FRISCO, Texas - The Holidays are over. The World Cup is in the past. What is there to look forward to? The 2023 FC Dallas season of course. And for some, that began today. FC Dallas opened its 2023 preseason in Frisco. Before the team heads to Marbella, Spain for training camp at the end of the month, let's take a look at some of the pressing story lines going into the new season.
Nico in Year 2
Nico Estévez begins his second season as head coach of FC Dallas. The Spaniard exceeded all expectations in his inaugural year at the helm, helping Dallas return to the playoffs after a one-year absence. The club’s final tally of 53 points in the regular season was a full 20 points more than it reached in 2021, marking the club’s biggest year-over-year improvement in its 26-year history. Estévez also oversaw the team’s first home playoff victory since 2016. Safe to say, it was a good season in Dallas.
So, where does he, and the team, go from here? Improving upon its Western Conference semifinal appearance is the obvious answer. And winning the ever-elusive MLS Cup is always the ultimate goal.
"If I know something about MLS it's that every single season is a new experience, it's a new season," Estévez said in FCD's season-opening press conference Friday morning. "Nothing that you did in the past is going to help you to succeed. We start today as a brand new season and we have to work as hard as we worked last season and improve the things we didn't do well. It's not like we're throwing out what we did last season. But complacency is the first enemy for us this season, because we can be happy about what we did. We're not happy, we want more, and this is what we want to tell the players. This club wants more."
The Backline in a Post Matt Hedges Era
Surely you know by now, FC Dallas said farewell to one of its greatest-ever players. Club legend Matt Hedges’ 11-year stay in Dallas ended this offseason as the center back departed as a free agent signing with Toronto FC. It was a difficult goodbye. And it will be just as difficult to cope with his absence on the backline. Dallas earned the best defensive record in the West last year with just 37 goals conceded from 34 games. To maintain that this year, new signing Sebastien Ibeagha will likely play a big part. The veteran center back joined as a free agent after a two-year stint with LAFC that culminated with an MLS Cup. Dallas also added 22-year-old Arlington native Amet Korça from the Croatian first division for further cover. Are the additions of Ibeagha and Korça enough to fill the Hedges-sized void in the center of defense? Only time will tell.
Another Battle for Right Back
Another backline addition includes right back Geovane Jesus from Cruzeiro. The 21-year-old impressed in Brazil’s second division and helped Cruzeiro gain promotion back to the topflight. An athletic defender capable of playing center back in a back three, Jesus will battle Ema Twumasi for the starting right back spot. But don’t count out Twumasi just yet. The former SuperDraft pick successfully fended off the challenge of FC Porto loanee Nanu for the starting job last season and he won’t go down without a fight once again. Regardless, it’s a good situation for FCD, especially with the expansion of the Leagues Cup.
Roles for the North Texas SC Products
FC Dallas added forwards Bernard Kamungo and José Mulato from its second team North Texas SC at the tail end of 2022. Both were prolific in MLS NEXT Pro, combining for 25 goals and nine assists. Both are still very young (Kamungo is 21 and Mulato just turned 20) but it’s a big step up to the MLS level. It’ll be very interesting to see how many opportunities they earn—especially with the recent departure of veteran striker Franco Jara. I think both could surprise a lot of people with their talent, speed and youthful fearlessness.
Open Designated Player Spot
Aside from the new signings, one of the biggest stories from this offseason was the departure of forward Franco Jara. The club reached an agreement with Jara this week to terminate his contract, allowing the 34-year-old to return to his native Argentina to finish his career. Importantly, the move frees up a Designated Player spot, an International Roster spot, as well as some extra salary cap space. With even more games in 2023, Dallas looks a little thin at center back, central midfield and wing. The extra roster space following Jara’s departure gives FCD’s top brass a lot more flexibility in the transfer market. Will Dallas fill its third and final DP spot before the April 24 transfer deadline? Again, time will tell.