The MLS season has reached the halfway point of the 2019 season. Going in to the season, many fans and those around the league expected this to be a rebuilding year for FC Dallas after the departure of Oscar Pareja and the introduction of former FC Dallas Academy Director Luchi Gonzalez as manager.
In the second part of our midseason review, we will take a look at the team as a whole, how they have compared to expectations and some positives and negatives fans have seen in the first half of the season.
Click here to view part 1 of the midseason review, focused on the players specifically.
Expectations versus Reality
With a brand new manager at the helm and the departure of some veteran players, many fans and pundits predicted that the 2019 season would be more of a rebuilding year for FC Dallas, who, at various times throughout the previous seasons under Oscar Pareja, had challenged for the top spots in the Western Conference and the league as a whole. Most pundits predicted the team to finish mid-table in the Western Conference, typically in the 4-7th range or outside of the playoffs entirely and fans largely felt the same.
After 20 regular season games played, FC Dallas sits in 5th in Western Conference with 29 points and an 8-5-7 record. They’re 3 points clear of Real Salt Lake in 8th, though RSL have a game in hand, and they sit 14 points behind conference and league leaders LAFC. The team has scored 29 goals and conceded 25 for a goal differential of +4. The team is virtually exactly where pundits and fans thought they would be: Mid-table.
But results weren’t the only major prediction regarding FCD in 2019, most expected to see a sharp increase in the playing time given to young homegrown players. Under Pareja, homegrown players had been signed in droves but the majority had failed to register any significant playing time in MLS, with only a handful, notably Victor Ulloa, Reggie Cannon and Jesse Gonzalez, really breaking through and seeing a lot of first team minutes under his tenure. Luchi was seen as someone who would change that and embrace the talented youth developed by the club. This was reinforced by the club finally creating their own USL reserve team in North Texas SC and the club forging a development partnership with German giant Bayern Munich.
In all of the 2018 season, homegrown players played a total of 7,953 minutes, largely dominated by Jesse Gonzalez, Reggie Cannon and Victor Ulloa. To this point in the 2019 season, homegrown players have a played 6,744 minutes, just over 1000 under last season’s total number with 14 games left to be played. In 2018, homegrown players played about 24% of the minutes available throughout the season. In 2019, that number has jumped to 34%. These minutes are being spread around more as well. Under Pareja, homegrown minutes were high relative to the rest of the league but were concentrated with a few players. Under Gonzalez, 9 different homegrown players have played significant minutes at some point during the season. Safe to say that the predictions of more play time for young homegrowns in 2019 have come to fruition.
What’s Been Good
Once Luchi Gonzalez got in place as manager and started working with the players, it quickly became apparent that the play style of FC Dallas was going to undergo a significant change. Former manager Oscar Pareja was a more pragmatic manager, changing styles and lineups each game to suit the opposition and generally preferring to use pace and play on the counter. Not to say that Oscar did not like to have his teams keep possession of the ball, but generally, Oscar played lineups that suited the players at his disposal as opposed to being wed to a particular style.
That has changed under Luchi, with a possession-based style being put in to place. Dallas has averaged 52.3% possession this season, up from 48.8% a season ago. Only San Jose, NYCFC, LAFC, Sporting KC, Atlanta, and Toronto have possessed the ball at a higher rate this season, in 2018, 12 teams eclipsed FCD’s possession numbers. It has been good to see the team adopt a defined style but it has also been good to see that Luchi is not afraid to adapt in certain situations, most notably when FCD went into Atlanta and took all 3 points by largely absorbing pressure and playing on the counter. But these situations have largely been anomalies both on the road and particularly at home, where the team has dominated play and generated plenty of chances and half-chances.
Seeing a new style come to fruition under a new manager has been fun to watch for FC Dallas fans so far, but it has been even sweeter because the players that have flourished the most have been young homegrown players. Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira, Edwin Cerrillo and, most recently, Brandon Servania have all enjoyed varying degrees of success ranging from complete breakout star to becoming a regular in the starting eleven. Going into the season, fans certainly would have enjoyed getting to see a new possession based style or seeing young homegrowns get serious minutes and develop, getting to see both of these simultaneously surely has to go down as a positive for the club and for fans, not only FC Dallas fans, but also fans of the US Men’s National Team, as FC Dallas homegrowns are now playing pivotal roles both on the senior team and in the youth teams. Pomykal and Servania both played integral roles with the U20 World Cup team this summer and Reggie Cannon has established himself within the senior team. It certainly seems that the 2019 season is a clear progression towards the club potentially becoming the premier development club in the USA, a goal that was clearly stated by club president Dan Hunt in this past offseason.
The talk around the team has been around all the young homegrown players, but there are still quite a few veterans on the roster, most notably in defense. A staple of Oscar Pareja’s FC Dallas teams were a solid defense that could always keep the team in games and that has mostly persisted under Luchi. Dallas is right about mid-table in terms of goals conceded, having conceded 25 through the first 20 games. Matt Hedges and Reto Ziegler have continued to have very strong seasons at center back and Ryan Hollingshead and the previously mentioned Reggie Cannon have mostly kept play from full back strong while adapting to how high they are instructed to push up the field by Luchi. Jesse Gonzalez has cleaned up some of his distribution issues and has handled his new role in Luchi’s system that involves him getting far more touches on the ball. There have been some mistakes and some issues playing out from the back and dealing with teams countering against them, but the veterans in defense have been a strong point for Dallas this season.
What’s Been Not So Good
If there’s one thing about FC Dallas in 2019 that most resembles previous renditions of the team, it has been their struggle to finish chances. Despite their possession stats, Dallas does not generate a lot of shots per game. They would rather patiently move the ball around the edge of the 18-yard box as opposed to attempting to fire a shot on goal at the first opportunity, but at times Dallas has perhaps been a bit too picky as to when to pull the trigger. That being said, this patience in the build-up has generated a fair number of quality chances, Dallas’ xG ranks right around the league average, but often times finishing these chances has gone awry. The team has been fortunate in some instances that this poor finishing has not cost them but on a number of occasions Dallas just could not finish a team off and their inability to put away quality, chances have seen them drop important points, particularly at home.
The club’s continued efforts to find a suitable replacement on the left wing for Fabian Castillo, who departed way back in the summer of 2016, have been in vain to this point in the season. Santiago Mosquera, Dominique Badji and Pablo Aranguiz have all played there but none have been able to find any sustained success. This has, at times, led to an over-reliance on the pace of Michael Barrios to get in behind, particularly for games that Paxton Pomykal has had to miss. The club has gone out and signed Edwin Gyasi from CSKA Sofia in the summer transfer window but it remains to be seen if he will be the answer to Dallas’ left-wing woes.
The club has also been a bit hit or miss in their transfer dealings in general. With the departure of Luiz Muzzi in the offseason, Brazilian Andre Zanotta has stepped into the Technical Director role at FCD and the results have been a mixed bag. Brazilian defender Bressan has been a pleasant surprise. He came with a relatively poor reputation from Gremio but has shown versatility in playing every position along the backline and a real tenacity in his defending and tackling. On the other side, Czech striker Zdenek “Cobra” Ondrasek, has been a massive flop. He has barely found time on the pitch and when he has made it there, he has underwhelmed. If FC Dallas are to become a club focused around development while continuing to be relatively tight-fisted when signing players from overseas, they have to be able to get hits on these players.
On the whole, FC Dallas fans have a lot to be pleased about in 2019. In what was largely acknowledged as a bit of a rebuilding and restructuring year, Luchi Gonzalez has the team in the playoff spots playing a possession-based style while giving lots of minutes to young homegrown players. There are question marks to come regarding what the club will do in the rest of the transfer window and if they can continue to develop and improve as the season goes on but to this point this season feels like the club taking a big step toward not only developing players for the club but also becoming the premier development club in regards to contribution to the US national team.
What are your thoughts on the season to this point? Sound off in the comments below!
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