As the 2021 MLS playoffs get set to start following the international break, FC Dallas will be starting their offseason and preparations for the 2022 season. This week, we will begin our 2021 season review, starting with grades for the goalkeepers and defenders.


Jimmy Maurer: B

Following a team MVP-caliber season from Jimmy in 2020, the former New York Cosmos keeper had a bit of a disappointing season in 2021. Maurer missed 10 games in 2021 due to injuries and was part of a defense that conceded more goals than any other team in the western conference. That being said, Maurer did not necessarily have a poor season, the poor defensive record of this team was mostly not on his shoulders and the team generally looked better defensively when he was on the field as opposed to when Phelipe started. However, Maurer allowed some uncharacteristically poor goals based on the standard he set during 2020 in a few moments this season and his inability to stay in the lineup on a consistent basis due to injury did not help his consistency on the field. Jimmy looks to enter 2022 healthy and able to stay fit throughout the season.

Phelipe: C

To say that things did not go to plan for Phelipe with FC Dallas is a huge understatement. Brought in on loan from Gremio prior to the 2020 season, Phelipe was in the picture to go to the Olympics for Brazil in Tokyo 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic derailed the Olympics for 2020, postponing them to 2021. Phelipe made a handful of appearances in 2020 without making a massive impression and by the time the ramp up for the “2020” Olympics started in 2021, he was basically out of the picture with the Brazilian Olympic team. The idea from FCD seemed to be to bring him in on loan, get him some playing time, send him to the Olympics, use the buy option on his loan and then turn around and sell him for a bunch more money in the future. But that all rather fell apart pretty quickly and Phelipe essentially just served as a standard backup goalkeeper for FCD in 2021. Phelipe played in 11 games, making 10 starts, and generally was very inconsistent. For every quality save, like the three he had in early October against Minnesota, he allowed a very poor goal, like the third goal conceded against LAFC in mid-October. The defense always seemed to be less organized when he played and he generally didn’t seem to do anything particularly well or stand out in a major way. Gremio would like to see him return to Dallas on a permanent basis, they offered to allow Dallas to keep him in exchange for Gremio not needing to pay any more for Thiago Santos, but it seems unlikely that he will be back in 2022.

Kyle Zobeck: N/A

After making his first MLS appearances in 2020, the veteran goalkeeper did not make an appearance for FC Dallas in 2021. He is out of contract for 2022 and set to become a free agent. FCD may elect to bring him back in a similar role as he has held to this point. Don’t be surprised to see him as an assistant coach in the relatively near future.

Center backs

Matt Hedges: B-

The man with the most appearances in club history began the 2021 season in the starting lineup against Colorado on opening day, but after making a 60 minute appearance in the second game of the year in San Jose, Hedges exited the lineup for a handful of games due to a hip injury. He returned in mid-May and played a couple games but the hip injury turned out to be worse than initially thought and Hedges did not return to the squad until a 9 minute appearance against SKC on July 31st. It wasn’t until September that Hedges became a regular starter once again and he ended the season with 8 straight 90 minute appearances.

Compared to his usual standard, Hedges was nowhere close and, at times, looked like father time might finally be catching up with him. But I remain pretty optimistic on Matt going into 2022. Those 8 straight full games at the end of the season were important for him and by the last few games of this season, he was looking like he had just about fully rounded back into form and was getting back to the Matt Hedges we are all used to. It would be a shock to not see him in the team next year, but sadly, we may not have a lot of years of watching Hedges left.

Jose Martinez: C

The first of the new signings for 2021 to grade, Jose Martinez came to FC Dallas from SD Eibar in (at that time) La Liga. Martinez was never able to break into the first team at Eibar, but he had played significant minutes in La Liga for Granada CF in the 19/20 season, so expectations were high for him in preseason and the word around FCD training camp was that Martinez was looking good and looked to be a strong replacement for Reto Ziegler, who departed after the 2020 season. Martinez began the year in the starting lineup but a series of injuries prevented him from ever getting a consistent run in the FCD backline and he ended the season having made 19 appearances with 16 starts, not exactly what FCD or Martinez himself were expecting back in April.

When Martinez was in the lineup he was often…just fine. At times, it was clear to see his quality on the ball and his time spent at Barcelona (he never made a first team appearance but played quite a bit for Barcelona B) but he often looked a step slow defensively in his game reading and actual physical speed in stepping to opposing attackers. Due to his contract, it seems unlikely that Martinez goes anywhere in 2022 (though I do wonder if Charlotte FC might be drawn to him in the expansion draft if FCD leaves him unprotected). If he does suit up for FCD in 2022, he’ll need to show a lot more if he wants to get any significant amount of time in the starting lineup.

Bressan: B-

The veteran Brazilian defender signed a new deal with FCD prior to the 2021 season, guaranteeing him for 2021 and leaving the club with options for 2022 and 2023, along with reducing his salary to something closer to what people would expect to see a third center back be paid. Bressan entered the season firmly seated in the third spot on the depth chart at center back, behind Matt Hedges and Jose Martinez, but injuries to both players throughout the season saw him record FCD-career highs in games played (22), games started (20) and minutes played (1746). During FCD’s best run of the season between the 4-0 win over the Galaxy on July 24th and the 2-0 win over Austin on August 7th, a run in which FCD only conceded two goals in four games, Bressan started all four games. In the rough stretch at the early part of the season while splitting time partnering with Hedges and Martinez, Bressan often looked like the more assured and sure-footed defender in the center back pairing. However, as the season wore on, a lot of the issues in Bressan’s game that fans have become familiar with in recent seasons reared their head: overly aggressive play, some poor decision making with the ball and some poor marking in the box, particularly on set pieces. By the end of the season, he was dealing with some injuries of his own and only made a single sub appearance in the final 6 games of the season.

Even after Bressan’s pay cut, he is still making around $500k annually. With Jose Martinez guaranteed for next year, Hedges seemingly rounding back into form and the emergence of Nkosi Tafari over the course of 2021, it seems likely that FCD will choose to decline Bressan’s option for 2022. But if FCD decides to move on from any of the previously mentioned center backs, he may be back in Frisco for a fourth season.

Nkosi Tafari: A

In any bad season, there are always going to be certain moments or players that stick out as bright spots among the gloom. That is probably understating how much of a revelation Nkosi Tafari was in 2021 to be totally honest. Tafari was one of FCD’s first round SuperDraft picks prior to the 2020 season. After signing his contract, Tafari was expected to play largely for North Texas SC in 2020, but then the pandemic struck, halting the season. Even after the season resumed, due to restrictions, players were unable to move back and forth between the first team and NTSC, basically keeping Tafari from seeing any competitive game time. Near the end of NTSC’s season, the club made the decision to basically move Tafari out of the first team picture and over to NTSC, where he played out the end of the season and finally got some professional action.

Coming into 2021, he looked set to be the fourth center back, with many fans and media members assuming that he was likely to see some additional time with NTSC, especially early in the season. That never ended up materializing as injuries to center backs early in the season forced Tafari to be the center back cover on the bench for most of the early games in the season. However, due to injuries to both Matt Hedges and Jose Martinez, Tafari started his first MLS game on June 19th against Minnesota United in a 1-1 draw. He didn’t look back from there, starting the next 16 games before making a sub appearance in the 9/11 game, prior to returning to the starting lineup for two more games before Luchi Gonzalez was fired. Marco Ferruzzi opted to go with Hedges and Martinez, both of whom were finally healthy together at the same time, for a handful of games, before returning Tafari to the starting lineup for the final two games of the year against Austin and San Jose.

Tafari’s growth over the course of the season was a lot of fun to watch. His physical characteristics, his height, speed and size, were never in doubt and there was clear development in the tactical side of his game during 2021, along with his passing and decision making. He ended the season as the league leader in clearances per game and ended up with a goal and two assists on his stat line as well. There have been some questions about what Tafari’s contract status looks like for 2022, but recent indications are that he has at least one more club option year on his contract. FCD should absolutely be picking that up, protecting him in the expansion draft and should really work out a new deal to get him a raise going forward. Beyond that, Tafari should be looked at as a piece and a building block for the next half decade at least. Anything other than that will be a front office failure. Make it happen Dan and Andre.


Ryan Hollingshead: B-

Following two stellar seasons that caused him to regularly be named among the best left backs in the league, Ryan Hollingshead had a bit of a down year in 2021. His attacking numbers were still quite strong with 3 goals and 5 assists (5 assists is a career high for a single season for Hollingshead) but Hollingshead often struggled defensively, giving the ball away in poor positions with alarming regularity as well as struggling at times in one-on-one situations.  It would be a stretch to say that Hollingshead was a major problem on the backline but, unfortunately, he wasn’t much of a help in most cases either. Of course, nothing was helped by the constant chopping and changing on the backline throughout the season, something that Hollingshead would not have dealt with very often since 2019 where he was largely paired with Reto Ziegler on the left hand side of defense. 2021 saw him partner with just about every center back on the roster at some point during the season and also saw more use of the back 3/5 than previous seasons.

All in all, there were certainly plenty of positives to take away from Hollingshead’s 2021 season but, like most of this team, it was a disappointing year and one that he’ll hope to bounce back from in a big way in 2021. Hollingshead remains an important figure with the fanbase and within the locker room and he has a club option for 2022 that will surely be picked up. The question then becomes what will happen down the line with Hollingshead. We’ll have to see how 2022 plays out before coming to any conclusions on that front.

Ema Twumasi: B+

Originally drafted as a Generation Adidas player in the 2018 SuperDraft, prior to the 2021, Ema Twumasi had only made 7 total appearances for FCD, with only a single start in his rookie season. Twumasi had spent virtually all of those seasons on loan, first going to OKC Energy in 2018 and then Austin Bold (RIP) in both 2019 and 2020. After Luchi Gonzalez took charge, chatter began that the club was looking at transitioning him from a winger, where he had excelled at Wake Forest in college, to a fullback. That didn’t end up taking hold until about the mid-way point of the 2021 season. Twumasi started the season recovering from an injury suffered in preseason and did not make his first appearance until May 29th against Colorado and did not make his first start until July 7th against the LA Galaxy. He didn’t settle in as a regular starter until the end of July, but once he did, he didn’t look back. Twumasi ended up starting every single game through the rest of the season, culminating in a total of 19 starts with 23 appearances. Twumasi only recorded a single assist in 2021 but was a bright spot on an overall poor backline.

The first thing that sticks out when watching Twumasi is the guy simply does not lose the ball. I think I can count on one hand the number of times he was dispossessed during the season, he is borderline elite in the way he uses his body to shield the ball and is quick and agile enough to make movements to get out of trouble when it comes. Much like Nkosi Tafari, Twumasi’s growth over the course of the season was a lot of fun to watch and by the end of the season he looked like a legitimate attacking threat on the right and was largely holding his own defensively, both tactically and in one-on-one situations. Twumasi should have one last club option year left on his contract. FCD should pick that up during this offseason and should be looking at getting him locked down on his next contract. If his trajectory continues, he could easily be FCD’s starting right back for the next 4-5 years.

Johnny Nelson: C

After a promising 2020 season that saw him become a bigger part of the team, Johnny Nelson would have looked at 2021 as a crucial season in his development and would have been looking to take the next step and become an even bigger part of the rotation. Unfortunately for the 2019 SuperDraft pick, 2021 did not go to plan. Nelson began the season as the starter at left back as injuries and lack of experience at right back forced regular starting left back Ryan Hollingshead to play on the right. Nelson started the first two games of the season and continued to make sporadic starts and sub appearances in the first half of the year, with his final start of the season coming on July 7th against the LA Galaxy and his final appearance coming on July 31st against Sporting Kansas City. Unfortunately for Nelson, his season ended shortly afterward as a back injury ended up requiring surgery that shut him down for the season and will likely extend his absence into the first part of next season. When he did play, Nelson often looked like the same player fans saw in 2020, an excellent and dogged one-on-one defender that lacked in ability going forward.

Nelson is on a Generation Adidas contract which means that it is likely that 2022 will be an option year on his contract. It sounds harsh, but it seems unlikely for FCD to bring him back for another year with his injury situation and how he has played in recent seasons. It would be a great comeback story if he can come back and factor next season, and if he can recover from his surgery, I can certainly see an MLS future somewhere for Nelson, but it seems increasingly unlikely that future lies with FCD.

Justin Che: C+

If you told any FCD fan prior to the 2021 season that Justin Che would end up making 15 appearances with 12 starts totaling over 1000 minutes for FCD, they likely would have called you crazy. Signed in 2020, Che went on loan to Bayern Munich II prior to the 2021 MLS season and seemed destined to follow in Chris Richards’ footsteps as a talented homegrown defender who never actually played for the FCD first team. Che’s loan in Munich went well, he made a number of starts for Bayern II in the second half of their 20/21 season and all indications were Bayern wanted to sign him permanently in the summer with Che interested in signing as well. However, two crucial things happened that altered this trajectory. The first was FCD dealing with a bit of an injury crisis on the backline during the summer. The second, and more important factor, was that Bayern II was relegated out of the 3. Liga, moving them into the largely semi-pro regional fourth division in Germany. This caused Bayern to need another destination for Che to play in the fall of 2021 as the 4th division was basically deemed to be below his level and not helpful to his development. Rather than go through with the deal, Bayern chose to allow Che to stay in Dallas, who wanted him there as depth and were willing to offer a shot at real minutes in MLS.

Che made his first bench appearance on June 19th against Minnesota and his first start just days later on June 23rd against LAFC. He ended up starting 7 games in a row between June 23rd and July 24th before a minor injury kept him out of the team for some time. He made another handful of starts in September near the end of Luchi Gonzalez’s tenure, but after Marco Ferruzzi took the job, he only made three more appearances, two starts and a one minute sub appearance. Che, who played center back in the academy, for North Texas SC and for Bayern II, almost exclusively played as a right back in a back 4 for FCD. He showed a lot of very bright flashes, at times it was clear to see why one of the biggest clubs in the world was interested in him. But at other times it was also clear to see that this was a 17 year old playing a bit out of position. Although Che was often fun to watch going forward and was solid in some of his one-on-one defending, his positioning at right back was often all over the place and routinely caused headaches for the FCD defense as a whole. Che’s future is undoubtedly bright, but it would be a big surprise to see him still playing in Frisco in 2022.

Eddie Munjoma: C

Signed as a homegrown before the 2020 season, Eddie Munjoma came to FCD after playing four years at SMU. Much like Nkosi Tafari, Munjoma’s 2020 season was derailed by the pandemic. He ended up getting plenty of playing time with North Texas SC by the end of the year but it was not until later in the season and Munjoma basically spent the better part of the year not playing any kind of competitive soccer. Coming into 2021 following the departures of Reggie Cannon and Bryan Reynolds in 2020, Munjoma looked set to battle it out for the right back position.

Munjoma started the season on the bench but saw his first start in the third game, and first win, of the season against Portland. Munjoma then started the following four games in May, but following the international break at the start of June, Munjoma saw his minutes disappear completely with Justin Che taking his place at right back. At this point, Munjoma was not even making the bench for FCD and essentially became a full time North Texas SC player. Munjoma made a handful of sub appearances in the remainder of 2021 but never made any kind of big impact in the team after his starting run in May. When he did play, Munjoma looked like an interesting prospect going forward, but often looked lost and out of his depth defensively. It is telling that he often played as a wing when playing for North Texas. Munjoma should have some more time on his contract if FCD is interested in picking it up and he does have the versatility to play on either the left or the right, but he’ll need to make a big leap if he wants to factor in the first team going forward.

How do you rate the goalkeepers and defenders in FCD’s 2021 season? Let me know in the comments below!

Featured Image: Fernando Leon/ISI Photos/Getty Images
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