It was a very disappointing start to FCD’s 2023 campaign, losing their home opener for the first time since 2009. It is still way too early to make any major judgments, but let’s overreact anyways. This week, I’ll share three overreactions to FCD’s season opening loss to the Loons.
1) Sebastien Ibeagha does not look like the answer at center back
Perhaps the biggest talking point surrounding FCD during the offseason was the decision to not bring back club legend Matt Hedges. FCD attempted to re-sign Hedges but he ultimately chose to take the offer from Toronto FC and head north. Prior to Hedges’ departure being made official, FCD made a move to pick up veteran center back Sebastien Ibeagha, who did not have his contract renewed by LAFC. Ibeagha came with a mixed pedigree, not having started more than 12 games for his previous clubs NYCFC or LAFC in an MLS season but also having played the full 120 minutes in the 2022 MLS Cup Final. At worst, he appeared to be a shrewed depth pick up after FCD shed a number of center backs from their 2022 squad. After losing out on Hedges, the FCD brain trust repeatedly mentioned that they were looking for a center back in the transfer market. To this point, no other center back (besides reserve Amet Korca) has been brought in and FCD have entered the season with three potential starting options: Jose Martinez, Nkosi Tafari and Ibeagha.
Nico Estevez elected to give Ibeagha the first crack at the starting spot next to Martinez, relegating Tafari, who many fans want to see become a regular starter, to the bench. Ibeagha, to put it simply, had a poor first showing for his new club against the Loons. Early in the game, he appeared a bit nervous, playing balls into touch without a ton of pressure. In the first half, he badly mishit a long diagonal switch, basically scuffing the ball and turning it over directly to the Loons. To his credit, he had a couple solid moments in one-on-one defensive situations but generally did not look particularly comfortable in possession. Things did not improve in the second half. Despite a height advantage over Minnesota forward Mender Garcia (Ibeagha is listed at 6’2″ and Garcia is listed at 5’10”), Ibeagha was badly beaten in the air by the Colombian forward, leading to a rocket of a shot from Minnesota winger Franco Fragapane that Maarten Paes was unable to do anything besides parry in front of him, allowing Garcia to smash the ball into the back of the net. A few minutes later, Ibeagha had a nightmare of an attempted back pass to Paes, horribly mishitting the ball and getting almost no power on it, allowing Garcia to run in behind the exposed FCD defense. To Ibeagha’s credit, he showed good recovery speed to chase back and get the slightest touch on the ball to take it away from Garcia, but it was a mistake that simply can not happen at the professional level. Through the remainder of the second half, he continued to look shaky and uncomfortable in possession and generally not like a player that seems ready to lock down that starting spot.
It is obviously a miniscule sample size for Ibeagha, but I (and I believe many other fans) will be disappointed if Ibeagha starts over Tafari against the Galaxy next weekend. It is time to give Nkosi the spot and give him a real chance to make it his on a permanent basis.
2) I’m officially worried about Jesus Ferreira
I’ve tried to remain calm about FCD’s talismanic striker over the course of the offseason. He didn’t finish the 2022 season well, drawing blanks in the last few games of the season. He followed that up with a disappointing World Cup campaign where he only played a poor 45 minutes against The Netherlands and was the target a some ridiculous online backlash and hate. He then went into USMNT January camp, where he did not score in either friendly and finally finished that off with playing in the 5 FCD preseason games where he also failed to score. At this point, Ferreira has not seen the ball hit the back of the net since his free kick goal against LAFC on September 10th, 2022.
Listen, scoring droughts are going to happen for any forward, Jesus’ lack of recent scoring is only a part of why I’m finally admitting that I’m concerned about him and I’m not specifically concerned that he did not score against Minnesota. What concerns me is that the confidence we saw from Ferreira throughout the 2022 season seems to have completely left him. Last season, Jesus was adept at dropping in to help in the build up before getting in to great positions in the box to finish chances. His touches were sharp and crisp, his passing was incisive and impressive and his defensive work rate was among the best in the league. All of that seems diminished now. He routinely took poor touches and made passes to no one against Minnesota and even his usually impressive defensive work rate seemed to be lessened. If you told someone unfamiliar with the team who had watched the game that Ferreira had scored 18 goals and added 6 assists just one season prior, that person would likely laugh in your face.
I still have confidence that Jesus will pull it back together. I strongly feel that just seeing the ball hit the back of the net will do wonders for him, as is the case with so many young strikers. I just hope that happens sooner rather than later.
3) Its the year of Paxton Pomykal
Let’s not dwell too much on negativity after just one game, there were some positives to take out of the first match of the season and by far the biggest was the play of Paxton Pomykal. After a resurgent 2022 that saw him return to central midfield, the big knock on Pomykal was that he didn’t add enough end product, failing to score a goal in 2022 and only registering a handful of assists. Despite his clearly impactful play, he just wasn’t showing up on the scoresheet often enough.
Right from the start in 2023, it was clear that he wants to change that in a hurry. Pomykal recorded FCD’s first shot of the season on a near post crashing run and was maybe a bit unlucky to see his first time effort from Ferreira’s cross hit the side netting. He ended with 4 shots for the game (leading the team), including a spectacular volley from outside the box that he was unlucky to see take a deflection. On a day where FC Dallas generally lacked sharpness and quality, Pomykal was the one player that looked to be in midseason form.
This looks like it could really be the year where Pomykal takes that next step into the upper echelon of the elite midfielders in the league. I’m excited to see how this season goes for him.
What are your overreactions to the first game of the season? Let me know in the comments below!
Featured Image: Gareth Patterson/AP
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