Back in January, we took a look at the biggest preseason position battles for FC Dallas in 2022. Each month throughout the season, we reviewed these position battles to see where things stood as the season progressed. With the 2022 MLS regular season wrapped up, let’s look at how all these battles played out and how things ended at season’s end.

Goalkeeper: Maarten Paes vs Jimmy Maurer

Looking back, it is a little difficult to believe that this was ever really much of a battle but this was a bit up in the air as the season started. Paes was brought to the club initially on a half-season loan from Dutch club FC Utrecht. It took some time for Paes’ visa to go through, so Maurer started the preseason games for the club. Unfortunately for the veteran, he suffered an injury during preseason that forced him to miss not only the last couple preseason games but also the beginning of the season, thrusting Paes into the starting role from the season opener against Toronto FC. He never truly looked back from there with Maurer only starting the two US Open Cup games and a small number of MLS games in the middle of the season. Mid-way through the season, as anyone could have expected, Paes’ loan was made permanent by the club. Paes ended the season with the 4th lowest goals against average (GAA) in club history and looks set to be the starter in goal for multiple seasons to come.

Center back: Jose Martinez vs Nkosi Tafari

After a breakout 2021 season, many FC Dallas fans hoped to see Nkosi Tafari become a full-time starter next to Matt Hedges in 2022. Jose Martinez suffered through an inconsistent 2021 that saw him miss much of the season with injury but he was given the chance to restate his claim to be the starter under his compatriot Nico Estevez. Estevez established quite early in the season that his preferred center back pairing was Martinez and Hedges and that never really shifted throughout the 2022 season. Tafari only started 11 games in 2022, all in situations where Martinez or Hedges were unavailable due to injury. He played in more games (27 vs 22) but played just over 500 fewer minutes. Martinez, on the other hand, started every game he played in and only missed 3 regular season games, almost doubling his starts from 2021 (16) and playing over 1000 more minutes. Martinez has some clear faults in his game, most notably in his pace and one-on-one defending but he was a major part of a defense that conceded the second fewest goals in MLS in 2022 and it is clear that he has the trust of Nico Estevez and his staff.

Right back: Ema Twumasi vs Nanu

Another player with a breakout season in 2022, Ema Twumasi’s status to return as the starter at right back was thrown into question when the club brought in veteran right back Nanu from FC Porto ahead of the season. Nanu came in with some experience playing in the UEFA Champions League and years of experience in the Portuguese top flight and it was expected that he would ultimately be the starter at right back. Twumasi was given the first opportunity and chance to keep his spot, but he started rather disappointingly, not putting forth his best effort in the opener against Toronto or the first away game against New England. Nanu was given the starting role for the next four games but, ultimately, failed to heavily impress, often turning the ball over in bad positions and showing a lack of defensive awareness. Twumasi then took the reins again and rarely looked back, starting the majority of games for the rest of the season. Twumasi ended the season with career highs in games played (31), starts (24), minutes played (2,111) and assists (2). To his credit, Nanu also contributed a pair of assists in his 27 games played (though only 11 starts and almost 1000 fewer minutes played than Twumasi) and was generally solid was called upon in his most common role: a late game substitute. However, considering his salary, age and the fact that he occupies a precious international spot, it would be very surprising to see Nanu back with FCD in 2023. For his part, Twumasi has developed into a solid MLS right back and is capable of playing left back or in midfield in a pinch. He’ll be a valuable part of the squad for years to come but I won’t be surprised if FCD looks to add a new player at right back in the offseason.

Defensive midfielder: Edwin Cerrillo vs Facundo Quignon

This was easily the closest battle that went on throughout the season for the starting 6 role. After almost perfectly splitting the 2021 season with 16 starts apiece and only a 52 minute different in minutes played, Cerrillo and Quignon started 2022 by continuing to split time. The way things went for the early part of the season was Cerrillo started home games while Quignon started games on the road as Nico Estevez looked to solidify things defensively for FCD after a miserable season defensively in 2021. This trend lasted until the summer months began. Cerrillo had a bit of a poor performance in the US Open Cup loss against SKC that seemed to knock him back in the pecking order for a time. Following that Open Cup loss, Cerrillo only started 2 of the next 9 games in the league as Quignon took the starting role, home or away. However, Cerrillo pushed to regain his spot and was given an assist by an injury that kept Quignon out for roughly a month in late July and August. From August onwards, Quignon only started a single game, the penultimate regular season game, a loss in Colorado.

This battle felt very even throughout the year, but the end of season stats show that Cerrillo ultimately came out ahead, posting career highs in games played (32), games started (20) and minutes played (1,892). Cerrillo failed to get on the scoresheet in 2022 but established himself as a solid and reliable starter in defensive midfield, very impressive for a 22 year old. Quignon played in more games (25) than he did in 2021 (18), but started fewer (14 vs 16) and played less minutes (1,280 versus 1,339). He did pick up his first goal for the club in memorable fashion, tapping home the game winner against Houston, as well as his first assist in the final game of the regular season against SKC. Quignon’s veteran presence and steady play has made him very valuable in helping FCD close out games and I suspect that will continue to be his role as FCD enters the playoffs.

How do you feel about how these position battles played out through the season? Did things fall into place as you expected when the season began? Let me know in the comments below!

Featured Image: LM Otero/Associated Press
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