Back in January, we took a look at the four biggest preseason position battles for FC Dallas in 2022. Each month throughout the season, we will review those four battles and see where things stand as the season progresses. And this month, there will be one additional position battle added that has popped up during the season itself.
Goalkeeper: Maarten Paes vs Jimmy Maurer
This is completely cut and dry at this point and this month’s column will likely be the last time that this battle is shown. Paes has completely won the job and has finally had the buy option in his loan from Utrecht fully confirmed by FC Dallas. Although FCD has slipped defensively in the last couple months, Paes has not been at fault and has continued his high level of play in shot stopping and commanding his area on crosses and set pieces. Some improvement is still needed on dealing with free kicks directly at him, especially in setting up his wall, and his distribution when playing long out of the back is inconsistent but Paes looks like a guy that will be playing in goal for Dallas for the next few seasons.
Center back: Jose Martinez vs Nkosi Tafari
FCD’s defense has hit a rough patch after such a strong start, allowing 13 goals in their last 7 games. Matt Hedges, though he is still fighting through some injuries, continues to be a lock starter if healthy. Jose Martinez seems to still be preferred by Nico Estevez and his staff when healthy, but his health has been fleeting recently. In June, Martinez started alongside Tafari in the 0-2 loss to Vancouver, Martinez and Hedges started together against Austin, then an illness kept Martinez out for the trip to LAFC, bringing Tafari back into the lineup before Martinez and Hedges returned to start against Miami, though Martinez was subbed out at halftime for Tafari.
Neither player has been exactly stellar when playing but Martinez has had some particularly rough moments. He was directly at fault for both goals conceded against Austin and less than 5 minutes in against Miami, had a massive turnover in midfield that FCD was fortunate to not concede from. Tafari has largely looked the part when playing but the team’s defensive record hasn’t been great with him in the game, though it is probably harsh to pin much of that on him.
I’m not as down on Martinez as some in the fanbase are, but he has some clear deficiencies in his game, especially defending in space, and teams seem to be trying to target him. Austin certainly did so in the last 20-30 minutes of that game and Miami seemed to be focusing on him before he was subbed at halftime. I’d like to see Tafari get a run of games at this point in time with Martinez moving to the option off the bench, but we will see what the coaching staff does at this spot from here.
Right back: Ema Twumasi vs Nanu
Typically, I try to avoid writing in the first person as much as possible, but after the 4th of July game against Miami, it is hard to express this sentiment in any other way: I am done with Nanu.
He came over with a lot of hype early in the offseason transfer window. This was a player who had played for FC Porto in the UEFA Champions League, clearly he was going to be an upgrade on a late first round draft pick who has converted from winger to right back. But it has become readily apparent as to why FC Porto was seemingly so willing to let him go out on loan this season, the guy is just a mess. He has plenty of pace but virtually no end product, he seems to smash crosses directly out of bounds as often as he keeps them in play. He is a turnover machine, regularly taking poor touches, making aimless passes or dribbling directly into opposition players. Defensively, he is okay, but he is regularly caught out of position from being so high up the field and isn’t a great defender around the box.
Not that Ema Twumasi has done a whole lot to inspire a lot more confidence. To be clear, at this point, I’d happily have Twumasi start at right back for the rest of the season, but he has not followed up a promising 2021 season in 2022. Twumasi is a decent option going forward and a decent defender, but that is about it. At times, the fact that he has only recently converted to right back still rears its head, largely in transition defending and he often times plays too passive in the attack, opting to turn and pass backwards rather than going forward.
This is a spot where FCD could stand to make a big improvement in the transfer window. It will be interesting to see if FCD just rides out this season at right back or goes for someone this summer.
Defensive midfielder: Edwin Cerrillo vs Facundo Quignon
Facu has continued to outperform homegrown Edwin Cerrillo in recent games. Neither player has exactly been stellar, Quignon still has a bad tendency to give up fouls in dangerous free kick positions, but Cerrillo is still lacking some of the game sense and positioning needed to play as a single 6 at a high level. Cerrillo was handed a big opportunity to start against LAFC and, while he was not necessarily bad, he did not really make a case for himself to pull the starting job away from Quignon. Especially egregious was his positioning on LAFC’s first goal that came in transition where he was inexplicably the highest player on the field and was nowhere to be found as LAFC sliced through the FCD midfield and defense.
However, Cerrillo really needs to get some time and a run of games if he is going to really improve in these areas. He still has plenty of time of course and his development is nowhere near finished at just 21 years of age but I wouldn’t mind seeing him get a run of starts and more regular minutes in place of Facu. There may be some rough moments but it seems likely to pay off in the long run for the team.
Central midfielder: Brandon Servania vs Tsiki Ntsabeleng
This was certainly not a position battle during preseason but it has absolutely become one over the course of the season and I now feel comfortable adding it to this monthly column. Neither player has locked down this spot but it should be noted just how much the staff seems to like and trust rookie Tsiki Ntsabeleng. In the games in June and the 4th of July game, both Servania and Tsiki started two games apiece, with Servania starting the losses to Vancouver and LAFC and Tsiki starting the draws against Austin and Miami. It should be noted that Servania was subbed off at halftime against Vancouver, subbed on and scored the second goal against Austin, subbed off for Tsiki after 67 minutes against LAFC and did not make an appearance against Miami.
Servania has had an up and down season, scoring some important goals such as the absolute screamer against Colorado and aforementioned second goal against Austin but has also had some real let downs, most notably his 7 minute double yellow performance against Sporting KC that seems to have really shaken the coaching staff’s trust in him. But we shouldn’t take anything away from Tsiki, who has shown a level of play that I don’t think anyone would have expected when he was drafted with the last pick of the first round of the 2022 SuperDraft. His ability in carrying the ball forward has been strong since the start of the season and he is now putting together more forward actions like passes into the final third and shots. At this moment, I think I would actually give him a slight edge at this position but this is very clearly a tight contest between the two and will be fascinating to watch over the back half of the season.
What are your thoughts on these position battles and how they are shaping up? Is FCD’s recent poor run of form cause for a shake up at any of these spots? Should FCD try to “play the kids” at this point? Let me know in the comments below!
Featured Image: MLSSoccer.com