FRISCO - As FC Dallas embarks on maybe its most tumultuous offseason in recent memory, what are the five biggest storylines on the radar heading into 2019?
NEXT HEAD COACH
This one is maybe the most pressing storyline of the offseason. It’s one I can assure you is fully underway and one that’s possibly closer to the finish line than to the start.
The timing of Oscar Pareja’s departure came some three weeks after the season ended - three fewer weeks the club has to get a new coach in and to work with the short MLS offseason. Roster decisions are already having to be made and with the rounds of MLS Re-Entry and Waiver drafts in the coming weeks, you want to have someone in place to lend his voice and insight to the technical staff’s planning moving towards 2019.
If I were a betting man, I’d say Dallas is poised to lose a well-known face to the 2018 Expansion Draft on Dec. 11.
The club has staved off selection in past seasons but with five of the 23 MLS sides exempt from the draft (the five teams who had players taken by LAFC), there is even more of a target on Dallas’ well-stocked roster of players. Taking out the first-contract Homegrown and Generation adidas players who are exempt from selection, there are 17 players currently under contract and just 11 spots on FCD’s protection list.
|Players Eligible for Expansion Draft|
|Pablo Aranguiz||Ryan Hollingshead|
|Dominique Badji||Jimmy Maurer|
|Michael Barrios||Santiago Mosquera|
|Cristian Colman||Marquinhos Pedroso|
|Jesse Gonzalez||Victor Ulloa|
|Carlos Gruezo||Maxi Urruti|
|Jacori Hayes||Reto Ziegler|
|Matt Hedges||Kyle Zobeck|
If you protect the majority of your end-of-season Starting XI, you’re looking at quality players like Pablo Aranguiz, Jimmy Maurer, Jacori Hayes, Ryan Hollingshead and Cristian Colman as the first few spots on the exposed list. If you want to assure one of those names doesn’t get taken, who do you pull from the starting lineup?
There’s a blessing in having the majority of your core roster under contract already, but also a curse when it comes to expansion and a new team looking to build from scratch.
We’ve seen for years the rapidly growing Homegrown movement in Frisco. But over the next few years, it will slow - not because talent isn’t there, but because there’s a new step in the ladder.
Players like Bryan Reynolds, Jesus Ferreira and Thomas Roberts were all signed directly from the Academy at young ages partially because there was not another outlet to sign them to pro deals. Now, with a USL League One team, the top, young talent in the FC Dallas Academy will largely have to prove themselves at the USL level before officially earning the Homegrown moniker by way of a first-team contract. Sure, there will be a select few that will sign directly to the first team, but not in droves like we’ve seen the last few years. Skipping the USL contract will be a right reserved for a select few - the best of the best.
Who from the Academy will be among the first to take that step this offseason? How do they take advantage of this new frontier and force the tough decisions on the MLS roster in the months and years to come?
Reversely, the USL level will be one that allows the depth of a 30-man MLS roster that does not see the field on a regular basis to get consistent minutes without being shipped off to other clubs for stretches of time. How will these players benefit and push their name into consideration for first-team minutes?
It’s a whole new ball game in player development.
With the hiring of the next head coach also comes the question of the identity of this team. What preferred formation and what style will the club be built around? How do the current rostered players fit into that model? It’s tough to have a true answer to any question without the head coach in place and preseason will be the first glimpse into what this group will look like at least on the field.
Oscar Pareja’s mantra was Busca la Forma - Find the Way. It was engrained into every aspect of FC Dallas from the top down, and in some ways always will be. There was a focus on the family atmosphere to not only the first team, but the Academy and youth teams as well. Those were his own roots.
What won’t change is FCD’s development of the young talent through the Academy and through the new USL League One team. The model there is an established one that could supersede any coaching candidate wanting to operate otherwise. Whomever comes next will have to take what is in Frisco already and seamlessly instill his own identity for how it moves forward.
Dallas, for the second straight season, finished in the bottom half of MLS goal scoring. And love him or hate him, the club declined the contract option of Roland Lamah who accounted for nearly 19 percent of the FCD’s scoring in that span.
At true striker, Dallas has four players under contract for 2019: Dominique Badji, Maxi Urruti, Cristian Colman and Jesus Ferreira. Badji found the net twice in 10 games since being acquired and will no doubt benefit from a full preseason with his new club, but has also never scored more than nine times in a single season (2017 and 2018). Urruti tied for the team lead in scoring for the second straight season but found his best form playing in the No. 10 role down the stretch - not up top. Colman tore his ACL in early October and will likely be on the shelf for most of the regular season. And Ferreira, who has shown promise at a young age, will be just 18 in December and has a total of 22 MLS minutes to his name.
Suffice to say that Dallas has a ton of options, yes, but is still looking for the guy in the No. 9 role - and a lot of names at the position on the roster.
Will it come from within under a new head coach? Will it come from afar in the form of a new signing? Decisions have to be made sooner rather than later.