It has been quite the offseason for FC Dallas. We’ve seen changes in the front office, coaching staff, and of course, the roster.
Likely the biggest, and maybe most surprising, move of the offseason was head coach Oscar Pareja leaving the club to take over at Club Tijuana of Liga MX. From all accounts this was a mutually agreed upon move, but I’m sure this wasn’t a change that the club was expecting during the offseason.
With the departure of Pareja, came the announcement of new head coach Luchi Gonzalez. The former SMU Mustang, turned pro, turned FC Dallas academy director was announced to mixed reactions from fans. There were several names thrown out for the coaching search and Luchi wasn’t exactly a “big” name, but the decision was definitely not a surprising one to those who have followed this team closely over the years. Luchi was a huge part of the incredibly successful FC Dallas academy and many suspect that if not for the departure of Pareja, Luchi may have been the man to take over the newly formed FC Dallas second team “North Texas Soccer Club” as their head coach.
Luchi Gonzalez may not have any experience at this level, but he is familiar with many of the homegrown players on the roster and obviously knows how to develop young talent, which is what FC Dallas does best.
Last but not least, we’ve seen a significant overhaul to the roster this offseason. Many veteran faces have left and several new ones have come in. The departures include: Maynor Figueroa, Tesho Akindele, Victor Ulloa, Roland Lamah, Abel Aguilar, and Maxi Urruti. That’s a lot of MLS experience leaving the team, however, with the exception of Urruti and Ulloa, that’s mainly a lot of depth pieces. Figueroa didn’t have much left at 35, Akindele was incredibly inconsistent, Roland “Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get” Lamah scored some goals the past couple of years for the club, but struggled to consistently keep a starting spot. Urruti and Ulloa are really the only consistent starters from last year’s team that won’t be around for 2019. Ulloa was a guy who you knew exactly what you were going to get from him week in week out, and the homegrown signing was the epitome of a guy who was FC Dallas through and through.
Obviously with the list of departures comes the need for some arrivals. FC Dallas brought in Brazilian centerback Bressan from Gremio in the Brazilian first division, Honduran national team midfielder Bryan Acosta from Spanish second division side Tenerife, and Czech Striker Zdenek Ondrasek from Polish first division side Wisla Krakow. The club also used the draft as a way to add some depth with the addition of defenders Callum Montgomery and John Nelson.
While none of these may qualify as the “sexy” or “big name” signings that may excite the casual fan, I believe these are some quality moves. Bressan just turned 26 and should be in the prime of his career and has over 100 appearances in the Brazilian first division, as well as several appearances in the prestigious Copa Libertadores. Bryan Acosta has 38 appearances for the Honduran National Team, and almost 50 appearances in the Spanish second division. Finally, the signing that I’m most excited about is Zdenek Ondrasek. The Czech Republic striker known as “The Cobra” has almost 100 goals combined from his time in various European countries including: THE Czech Republic, Norway, and Poland. He doesn’t fit the bill of the “typical FC Dallas signing” as he isn’t from central or south America, and he isn’t a young guy, as he just turned 30. He’s been in good form lately, with 11 goals in 19 appearances this season for Wisla Krakow, which is good enough to put him as the third leading scorer in the league.
So what exactly should we expect from FC Dallas in the 2019 season? There seems to be a narrative that the club is undergoing a “Rebuild” or a “Youth Movement” and that isn’t entirely true to me. Both of these terms to me carry a negative connotation and seem to imply like FC Dallas is gonna be a poor side this year, which I don’t expect. When you hear “rebuild” if you’re a fan of other sports in America you think of teams tanking or struggling for years in hopes of a brighter future. Sure FC Dallas will be a different looking side this season, but I don’t think they’re considerably worse than last year. In fact I would maybe argue it’s possible that they could be better.
The club and the league seem to be really trying to label FC Dallas as undergoing a “youth movement” and while I understand why they might be doing this (FC Dallas has a great academy that they love to flaunt and MLS wants to show that the league is developing young American talent) I don’t think the team really is undergoing such a thing. Sure they’ve hired a young coach who is known for his work with young players, and sure I would expect guys like 19 year old Paxton Pomykal and 18 year old Jesus Ferreira to get more minutes (which isn’t saying much), but as far as the starting lineup goes I don’t expect many changes.
Speaking of the starting lineup, from all accounts we can expect a more attacking style based side, as is accustom with Luchi Gonzalez’s sides. In goal I would expect to see Jesse Gonzalez given every chance to be the starting goalie for FCD, but Jimmy Maurer did prove his quality last season and should push and provide competition for Jesse’s spot. On defense I would likely expect the same back four as the 2018 season.
The defense was FC Dallas’ bright spot in 2018 and we’ll likely see Marquinhos Pedroso at left back, with the pairing of Reto Ziegler and captain Matt Hedges in the middle, as well as fan favorite, and now US National team member, Reggie Cannon at right back. New signing Bressan should provide some quality depth and competition at center back, and even give Luchi the ability to maybe play 3 center backs.
In the midfield I would expect Acosta to take the spot of Ulloa in the starting lineup. For the second time in my FCD life, I’m excited about the possibilities of a Gruezo/Acosta pairing in central midfield. Acosta is much more offensive minded than Ulloa, which will allow Gruezo to play what I believe is his best role as a number 6. Carlos Gruezo is at his best when he is breaking up play and distributing from a deep position. Often times last season we saw Gruezo playing like more of a box to box midfielder due to the pairing with Ulloa and the lack of attack between the two. Bryan Acosta is very much a box to box guy and he is much better physically than Ulloa.
Last season in a limited sample size, we saw the abilities of Chilean attacking midfielder Pablo Aranguiz. I think he should have been in the starting lineup every match down the stretch for FCD at the end of last season, however Pareja seemed to almost be protecting him. In 2019 it’s time to unleash Pablo Aranguiz. If Luchi sticks with the same 4-2-3-1 that Pareja loved so much then Aranguiz needs to be in that number 10 spot. If Luchi goes with the 4-3-3 that he liked to use with his academy teams, I think Aranguiz has the defensive effort to play as somewhat of a box to box next to Acosta and Gruezo.
On the wings I think we will still see a heavy dose of the Colombian duo Mikey Barrios and Santiago Mosquera. Barrios started last season incredibly slow, but had a good finish to the year finishing with 6 goals and 6 assists. I’m expecting a breakout year for Santiago Mosquera in 2019, but this of course depends on his health, which was a problem in 2018. He never seemed to get to full fitness, as multiple hamstring injuries set him back throughout the season. However, even with those setbacks he managed to tally 6 goals and 7 assists in 19 appearances in all competitions.
I would expect much more Paxton Pomykal this season whether it be off the bench or in the starting lineup, or on the wing or in the middle. With all the talk of a “youth movement,” Paxton has served as the face of that talk. I think the club sending him as their representative for MLS media day is a telling sign of his more significant role this season. He’s starred at the youth levels for both FC Dallas and the US National Team, but now it’s time to show it at the professional level, which I believe he is ready for. Pareja had Pomykal wearing his floaties, but it’s time for Luchi to take the floaties off and throw him in the deep end.
Now for the bane of FC Dallas’ existence over the last several years, the striker position. The club looked desperate for a solution last season as we saw Maxi Urruti play as the striker for much of the year, until the acquisition of Dominic Badji. However, Urruti was never really a “Number 9” type striker. He was the kind of guy who wanted to drop deep and be involved in the build up, but this often left FC Dallas with the ball in wide positions crossing it in with no one in the box. His deep lying tendencies eventually lead to Pareja deploying him as a number 10, or a 9.5, or a 9.14159, or whatever decimal preference you have. Striker was FC Dallas’ kryptonite in 2018, and moving Urruti to the CAM spot because of his deep lying tendencies felt a little like scolding a child for writing with pencil on the wall and then handing him a sharpie.
So with Urruti gone what does that mean for the striker position? Dominic Badji was incredibly underwhelming and frustrating last season in his time with Dallas. Cristian Colman was…well…he was Cristian Colman. Now for 2019 with no Urruti, and Colman missing a good chunk of the year recovering from his ACL injury, it’s either Badji or Cobra time. FC Dallas did give up Kellyn Acosta to get Badji (plus some other assets) so you would think they would want to get everything they could out of him. However, the club also spent a considerable amount to acquire Ondrasek, so you would expect for them to try and get everything out of him that they can. Then again they spent a lot to get Colman too so… never mind, someone just score some goals.
I said Ondrasek was the signing I was most excited about because I think he could be what this team has been missing the last couple of seasons at the striker position. He seems to fit the mold of a true number 9. At 6’1 he provides an aerial threat and a presence in the box that FC Dallas hasn’t had and desperately needs.
The team will miss the energy or Urruti, but from the reaction I’ve seen on social media Ondrasek seems to be a fan favorite amongst the supporters of his former club for his passion and attitude for the club. This is a guy who has said he’s ready to fight for FC Dallas and when asked what he brings to FCD, said “Fighting.” This is a guy whose former club was in such financial times that he hadn’t been paid in months, and when asked about it said that other players would tank their performance in this situation, but he was going to go out and score two goals today. Here he is, “The Cobra.” Here’s Cobra and I think he’s ready to be a fan favorite.
I’m not one for predictions, and by that I mean I don’t like to be wrong but I sure do love to remind people when I’m right, but I don’t expect this season’s team to be much different than last season’s in terms of results. I believe this roster is definitely good enough to be a playoff team and I believe anything less than a playoff spot should be considered a disappointment to the club. This isn’t even the final form of the roster, as there will probably be some more moves to add some depth to the squad. In this league all it takes is making it into the playoffs and then who knows what can happen.
Don’t let the talk of a “Rebuild” or a “Youth movement” completely drop your expectations for 2019. There may be some growing pains and bumps along the way, but it should be a fun, interesting ride for FC Dallas in 2019.
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