With the veteran Brazilian midfielder signing from Palmeiras, we’ll take a look at how his signing will impact the FC Dallas midfield in 2020.
Starter or Backup?
Many people, fans and media members alike, would have identified a defensive midfielder as a possible position of need going into the 2020 season. Going into 2019, Carlos Gruezo was the obvious choice to play the single-pivot 6-spot preferred by Luchi Gonzalez but after his summer sale to FC Augsburg, his position was filled by Bryan Acosta. Acosta adapted to the position admirably over the course of the second half of the season, but he has always seemed to have the instincts of a traditional box-to-box midfielder as opposed to a pure defensive midfield option.
Behind Acosta, 19-year-old Edwin Cerrillo is the next man up. Although Cerrillo impressed in his relatively limited playing time in 2019, it is certainly not ideal to have an 18-year-old be your only real backup at such an important position, especially when Acosta is regularly called up by the Honduran national team.
This naturally leads to the conclusion that FCD would need to bring in another defensive midfielder, but the general thought was that this would be someone clearly meant to back up Acosta, likely an MLS veteran who could be brought in on the cheap. However, the rumored (and almost confirmed) signing of Thiago Santos from Palmeiras in Brazil does not quite fit that bill. Although Santos is certainly a veteran at 30 years old, his roughly $700,000 price tag (possibly raising to $1 million) would indicate that he’s being brought in as the serious competition for a potential starting job.
Acosta Back to the 8?
Obviously, a lot of this discussion is dependent on how Santos shows out during the preseason. If he isn’t able to impress the coaching staff enough, he’ll likely enter the season as a backup to Acosta who is likely to be used as a second-half sub to close out games, something that he has commonly done with Palmeiras. However, if he does manage to impress enough to put himself into consideration to be the starter, it begs an interesting question about what could be done with Bryan Acosta.
Acosta was certainly not signed to play as a 6, but he did because of circumstance and because his skill set fits the bill, but, if given the chance, will Luchi Gonzalez and his staff take the opportunity to move Bryan Acosta back to his “natural” position as a box-to-box midfielder?
It doesn’t seem likely that Santos, at age 30 and in his first MLS season, would be a wise choice to be an every game starter, but moving Acosta back to the 8 is an intriguing possibility. At the very least, assuming Santos isn’t a complete dud, which would be a shock considering his pedigree, he creates additional lineup flexibility for Luchi and his staff.
Another player in midfield is going to have a knock-on effect to the other members of the midfield unit. Outside of Acosta and Santos, the FCD midfield is made up of young players, mostly homegrowns: Paxton Pomykal (19), Brandon Servania (20), the aforementioned Edwin Cerrillo (19), Thomas Roberts (18), and Jacori Hayes (24), make up one of the youngest midfielders in MLS, if Santos does come in and earn significant playing time, that will affect the playing time for these young players. Cerrillo would be the player most directly impacted as he plays the same position as Santos. Assuming the signing goes through, Cerrillo seems likely to spend a significant chunk of time playing for North Texas SC in 2020, something he did quite often in the back half of 2019.
The rest of the midfield has a less direct impact, largely dependent on if Santos establishes himself as a real regular in the lineup as opposed to someone who is largely a backup. Santos stepping into the 6 likely moves Acosta back to his natural 8 spot that was largely occupied by Brandon Servania in the second half of 2019. Servania had a terrific second half of the season, leading him to be selected at #18 on the annual 22 under 22 list put out by MLS. Ideally, Servania should be pushing on and playing even more minutes in 2020, but a shift in Acosta’s position could put that in jeopardy.
It will be very interesting to see two things: how highly Luchi and FCD value both Santos and Acosta as regulars in the lineup and how the challenge for playing time impacts not only Servania, but the rest of the young midfield who will have to fight even harder for minutes in 2020 than they did in 2019.
It could also lead to an exit for a player (or two?). Thomas Roberts continues to attract interest from Europe, having gone to Germany to train with Bayern Munich and then having stayed behind longer than the rest of the group sent by FCD to continue training with FC Augsburg and again with Bayern Munich. The FCD front office may also find willing suitors within MLS for Jacori Hayes, who has found consistent minutes hard to come by in a crowded midfield. Don’t be shocked to see additional movement within the midfield this offseason.
The most likely scenario is that Santos and Acosta end up splitting time at the 6. Santos comes with a strong defensive pedigree and it would not be surprising at all to see him favored on the road where Dallas will be less likely to dominate the ball in the same way they are able to do at home. Playing Santos at the 6 in these games gives a stronger defensive shape and structure and allows Acosta to be used at the 8. At home, Acosta may be more likely to see time at the 6 as Dallas will look to dominate the ball and his skill on the ball and passing range is a key factor in FCD’s ability to do so. One way or another, the arrival of Thiago Santos is going to bring about some changes in the Dallas midfield versus what fans saw in 2019.
Will Thiago Santos win the starting spot at the 6 or will he factor more as a backup and rotation option? Do you think moving Acosta back to the 8 is a net positive or negative with the impact on the young players? How do you feel about the signing? Sound off in the comments below!
Featured Image: Reuters