By Jason Poon (@jasonhpoon)
The 2018 season for FC Dallas feels like a lifetime ago, thanks in large part to massive changes the club undergone during the offseason. The face and heartbeat of the club, Oscar Pareja, left for a new challenge and after his departure the roster and coaching staff were overhauled in a matter of weeks. With the change comes a new wind of hope and optimism, especially when you hear the way newly minted head coach and former FCD Academy Director Luchi Gonzalez speaks so eloquently about his vision for Dallas in 2019, and how the newly formed North Texas Soccer Club will help bridge more FCD players from the Academy and the first team.
2018 in review
But before all this optimism and hope for the future, Dallas had a lot of questions to answer heading into the 2018 season. Mainly, how would this team respond to the most epic collapse in league history the year prior? Dallas made some changes to their defense from 2017 to 2018; Jimmy Maurer started in goal, Anton Nedyalkov was the starting left back before he realized MLS wasn’t for him, Reto Ziegler came in and took over for Walker Zimmerman, and Reggie Cannon finally got his chance to make the right fullback position his own.
Dallas started the season strong, going 3-0-3 before getting their first loss. Dallas didn’t see loss #2 until Week 15, and didn’t experience their first back to back losses Weeks 22 and 23. Things seemed OK on the surface, but the string of good luck masked some of the foundational cracks of the team’s structure.
It didn’t happen immediately, but sudden and quick trades of Kellyn Acosta and Mauro Diaz caused a fracture in this team that sadly, finally showed itself at the end of the season. Mauro Diaz got an offer sheet to play abroad that he could not turn down, so on July 3rd, Dallas was without their best and perhaps the league’s best playmaker. That left a gaping hole in the midfield for FCD, but one that perhaps they had hoped Acosta would fill. However, less than three weeks after Diaz left, Acosta was traded away to Colorado for Dominique Badji. In less than a month, Dallas had lost their midfield and, while they didn’t realize it at the time, their mojo too.
Pareja and Dallas did their best to patch things with whatever they could get their hands on; Maxi Urruti in the #10, Badji at striker, Marquinhos Pedroso to fill the left back void, Pablo Aranguiz as the Mauro replacement. It looked like Pareja and company was going to be able to pull it off, then oft ridiculed striker Cristian Colman had been enjoying the form of his life in an FCD uniform and he suffered an ACL injury, ruling him out for the rest of the season.
FCD would end the regular season on a three game skid, finally revealing that this club was built around Diaz and Acosta. Without them their flaws finally caught up to them. Dallas would then be ceremoniously be one of the few home teams to get knocked out of the first round of the playoffs, thus ending what seemed like an OK season that ended in disappointment and “what ifs”.
2019 offseason additions/subtractions
With the way FC Dallas gingerly limped their way out of the 2018 season, a staleness had occupied the club. The team was no longer flying, and besides the emergence of Reggie Cannon, everyone seemed to have a subpar season and changes needed to be made.
Nineteen days after being knocked out of the playoffs, the first and most significant change came when Oscar Pareja and the club mutually parted ways. Pareja compiled a 78-49-43 record in Dallas which included two back-to-back 60-point seasons in 2015 and 2016. He also guided the team to a historic double in 2016. Though emotional and difficult, the change was necessary for both sides as Pareja had seemed to reach his ceiling in Dallas, and FCD needed someone else to take them to the next level.
As soon as Pareja left, the floodgates opened and a flurry of moves that started shredding the roster of “Papi’s guys”. On December 9th, Dallas announced they traded former Rookie of the Year Tesho Akindele to Orlando and then the club’s leading scorer for the past three seasons (29 goals), Maxi Urruti to Montreal. Three days after that, the club’s “Feel Good Story” and Homegrown, Victor Ulloa was also traded to FC Cincinnati.
As quick as players were moved out of the club, players were signed to the club at the same rate. Replacing Urruti is Zdenek “The Cobra” Ondrasek, which was a bit of a surprise move given he just turned 30 and isn’t a typical young player that the team could flip. But FCD seriously lacked goal scoring in 2018 and with Urruti gone, an immediate impact guy was needed. The defense was a bit thin on experience, so the club brought in Bressan from Gremio. Bressan can play across all defensive positions, so he can become their utility defender when needed or push for starting minutes too.
The big “wow” factor from the off-season is signing Honduran international Bryan Acosta to a DP deal. This does put Dallas in the awkward position of having four DPs, which means TAM will probably be used to pay down Cristian Colman or someone (maybe Carlos Gruezo) will be on their way out.
One tactical advantage of this team is the amount of flexibility that comes out of this roster. The team could easily line up in a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 or even dabble with a 3-5-2, depending on the situation and opposition. I’m anticipating that the 4-2-3-1 will be a base for this team to start but Luchi will change and switch with frequency depending on what the situation calls for.
The big battle to watch for will be at striker between Badji and The Cobra. Badji has league experience and great amount of speed that could bode well for how Gonzalez might want to play, but at the same time, you don’t go get a player like Ondrasek on a TAM deal just to sit on the bench either.
Dallas really had the luxury of rebuilding while not suffering in the standings during Oscar Pareja’s tenure. Dallas made the playoffs in four of the five seasons under Pareja’s helm, and that will be the expectations for the club, regardless of having a rookie coach or an excess of young Homegrowns.
I do see Dallas making the playoffs again, given the league expanded the entrance number from six to seven. This should be a transitional year as Gonzalez gets his feet wet, and bloods several Homegrowns (hey, Paxton Pomykal and Brandon Servania) to the first team. It’ll produce some ups and downs, but there’s still too much quality on this team for them not to finish either sixth or seventh in the West. That being said, given a chunk of the core of this team is still in tact, would finishing third be all that surprising either?