC – 20, $220k, Universitatea Craiova (Romania), Romania/Serbia
A native of Belgrade, Markovic has shown well in not many minutes in the Romanian first division since making his debut as a 15-year-old half a decade ago. He was a regular with the Romanian YNTs and recently broke through as a top choice for Romania in World Cup Qualifying, earning 140 minutes across three games in the most recent window. He would probably be the cheapest of the options listed here.
So, which ST would you want FCD to bring in this winter?