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.
Center back: Jose Martinez vs Nkosi Tafari vs Matt Hedges (?)
Nico Estevez has some tough decisions to make at center back here at the close of the season. Based on how things have played out over the season, it is clear that, in his mind, Jose Martinez is the first choice starter alongside Matt Hedges, leaving Nkosi Tafari as the third center back. However, in the last few games, with Hedges out with an injury, Martinez and Tafari have made for a solid pairing, only conceding 2 goals in 3 games, with one of those coming from a very unfortunate handball penalty decision against San Jose. Moreover, FCD’s opponents have only put 7 shots on target in the last three matches with the Martinez/Tafari partnership in place. Hedges did enter the game as a late substitute for Martinez against San Jose, and with almost two weeks before the next MLS match, he should be back to full fitness and health for the Colorado matchup. But Tafari’s pace and athleticism offers a different dimension to the FCD backline. Martinez reads the game very well and is solid in possession, but is prone to getting caught out in open space and is not a great one-on-one defender. Hedges also reads the game very well and is solid in possession, but at age 32 he has certainly lost a step or two of pace. Tafari’s game reading and possession play is still developing, but he’s an athletic monster and is not going to be beat for pace by many players in MLS. It will be very interesting to see what Estevez and his staff do in these last few games before the playoffs and if they choose to stick with the veteran partnership of Martinez and Hedges or if they elect to bring in Tafari at one of those spots to help deal with some of the quick attackers FCD is likely to face in the playoffs.
Right back: Ema Twumasi vs Nanu
I almost considered not even including this battle in this edition of the column as Ema Twumasi has well and truly locked down the right back spot. It is a broken record at this point but after a shaky start to the 2022 season, Twumasi has taken the steps forward that most probably expected after his promising 2021 season and has done more than enough to beat out Nanu and his Champions League experience. Nanu is still a part of Nico Estevez’s rotation, often coming in late in games to provide some extra offensive push with his dribbling ability and pace and is able to deputize on both the right and the left if needed. Nanu is probably one of the most disappointing players of the 2022 season but it is good that he is at least able to provide some value to the team late on in the season. I’m not convinced Twumasi is the definitive answer going forward at right back, and with Nanu not likely to have his loan picked up, I suspect Ema will have another challenger at the spot next season. It will be fun to see if he is able to continue to raise his level and keep his starting job over the next few seasons.
Defensive midfielder: Facundo Quignon vs Edwin Cerrillo
Last month, I did not list a definitive front runner in this battle as Quignon was forced to miss some games with an injury. But Facu is back in action and Edwin Cerrillo has kept his starting job in midfield, even on the road. Cerrillo has consistently improved his game in various areas where it has shown deficiencies, most recently improving his game reading and consistently providing himself as an outlet for his defenders. At age 21 (he’ll be 22 in a couple weeks), he still has so much of his career left and the level he’s currently playing at is a fantastic sign for what is to come. Quignon seems firmly planted as a bench/rotation option, though he will be pushed into the starting lineup against Colorado to start October as Cerrillo will be suspended due to yellow card accumulation. That being said, I suspect that this is now Cerrillo’s spot to lose for the remainder of the season.
As we approach the end of the season, what are your thoughts on how these position battles have played out over the course of the season? Let me know in the comments below!
Featured Image: Shafkat Anowar/Associated Press