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Threading the Needle: FC Dallas’ Next Head Coach

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What are some traits that FC Dallas should key in on with their next head coach?

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, FC Dallas made a big change, firing Luchi Gonzalez and promoting Marco Ferruzzi to interim head coach. The decision was couched in terms of a lack of progress this season and a need to shore up the defense in a late push to make the playoffs.

Unfortunately, we know this move hasn’t born fruit like Dan Hunt and company might have wanted. FC Dallas has continued to struggle defensively. The team looks out of ideas and out of answers.

But all is not lost - this past season and recent games are providing a helpful blueprint to shape the kind of head coach candidate FC Dallas needs to target.

If Dan Hunt and company are paying attention…

Here are a few broad traits that could narrow the field of potential hires.

Youth Development

Unless FC Dallas shifts into a larger player in the transfer market, the franchise is going to continue to focus on its academy with plenty of solid MLS tier and international quality talent. It makes sense. This is the strength of the team as a whole, and any owner and front office worth their salt are going to build around an academy that has sent talent to the Bundesliga, Serie A, and elsewhere in recent years.

High on the resume for a candidate, FC Dallas needs to target a coach who has a track record of developing talent. This isn’t just about on-field minutes, though that is key, it’s also about an ability to connect with players, set goals, give them helpful feedback, and manage realistic expectations as youngsters adapt as professionals. How would a candidate handle a young player who struggled in one game? Do they bench them immediately? Can they put confidence in a player to get back out there and bounce back? How will they shape tactics to find ways to get a talented youngster on the field more often?

It is hard to be a youth development team when at the same time you want to win championships, but there are coaches who can do this and know how to build a team and manage academy prospects to achieve both goals.

Of FC Dallas’ past coaches, Luchi Gonzalez stood out as one of the better youth development guys out there with Oscar Pareja coming up as another strong candidate (even if he relied on veterans a lot). Schellas Hyndman was terrible in youth development, and I don’t have any concern the team will ever pick a coach like that again. The next head coach should have some credentials and track record that mirror Luchi.

Get More Out of Less

When FC Dallas most recently won hardware, Pareja led the squad, and his ability as a coach to get more out of disparate pieces was and is legendary. Remember how much he got out of guys like Maynor Figueroa, Michel, Atiba Harris, and so on? Unless you are going to spend a bunch of cash, FC Dallas is in the tier of MLS teams that will need to find ways to get key minutes out of budget players. If anything, the team struggled to do this under Gonzalez.

I don’t think, even with its record-setting sales, Dallas is going to spend big to bring in talent. They will continue to be a team that looks to find young projects and affordable options. That means looking across Major League Soccer and USL-C for veteran guys who will help be the glue for the slog of a season and bring stability when youngsters struggle.

FC Dallas’ next coach must tip more toward Pareja in this way and be able to make more out of a roster of mixed parts. A big-name coach or a coach from a team used to going out and getting whatever talent they want is not going to be happy with the Frisco way, but there are coaches who can turn a mediocre talent into something useful through coaching, tactics, and support.

Adaptability

When Luchi started for FC Dallas, he preached a project that focused on possession and attacking football. It was a welcome change from the more pragmatic approach of the Pareja years, but three years later, the team is regularly conceding possession at home, struggling to hold on to the ball, and often looking toothless in the attack. The vision did not necessarily become a reality.

It’s clear that FC Dallas is not going to have the quality of players to dominate possession in every venue or against every team. That’s okay. It was probably naive for Luchi to cast that vision and maybe naive for us fans to go all-in on that vision. Pareja worked well with FC Dallas because he knew how to set up shop in late games to preserve crucial results and how to adapt pragmatically based on squad health and situation. A future coach has to tick those boxes too.

FC Dallas needs to look for a coach who has a clear vision for how to play but shows much flexibility and creativity to adapt that style for the best chance to succeed. Many coaches know how to do this. This will be an easier task than some of the other asks in this article because most coaches would rather win than get their ideas across.

And yet FC Dallas fans want to see exciting football, so there will need to be some balance.

Corner Kicks

Finally, for me, we need a coach who can focus on the little things to give this team an edge, especially corner kicks. FC Dallas has been woeful with its corner kick opportunities this season. That’s partly due to the takers, some bad luck, but a lack of creativity too.

If Dallas could convert more of their corner kicks into goals, the team could be looking at a drastic swing of fortune.

If Dallas could get more out of free kicks and throw-ins, a loss on the road might turn into a point or three.

A new head coach, dealing with a young team and a mid-tier roster, must be open to any edge that can give the squad a chance to succeed. FC Dallas needs a coach who is creative and builds a staff that can find those hidden edges and exploits them, utilizing statistics and analysis with every moment. There is room for an innovative coach to find their home in Frisco and excel with the talent available to them if Dallas is willing to give them a chance.

Conclusion

While some of my traits here can seem broad, I think it dramatically narrows the field of potential candidates. Not all coaches have a great record of supporting and nurturing talent. Some coaches have shown dogged determination to stick with one formation or playing style. Some coaches can’t get more out of a roster even when their job is on the line.

One noticeable omission - I do not think the next coach needs to be familiar with the FC Dallas family. It’s time for the front office to cast a wider net.

Right off the bat, Robin Fraser comes to mind as a name that I admire for his ability to hit the mark on all four of these descriptors. While FC Dallas has struggled, Colorado is on the rise with a team that still has holes and a lack of talent, but he gets a lot out of his team by using every edge available to them and turning other MLS teams’ cast-offs into key cogs. The rise of Cole Basset shows how Robin handles a youngster with potential. (And should we neglect to mention how Kellyn Acosta has turned around his career in Colorado?)

(Side note: FC Dallas grabbed Pareja from Colorado, so there would be some delicious repeating of history of they could pry Fraser away from them too.)

I don’t think Fraser could be pried away from Colorado for a rebuilding project in Frisco, but he is a sign that coaches who tick off these boxes exist. Dallas needs to find their next guy in that vein and expect at least a couple of years of growing pains as the team develops a new identity.

Of course, there is another route - for Dallas to start spending its cash better on talent that is not aging (*cough* Franco Jara) or simply not performing to a high enough standard (*cough* Freddy Vargas). That requires more than hiring a new head coach but taking a hard look internally as to how the team gets things done. Are they there yet? I don’t know, but maybe they are closer than they have been since the Schellas Hyndman years.