As the 2021 MLS season draws near, FC Dallas will begin their preseason preparations.
Part of the preseason is determining who the regular game day starters and who will be left on the bench.
This series will go position by position on the pitch and analyze the depth chart at each spot.
1) Jimmy Maurer
2) Phelipe Megiolaro
3) Kyle Zobeck
Starting at the very back, and with all due respect to Kyle Zobeck, Jimmy Maurer and Phelipe will battle for the starting goalkeeper position. The spot almost certainly seems to be Maurer’s to lose, having been the starter throughout the 2020 season and the roster’s most experienced keeper. Maurer was also, statistically, one of the best keepers in the league in 2020, backstopping one of the better defenses league-wide. Phelipe is likely to be considered for the job, however.
The young Brazilian is in an interesting position, on loan from his parent club Gremio for the second season in a row. His release clause is reportedly quite high, so it seems relatively unlikely that FCD would spend the money to sign him permanently if he doesn’t prove himself in 2021. As of now, Phelipe is also due to miss a significant amount of time for the Olympics, though it is, of course, a bit of an unknown if the Olympics will actually happen this summer.
I think this spot will be Maurer’s, but don’t be surprised to see Phelipe get plenty of opportunities in the preseason and possibly even some starts in the early part of the regular season.
1) Ema Twumasi
2) Eddie Munjoma
So, technically speaking, we really don’t have confirmation yet that Twumasi is being considered to take over the starting right-back role. Luchi Gonzalez has mentioned the idea in the past, and Twumasi was loaned to Austin Bold in 2020 with the intention of having him played in that position. That didn’t end up happening due to Austin’s own needs for Twumasi, but Twumasi did earn himself some playing time with FCD after coming back from his loan, even featuring in the playoffs, though that was largely playing in a more central midfield role. That being said, there is a clear hole at right-back that needs to be filled and not many nominal right-backs in place to fill the spot, so it does seem likely that Twumasi will get a look there.
His main competition is from homegrown Eddie Munjoma, who has not actually played for the first team yet. He did, however, make his professional debut for North Texas SC in 2020 and became a staple in the team down the stretch in the season, playing very, very well, often even being pushed into more of a wing role at times. Munjoma’s big strength is going forward; he is very comfortable in the final third and combines well with his teammates around the penalty area. However, the jump from USL League One to MLS is a big one, so Munjoma will likely need some time to settle into the first team before being considered as an every-game starter. The club has given him the #2 jersey for the 2021 season, which certainly indicates that they have faith in him to take the right-back spot at some point, but I would be surprised if he takes the job full time this season.
There are a couple of other players that may factor in this spot as well in Bressan and Ryan Hollingshead. Bressan played right back in 2019 when Reggie Cannon was out on national team duty. If Luchi Gonzalez does not feel that either Twumasi or Munjoma are ready to start in the early parts of the season, Bressan may be brought in to bring a more defensive approach to the spot. Ryan Hollingshead may also be considered to play right back. He’s the nailed-on starter at left-back, but his backup Johnny Nelson has shown himself to be a quality spot starter, so Gonzalez and his staff may elect to play Nelson at left-back and Hollingshead on the right if Twumasi and Munjoma are deemed to be not ready to start.
If this does happen, I would expect it to only happen for a handful of games to allow Twumasi or Munjoma enough time to get settled. Ultimately, this one is tough to predict, but I think we will see more of Twumasi at right-back than any other player in 2021.
1) Matt Hedges
2) Jose Antonio Martinez
4) Nkosi Burgess
In all honesty and no offense to Bressan, but this is not likely to be much of a battle. Jose Antonio Martinez has clearly been brought in to replace Reto Ziegler and start opposite Matt Hedges. Martinez has experience in Spain’s first division with Granada in 2019-20, though he was unable to break through into Eibar’s starting lineup in 20/21 before his sale to FCD. With that kind of pedigree, it would be a disappointment if Martinez could not lock down a starting position. I’ve included this battle only because Bressan is entering his third season with the club, so there is certainly an element of familiarity with him. He was largely solid down the stretch when he took over for Ziegler in 2020. That being said, barring any injury, it would be a shock to see not to see Martinez start the opening game of the 2021 season.
There is another possibility regarding the center backs, and that is the use of the 3-5-2. With FCD having completely replaced their wingers in the offseason, there is a lot of uncertainty in that position, and Luchi Gonzalez and staff may elect to use more of the 3-5-2 in 2021. If that happens, the competition between Martinez and Bressan with turn into a partnership as they will make up 2 parts of the 3 man backline in that formation. Expect to see plenty of formation experimentation in the preseason as Luchi continues to develop as a coach and work with a fresh group of players. However, in a 4 man backline, Martinez is the clear frontrunner.
Nkosi Burgess may see a bit of time with the first team in 2021 after making the bench on a couple of occasions in 2020, but he is likely to spend another season largely playing with North Texas SC. If Burgess can perform well with the second team, look for him to factor in the first team in 2022. Justin Che is technically still on the roster but is on loan with Bayern Munich II, a loan that seems very likely to be turned into a purchase by the German giants in the summer transfer window.
Astute observers may notice I have said nothing about Matt Hedges here. Does anything really need to be said about Hedges at this point? The guy is an absolute rock at the back and will start every single game if he is available. Dan and Clark Hunt might as well draw up plans to build the statue now.
1) Ryan Hollingshead
2) Johnny Nelson
To be clear, in a best-case scenario, Hollingshead is going to start at left-back 10 out of 10 times, but since he joined FCD in 2014, Hollingshead has been used as a plug-and-play kind of player being inserted into the lineup in various positions as needed. With that in mind, having a talented young player behind him like Johnny Nelson, who would start at left-back for a large number of MLS teams, is a massive benefit for the club.
Hollingshead doesn’t seem like the kind of player to rest on his laurels and get complacent, but it is always good to have someone nipping at your heels and pushing you every day in practice like Nelson surely is. It is also good to have the ability to give Hollingshead a break and not see a huge drop off in quality when going to Nelson.
Don’t be shocked to see Hollingshead get shifted around at various parts of the season, allowing Nelson to deputize at left-back. This is Ryan’s spot, but Johnny will see plenty of game time in 2021.
Do you think any of this depth chart is incorrect, or a different player will win starting jobs?
In Part 2 next week, we will take a look at the depth chart for the midfield positions.
Featured Image: Omar Vega/Dallas Morning News