FRISCO, Texas—FC Dallas’ 3-0 win over Toronto FC on Saturday marked the midway point of its 2019 season. Through 17 matches, FCD occupies the fourth spot in the Western Conference with 25 points and a 7-6-4 record. Let’s look at some of the storylines and highlights from the first few months of the Luchi Gonzalez era.
Dallas kicked off the season at home against a Brad Friedel-led New England Revolution. While the game ended in a 1-1 draw, there were early indications that “Luchi-ball”—Gonzalez’s signature high-pressing, possession-based style—was taking root in Toyota Stadium. FC Dallas owned the ball on the day, making 680 total passes to the New England’s 310 for a whopping 68% possession—the highest of any team that opening weekend. Dallas would average 61% possession over its first five games, a span that included three wins, a loss and a draw.
Gonzalez didn’t have to wait long for his first MLS win. Dallas ran out 2-0 winners against a Zlatan-less Los Angeles Galaxy in the second match of the season. It was also a marquee day for new signing Bryan Acosta; the Honduran international endeared himself to the fans in stunning fashion with a 20-yard first-time volley into the far corner.
The story of the season thus far has been the youth movement ushered in by Gonzalez, the club’s former Development Academy director.
With an average age of 24 years old, FCD has the youngest squad in MLS. Teen Homegrowns Edwin Cerrillo (18), Jesus Ferreira (18) and Paxton Pomykal (19) have emerged as crucial pieces of Dallas’ preferred lineup, and together they have accounted for 13 goals and assists. In total, Gonzalez has given six players 20 or younger their MLS debuts this season: Cerrillo, John Nelson, Ricardo Pepi, Bryan Reynolds, Thomas Roberts and Brandon Servania.
The youth movement reached its zenith on Saturday, June 22 against Toronto when an MLS-record-tying seven Homegrowns featured in the club's 3-0 victory—Gonzalez’s largest win so far.
NEW STARS IN TEXAS
Although both players made their MLS debuts over two years ago in the 2017 season, forward Jesus Ferreira and midfielder Paxton Pomykal are experiencing breakout seasons. The teenage duo has been instrumental for Dallas and both rank in FCD’s top five for goals and assists.
Ferreira forced his way into Gonzalez’s plans with a strong showing in preseason, scoring two goals and winning MVP of the Mobile Mini Sun Cup during Dallas’ training camp in Tucson, Ariz. The FC Dallas legacy and son of former league MVP David Ferreira, Jesus has begun to forge an impressive MLS career of his own this year. The Colombian-born forward leads Dallas in scoring with four goals and also is second only to Michael Barrios with four assists.
With two goals and one assist in his 10 games this season, Pomykal’s numbers don’t stick out as readily as Ferreira’s. However, Pomykal’s influence can’t be overstated. FC Dallas has a 6-2-1 record and scores an average of 1.78 goals per game when Pomykal has started. In the eight games without Pomykal, Dallas has only managed one win and averaged 1.125 goals per game. Indeed, Dallas’ winless streak in May coincided with Pomykal’s eight-game absence; first through injury and then as the U.S. captain in the U-20 FIFA World Cup.
The Highland Village native earned three MLS Team of the Week inclusions in the first five weeks of the season and was named to the 2019 MLS All-Star team on June 24 via a Commissioner’s Pick. Should Pomykal maintain or improve on his form this season, he’ll be a mainstay in the FCD and U.S. Men’s National Team midfields for years to come.
With a multitude of young players breaking into the starting XI this year, the roles of the remaining veterans have become even more important—most notably utility man Ryan Hollingshead. In his sixth season in Dallas, Hollingshead has proved a crucial piece of Gonzalez’s team, playing in six different positions and scoring two goals so far this year.
Winger Michael Barrios has also shined in 2019. The ever-present Colombian scored the first goal of the Luchi Gonzalez era and leads the team with six assists. Barrios was a whisker away from reaching 100 consecutive starts for Dallas—a testament to his reliability and durability—but his streak was cut short at 96 games due to a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation.
Dallas embarks Wednesday, June 26 against Vancouver on a crucial stretch of the season which includes seven games in just 25 days. This congested period is compounded by the absence of starters Bryan Acosta, Reggie Cannon and Carlos Gruezo due to Concacaf Gold Cup commitments. However, true to form, FC Dallas’ 38-year-old head coach refuses to fall back on excuses.
“I’m inexperienced, I’m unproven—that’s life,” Gonzalez said. “That’s for any one of our players that are going to have a new experience, any one of our staff. In anything in this life, we’re going to be out of our comfort zones doing something different, doing something new. I can’t control that. I can only focus on what I can control and what I can influence.”
With more than half of the 17 remaining games coming against fellow Western Conference teams, FC Dallas faces a tough fight to remain in playoff contention. However, if Gonzalez and company can build on the foundations established over the first half of the season, Dallas stands a strong chance of making its mark in the postseason.