The Runner Sports

MLS 20 In 20: FC Dallas

FC Dallas, much like the Columbus Crew, is an interesting case in building a roster the correct way.  Fifteen of their twenty-three players currently on the roster are 24 years old or younger, with seven of those being home-grown signings.  Instead of going the route of an L.A. Galaxy and building through big name players from Europe, FC Dallas has leveraged the rich soccer talent that can be found in Texas into the most promising group of young players in the league.  To say those players are on the roster is one thing (L.A. also has a wealth of young talent) to play them in competitive MLS matches is another, and that is exactly what FC Dallas is doing.  Nine of those under 24 players appeared in fifteen or more matches a year ago. Manager Oscar Pareja and just as importantly management are willing to allow these youngsters to make mistakes as they grow, something professional clubs shy away from.

Key Additions:

F Maximiliano Urruti (Last Club: Portland)

D Aaron Guillen (Homegrown)

M Juan Esteban Ortiz (LC: Atletico Huila)

D Maynor Figueroa (LC: Colorado)

M Carlos Gruezo (LC: Stuttgart)

F Carlos Lizarazo (LC: Cruz Azul)

M Mauro Rosales (LC: Vancouver)

After FC Dallas was eliminated from the 2015 MLS Cup playoffs, it seemed as if their options in attack were, while exciting, somewhat tactically limited.  The club would only play one style and if they were chasing a goal late the only route to put on was a much too old Blas Perez.  Well, this problem was fixed in the re-entry draft by selecting Maximiliano Urruti from Portland.  In what could be a major steal this offseason, Urruti brings tactical variance to FC Dallas.  He can be paired with likely starter Tesho Akindele late in a match and is a more than capable fill-in.  Carlos Lizarazo is another player brought in to compete for striker minutes in Dallas.  While not a pure striker, Lizarazo can and will play in the midfield for FC Dallas so he adds to the tactical flexibility.

The midfield was another area Pareja wanted to address this offseason and he did just that with the additions of Ortiz, Gruezo, and Rosales.  All three of these players add something different and should each contribute this season.  Rosales is the old-timer at FC Dallas, as he has played all over the world and at 35 is likely to hang up the boots soon.  He won’t be expected to play many minutes this season, but can be brought on late in a match when Dallas needs a goal.  Ortiz is a hard tackling midfielder who should provide FC Dallas with some steel in the center of the field.  The addition of 20-year-old DP Gruezo should excite MLS fans across the league.  Gruezo is a youngster who was just starting to break in with Stuttgart in the Bundesliga and he has the potential to become a star in MLS.  His game, at this point, is almost purely defensive as his best attributes are positioning and reading opponents attacking movement.

Key Subtractions:

F David Texeira

M Michel

GK Dan Kennedy

F Blas Pérez

Je-Vaughn Watson

FC Dallas were looking to move on to more productive striking options so it makes sense that both Texeira and Perez were allowed to leave this season.  Both of these strikers were among the Dallas leaders in goals but their conversion rate was low enough that they shouldn’t be missed given the new replacements.

Michel was the defensive midfielder who fell victim to the ongoing youth movement at FC Dallas.  As an older player, he was always liable for replacement and that is exactly what happened when Gruezo and Ortiz were brought in.

Finally, Kennedy proved to be expendable once homegrown goal keeper Jesse Gonzalez proved in the playoffs he was up for the challenge.

 

2016 Storylines:

Can youngsters take the next step:

2015 saw the young talent at FC Dallas ahead of schedule as they finished tied for first in the league.  With so much youth at every level, how will the coaching staff continue their development?  If multiple players take the next step and new signings Gruezo, Urruti and others can make their expected impact, watch out.  Last season FC Dallas were perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing team to watch on the field and they may have gotten better.

How will FC Dallas handle 2016/17 CONCACAF Champions League group stage fixture congestion in the fall:

With the first place finish in the western conference last year, FC Dallas qualified for the next edition of Champions League.  The group stage usually doesn’t offer much of a challenge for MLS teams as they don’t line up against Liga MX, but the travel and fixture congestion can be problematic.  I’m excited to see how FC Dallas will contrast these matches against MLS regular season competition.  Will Dallas be taking a full strength squad down to say Costa Rica (groups aren’t yet selected), or will they allow for even more youth development to take place?

How will new defensive midfielders hold up:

Perhaps the biggest positional question rests in the defensive midfield spot.  The two newcomers will be battling for playing time and that competition will certainly be one to watch going forward.  One complaint from FC Dallas last season was the soft nature, at times, from this spot.  I am looking for major improvement this season.

 

2016 Reasonable Expectations:

Obviously, Dallas has the talent, coaching staff, and home field advantage (Dallas in the summer is a furnace) to compete once again for the Supporters’ Shield.  Should the expected improvement take place in the defensive midfield and across the board from the youngsters, Dallas can take the next step.  They are my pick to finish first in the western conference and a close second to Columbus in the overall standings.  Dallas should make deep runs in both the Open Cup and MLS Cup as well.

 

Mainstream Sport Equivalent:

FC Dallas are equivalent to those young Oklahoma City Thunder teams with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka.  Those OKC teams were young and wide-eyed, extremely talented and built through fantastic drafting.  In the same way, FC Dallas are extremely talented, built through the draft (or youth system) and are poised for contention for the foreseeable future.  For some player comps:

Mauro Diaz = Westbrook

Both are dynamic “point guards” for their teams.  Diaz pulled off some of the slickest passing you’ll ever see and is capable of scoring double-digit goals.

Fabian Castillo = Durant

The big time scorers for their team.  Castillo nearly had a double-double last season for Dallas with 10 goals and 7 assists.  Both of these players are the “finishers” for their teams.

Jesse Gonzalez = Ibaka

The defenders of the net for both teams.  Both are still very raw (Ibaka during the days when OKC had Harden) and rapidly improving.

Tesho Akindele = Harden

Both are underutilized pure scorers.  Hopefully, Akindele will find more minutes/opportunities now that the job appears to be fully his.

Finally, Atiba Harris = Nick Collison

Both are Swiss Army knives of the team, capable of playing multiple positions and defending a number of players.

If you enjoyed this edition of MLS 20 In 20 check out Columbus Crew SC, Toronto FC, Real Salt Lake, L.A. GalaxySeattle Sounders, D.C. United, and Chicago Fire.

John Harbeck

Ohio sports and all things soccer.If you like my writing follow me @JHarbeck5 on twitter

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