2022 Season

How Nico Estévez Brought FC Dallas back to the Postseason

10.10 Nico

FRISCO, Texas – By almost any measure, Nico Estévez has done a remarkable job in his first season at the helm of FC Dallas.

The Spanish coach took over a team that was coming off a down season: Dallas finished 2021 outside of the playoff spots with 33 points from 34 games—second fewest in the club’s 26-year history. A year later, FCD and Estévez collected 53 points to finish third in the Western Conference, good for the club’s best regular season placement since 2016. Importantly, the 20-point improvement overseen by Estévez is the biggest year-over-year improvement in the history of FC Dallas (the previous best was a 14-point improvement from 1998 to 1999).

“It’s an achievement of everyone here: the ownership, André (Zanotta), the players, the staff,” Estévez said. “When we met the first time, we talked about working together, and then when you work together and are in sync in the decisions, it’s easier to get to where we are right now. Probably the expectations were not that high that we’d be where we are now, but I think credit should go to the players because they have done a fantastic job.”

12.3.21 NE Press Conf-41
Nico Estévez (middle right) at his introductory press conference alongside club president Dan Hunt (middle left), club chairman and CEO Clark Hunt (left) and club technical director André Zanotta (right)

Estévez is right to share the credit with the club’s ownership group and Technical Director, André Zanotta. FC Dallas invested heavily in player recruitment over the offseason, bringing in seven new players to bolster the squad. The signings of goalkeeper Maarten Paes and defender Marco Farfan contributed to FCD’s defensive improvement which saw the team finish with the best defensive record in the West with just 37 goals conceded—19 fewer than in the previous campaign. On the other end of the field, the additions of wingers Paul Arriola and Alan Velasco (which were record transfers for FCD) has seen the club become a more potent attacking force.

“I couldn't look at it (Estevez’s debut season) as anything other than a big success,” said Steve Davis, the club’s color commentator who’s covered the team in a variety of roles since its inception in 1996. “Having better personnel doesn't mean you're going to have a better season. You still have to arrange the pieces in the right way. You still have player selection choices to make. You still have to get the best out of the players you put on the field. I think Nico did a great job in all of those. On the field, the team was just better organized this year. And that's down to the manager.”

Nico Estévez sharing a hug with FC Dallas' top scorer Jesús Ferreira

Estévez also oversaw the improvement of players already at the club. FC Dallas Homegrowns Edwin Cerrillo, Paxton Pomykal and Jesús Ferreira elevated their games over the 2022 season with all earning career highs in games and minutes played. Ferreira, in particular, enjoyed a standout campaign and scored 18 goals to tie the club’s all-time single season scoring record. Ema Twumasi, a 2018 SuperDraft selection, continued his development at right back and became Estévez’s preferred option on the right side of defense ahead of offseason loan signing Nanu Gomes. Spanish center back José Martínez overcame an injury-riddled first season and flourished under his compatriot in his second year in Dallas.

“I just think that Nico sees the game at a really high level, and obviously all managers at the professional level are able to do that,” Davis said. “But with Nico there is just a little bit more of this really high level tactical and strategic insight. It's like he's got just a little bit of this wizard in him that allows him to see things that other people can't see. And I've been pretty impressed with that.”

The work isn’t done. Dallas hosts Minnesota United FC in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs on Monday, October 17 in the club’s first postseason game at Toyota Stadium since 2018. While playoff results will always define the perceived success of any season, the club's regular season success under Estévez shouldn’t be understated.

“It’s a lot of credit to the players. They’ve been working really, really hard since day one,” Estévez said after Dallas’ win over Kansas City on Decision Day. “They have committed to achieve the goals that we set out at the beginning of the season. They put so much effort into the way we want to play, the way we want to attack, the way we want to defend. This season was really good for the club.”