FC Dallas has hit the halfway point of their 2023 season.
This week, we’ll look at three successes and three spots for improvement as the Burn proceeds into the all-important second half of their 28th season.
1) Jesus Ferreira
FCD’s best player from 2022 has picked up where he left off in 2023. After an 18-goal season, Ferreira already has hit double digits with 10 goals in 18 matches and seems set to potentially better his goal tally. Ferreira has taken on a huge amount of the scoring load, scoring almost half of FCD’s goals, and, when factoring in his assists, has been involved in over half of the Burn’s goals in 2023. He was named as one of the club assistant captains by his teammates prior to the season. With Paul Arriola and Paxton Pomykal missing chunks of the season with injuries, he has taken the armband for the majority of the season.
It isn’t all perfect for Ferreira, he still too often wants to do too much, dropping deep into midfield to get on the ball when Dallas is struggling offensively, but that is ultimately a minor complaint when you have one of the co-leaders of the MLS Golden Boot race starring for the club. The only lingering question for Ferreira is how much longer he will be at the club. If he keeps his current level up, European offers will surely come in quickly.
2) Retooled Defense Has Come Together Relatively Well
The biggest move Dallas made in the offseason was the decision to let club legend Matt Hedges depart in free agency, with the center-back heading to Toronto FC. Versatile veteran fullback Nanu was also allowed to leave, leaving two major gaps in the defense that were filled by Sebastien Ibeagha and Geovane Jesus, two players that do not at all fit the profiles of the players they were replacing. Ibeagha, a veteran journeyman who has typically been a backup, and Jesus, a young Brazilian whose experience mostly came in the Brazilian second division, weren’t exactly impact signings that promised continuity in the best defense (in goals allowed) in the western conference in 2022.
However, Nico Estevez and his staff have managed to retool things and have put together another solid defensive unit. As of writing, the team has conceded 19 goals in 18 games, good enough for the 4th best defense in the West. Nkosi Tafari has taken a step forward and become a regular starter, being paired alongside Jose Martinez or Ibeagha based on matchups and rotation. Marco Farfan has continued his solid play exhibited in 2022 at left-back, though he hasn’t quite hit the same heights in 2023. Another newcomer, Sam Junqua, has proven to be a solid backup option to give Farfan more rest than he saw last season.
Right back has been the question mark with Ema Twumasi starting the season poorly. Still, Geovane Jesus is unable to really solidify the position, with his play proving to be inconsistent (important to remember he is only 21 years old). FCD has used 5 different players at right back at various points in the season, with Ibeagha getting a start there and homegrown Collin Smith being recalled from Birmingham Legion due to injuries. SuperDraft pick Herbert Endeley has also played substitute minutes there as part of yet another FCD attempt to transition a winger to fullback.
Even with uncertainty at right back, the FCD defense has been solid, and it is largely down to the continued massive performances from goalkeeper Maarten Paes. Paes has built on a successful debut season in MLS and has been even better in 2023, keeping Dallas in games on multiple occasions. There isn’t much to say about Paes besides the fact that he has been fantastic. Fans would probably like to see Dallas depend on him a little bit less, but Paes is a genuine match-winner in goal, and that is a massive, massive asset.
3) Still Able to Grind Out Results
With Jesus Ferreira playing at a top level and the defense holding tough, Dallas has been able to pick up where they left off in 2022 in terms of grinding out results. Buzz Carrick from 3rd Degree has mentioned that Nico Estevez manages FCD like a mid-table Spanish team fighting to avoid relegation in La Liga. This analysis seems pretty much spot on and lines up with Estevez’s pedigree and a lot of his coaching education and early coaching career at Valencia. Limiting opposition chances seems to be priority number one, and, for the most part, FCD has accomplished this, being among the league leaders in xG allowed in 2023.
Dallas also leads the league in goals scored after the 80th minute, showing both resilience in the team and also the fact that games involving FCD are always close. Dallas has only lost by a margin of more than one goal twice in 2023, once in league play away to NYCFC and once in the Open Cup against Nashville. On the flip side, they’ve only won two games by a multiple-goal margin, a 3-1 win against the LA Galaxy, and a recent 2-0 win in the bizarre weather-delayed game against St Louis CITY SC.
So there is room for improvement there for sure, but it is certainly a positive that Dallas is seemingly always going to give themselves a chance for a result in every game.
Room for Improvement
1) Getting Healthy
The Burn lived a blessed life in 2022, suffering from a shockingly low number of injuries over the course of the season. All that good luck seems to have reversed in 2023, with the club going through a full-blown injury crisis in the first half of the season. Young homegrown Tarik Scott suffered a season-ending injury during the preseason to kick things off. At various points of the season Sebastian Lletget, Paul Arriola, Alan Velasco, Jesus Jimenez, Paxton Pomykal, Tsiki Ntsabeleng, Nkosi Tafari, Jose Martinez, Geovane Jesus, Ema Twumasi and Maarten Paes have missed games due to injury, with a number of those being significant injuries that have kept players out for multiple games. At the time of writing, Lletget, Arriola, Pomykal, Ntsabeleng, and Twumasi remain on the injury list, with Jesus Jimenez having just joined them after what looked like a pretty severe ankle injury in Portland.
Just getting healthy will be a major boon for Dallas in the second half of the season. Ntsabeleng looked to have suffered a significant knee injury, and the lack of news about him does not seem like a good sign. There’s been similar radio silence about Paxton Pomykal. Considering his injury history, that feels like a bad omen. Ema Twumasi seemed to suffer a relatively minor ankle injury against San Jose but has reportedly been seen in a walking boot. On the positive side, Lletget and Arriola look set to be close to a return, with the June 21st match against Austin FC a possibility for them to get back into the team.
Compounding these issues is Jesus Ferreira’s call-up to the USMNT for the Gold Cup. This is obviously a great individual accomplishment for Ferreira and one that he fully deserves. However, it creates a major issue for Dallas in early July, with the injury crisis likely to still be in full swing. If FCD can’t get healthy relatively early in the second half of the season, it may be a rough finish to 2023.
2) Production From the Rest of the Attack and Midfield
For as great as Jesus Ferreira has been in the attack, the rest of the attack simply has not been up to the task thus far in 2023. Of FCD’s 21 goals as of writing, 10 have been scored by Ferreira. Of the other 11, five have been scored by defenders (two for Tafari and one each for Martinez, Ibeagha, and Farfan), one has been scored by Facundo Quignon, a defensive midfielder, leaving just five goals scored by all the rest of the attacking players and midfielders, with two contributed by Obrian and Velasco apiece and one goal from Bernard Kamungo.
Some big names missing from goal production: Sebastian Lletget, Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Jimenez, and Paul Arriola, players who FCD expected to contribute a lot more offensively than what they’ve been able to do this season (even discounting goals, they only have 5 assists between them).
Obviously, injuries have played a role in the production here, but Dallas simply has to have more production from attacking players not named Jesus Ferreira if they want to be successful in the second half of 2023.
3) Figure Out Their Identity
For years, Dallas was known as a team focused on bringing homegrown talent through the ranks and into the first team. This then shifted slightly to being known for not only bringing them to the first team but selling that homegrown talent to Europe. In both iterations, the remainder of the team was largely full of prime players from South America mixed with some MLS veterans. Under Oscar Pareja, FCD was known as a deadly counter-attacking team with a stingy defense.
Luchi Gonzalez shifted the philosophy into a possession-focused system while Nico Estevez has maintained some possession-based philosophies but has a greater focus on positional play and a strong defensive structure. The roster makeup has shifted as well, with less of a focus on homegrowns and a greater emphasis on MLS veterans and fringe national team players. Efforts have also been made to bring in youth foreign talent, mostly South American, to try to make FCD a stop on their road to Europe.
Overall, I think there’s a bit of an identity crisis at FC Dallas. At times it feels like there’s still a lot of the Luchi Gonzalez DNA in this team, which is understandable as a significant number of players spent a lot of time playing for Luchi between the academy and the first team. That said, it is clear that Dallas is at their best when they play a rapid transition-style offense. They are not adept at breaking down defenses in the final third and all too often utilize the slow kind of build-up that was a “Luchiball” characteristic, often resulting in poor offensive performances.
In my opinion, Dallas should embrace playing without the ball, focus on being rock solid defensively and look to hit teams on counter-attacking and transition opportunities as much as possible.
It may not always make for the most gorgeous or aesthetically pleasing soccer in the league, and it may take drilling some of the possession-focused tendencies out of some of the players, but it makes the most sense if FCD wants to have success in the back half of 2023.
What are your thoughts on FCD in 2023 as we’ve reached the halfway point of the season?
Let me know in the comments below!
Featured Image: FC Dallas