FC Dallas has added major experience to one of its most youthful positions in 2015.
On Wednesday, the team announced the signing of defensive midfielder Juan Esteban Ortiz, a 28-year-old Colombian with over 240 games of experience in the Colombian first division across three different clubs.
“He’s bringing 200-plus games of experience into a position where games are won and lost,” Technical Director Fernando Clavijo said. “It gives us exactly what we didn’t have [last season] - somebody who is physically imposing, a ball-winner and he’s a guy that is going to lead by example.
”When you look [at our roster], we have people that can possess, people that can play, people who can pass - we really didn’t have a ball winner like many other MLS teams have. I think we have found a solution for it.”
Despite his looming on-field presence, Ortiz will also prove just as big of an asset off-the-field as a mentor to Dallas’ young core, particularly 23-year-old Victor Ulloa and 20-year-old Kellyn Acosta. The two homegrowns were mainstays of the FCD midfield last season - almost too much so for Clavijo’s liking.
Ulloa logged a team-high 2915 minutes in 2015 and didn’t come off the field in an MLS match until mid-July. Acosta returned from U.S. U-20 duty in mid-June and appeared in every match until he was injured in mid-October, including twelve-straight 90-minute performances. And despite the duo enjoying breakout seasons respectively, the FC Dallas Technical Director knows that the long-term growth of both is dependent on not only the proper time and rest to do so, but a true veteran mentor.
“I think Ortiz brings expertise, leadership and experience into a very key position for us,” Clavijo said. “He’s somebody that through leadership is going to help those players develop, but also take some of the pressure away from the young players that were put in positions to make mistakes throughout the games and learn as they go - which is not always the right thing to do.”
While Ortiz will help both players develop even further in their careers, they will prove just as vital in his transition to the U.S. and the MLS style of play.
“As much as Ortiz is going to help Kellyn and Victor in the future, in the first couple months Kellyn and Victor are going to help Ortiz get acclimated to what MLS is all about,” Clavijo said of the two-way relationship. “[Michael] Barrios took about four or five months to get running [transitioning to the MLS style], but you see that when he started getting to know the league, he started making a difference. And I think it’s going to be like that [with Ortiz].”
And having bolstered depth with proven, quality players at the position will be a theme across the 2016 team. After a quiet offseason for player signings from a public perspective thus far, Clavijo admitted that Ortiz’s signing is just the first of several to be announced in the near future - completing the roster ahead of what will be a busy 2016 season not only with MLS Regular Season play, but a return to the CONCACAF Champions League and the usual mid-summer inclusion in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“You want to announce [all the players] right away because people don’t think that we’re doing anything,” Clavijo said jokingly. “But you’re going to see this roster with players that are going to compete and Oscar’s going to feel comfortable throwing them onto the field and playing them and not using the same eleven or 13 players throughout the whole season across all three tournaments - we would die. It’s going to be a good year and the competition is going to be extremely hard.”