After two long years off, the US Open Cup has finally returned in 2022 with FC Dallas set to match up against USL Championship club FC Tulsa at Toyota Stadium. We’ll predict the lineup for this match and look at why these players will start and what they can do to get themselves further looks with the first team.
Goalkeeper: Jimmy Maurer
Obvious choice here. With Maarten Paes playing excellently in league play, this is a great opportunity to get the veteran some valuable minutes. As of now, Paes is still only on loan until the end of June, it seems likely that he will have that buy option picked up by FCD, but you never know until the deal is official, so it is important to get Maurer minutes when possible. He’ll be a vital part of a very inexperienced defense and his ability to organize his defense will be crucial against what will be a full strength FC Tulsa team that is comfortable playing together.
Right Back: Eddie Munjoma
The homegrown saw his first action of the season in the 0-0 draw away to the Red Bulls, coming on as a late game substitute to help secure the draw. He actually came on to play as a winger in that one but I suspect that, with Ema Twumasi having played the full 90 and Nanu recovering from an injury, Munjoma will pick up his first start of the season and get a shot at putting his name forward in the right back conversation. I think it will take a pretty immense performance to do so, but right back is far from being solved at this point. Munjoma is almost certainly running out of time and opportunities with FCD so this is a huge moment in his career and possibly his last shot at securing an MLS future.
Right Center Back: Lucas Bartlett
Before getting into Bartlett, there is also a decent sized chance that this position goes to Joshue Quinonez, on loan from Barcelona SC in Ecuador. Quinonez made his first bench appearance of the season against the Red Bulls and would slot in naturally at the RCB spot. However, I think this will go to Bartlett, for one big reason: he did not even travel with North Texas SC to play San Jose Earthquakes II for Sunday’s MLS Next Pro matchup. For me, this is a clear sign that Bartlett is set to at least get some playing time in the cup. Bartlett was signed pretty quickly after being drafted in this year’s SuperDraft but at age 24 (turning 25 in July) his window to make an impression and secure a spot in the future is very narrow, and this game will be a big opportunity to prove his worth.
Left Center Back: Nkosi Tafari
Tafari is likely to occupy a relatively new role for him since coming to Dallas as he’s likely to be in charge of marshaling the backline with his surrounding cast comprised of rookies or players who rarely play. Tafari has been unlucky to only have played twice thus far in 2022, both appearances coming off the bench, but he has looked solid in those limited minutes. Put simply, it has been hard to justify making changes to the defense that has only conceded 4 times in 7 games and Tafari has been the odd man out thus far. He can make a strong case for himself with a commanding performance against FC Tulsa and continue to put pressure on his veteran teammates Jose Martinez and Matt Hedges to make his case for more playing time in MLS.
Left Back: Isaiah Parker
After spending the early part of the season playing with North Texas SC, the Generation Adidas draft pick should pick up his first FCD start against Tulsa. Parker is an exciting prospect at left back with his athleticism and abilities getting forward but he is still in the process of being converted from a winger into a fullback. This game will be a big step up from competition at the MLS Next Pro level and should be a good gauging point for the coaching staff to see where he is in his development as a full back. A strong performance in this one could see him start to factor in with the first team in MLS play sooner rather than later.
Central Defensive Midfielder: Edwin Cerrillo
In this early part of the season, Nico Estevez and his staff’s pattern seems to be to start veteran Argentinean defensive midfielder Facundo Quignon on the road and start young homegrown Edwin Cerrillo at home. With Quignon having played the full 90 minutes while Cerrillo only played a single minute off the bench, Cerrillo is the obvious choice to start against Tulsa. What will be interesting is just how many minutes Cerrillo will play against Tulsa with Saturday’s big Texas Derby looming. Don’t be shocked to see Cerrillo replaced by Quignon in the last 25-30 minutes to help keep the homegrown’s legs fresh for Saturday.
Central Midfielder: Tsiki Ntsabeleng
After a handful of promising sub appearances, I think we will see the South African SuperDraft pick finally make his first start against Tulsa. Largely a winger in college, Tsiki has looked comfortable playing as a midfielder so far in his sub appearances but it remains to be seen how he handles things when starting games and being asked to do more than just provide a spark and energy off the bench. With central midfield a spot where FCD lacks depth and the summer transfer window looming, this game is a big chance for Tsiki to assert himself in the conversation and prove that he is adequate depth for the likes of Paxton Pomykal and Brandon Servania going forward.
Central Midfielder: Kalil ElMedkhar
Full credit to 3rd Degree for the scoop on ElMedkhar being a consideration at central midfield, Buzz mentioned this on the most recent podcast, #157 (if you are an FCD fan and aren’t listening to the 3rd Degree podcast on a weekly basis, you really should start). With Nicky Hernandez recently sent on loan to San Antonio FC, the central midfield is even more threadbare than it was previously and of the remaining players who aren’t with North Texas SC, Kalil fits the bill to slide into that spot better than anyone. He’s already a left winger who prefers to cut and play inside and he has the size to not get bullied. It will be interesting to see how he can perform in a competitive match at the spot. Also in consideration for some minutes at central midfield is likely to be Blaine Ferri, currently signed to NTSC. Unlike Bartlett and Parker, Ferri did travel to San Jose but was subbed off at halftime, which may indicate that he could make the bench and pick up some second half minutes for the first team against Tulsa. If he does sub on, I think it is likely it would be for ElMedkhar as opposed to Ntsabeleng.
Right Wing: Jader Obrian
After a couple starts deputizing for the injured Paul Arriola, Obrian returned to his super sub role against Red Bulls, coming on for a brief late game appearance and almost grabbing a goal to steal the three points in New Jersey. Obrian will get a chance to return to the starting lineup against Tulsa and his pace and direct play should prove a nuisance for the USL Championship side. Frankly, if Obrian can’t be effective against this level of competition, the club should start looking for another winger to serve as depth for Arriola and Alan Velasco going forward.
Striker: Franco Jara
The much maligned veteran DP striker only has one start under his belt this season, filling in against Chicago for Jesus Ferreira shortly after he helped secure World Cup Qualification for the USMNT. Jara has one goal so far, a penalty scored against Nashville SC but has been limited largely to late game sub opportunities. Much like Obrian, this game is a chance for Jara to get some minutes and find some form. He doesn’t have much chance at breaking into the starting lineup regularly any time soon but Jara is still an important player for the team as depth for Jesus Ferreira and a player that can offer something different in the atttack whether FCD is chasing a game or defending a lead.
Left Wing: Szabolcs Schon
Schon has had nothing short of a baffling 2022 thus far. After a promising 2021 season, Schon looked set to move forward in 2022 and continue his development. Even with the signings of Alan Velasco and Paul Arriola, fans were hopeful that FCD would have one of the deepest winger groups in the league with Schon and Obrian serving as backups and being able to start games as needed and provide energy and quality off the bench. But due to injuries, international callups and just not being in the plans so far, Schon has not even played a single minute for FCD in 2022 and has not even made the bench in the last two games against Colorado and New York Red Bulls and that was due to coach’s decision, no recent injury has been reported for Schon. So this matchup is a massive opportunity for Schon to get some valuable minutes and prove to the coaching staff that he is worthy of further inclusion and needs to be involved in games going forward. If he can’t show that soon, FCD may be looking at moving him on in the summer, at least on loan.
With the Texas Derby on the horizon, do you expect Nico Estevez will rotate his squad this heavily? Or will he mix in starters and reserve players? How do you think this heavily rotated squad will perform against Tulsa? Let me know in the comments below!
Featured Image: Jerome Miron-USA Today Sports