The 2023 Leagues Cup competition has come to a conclusion, and it is finally time for the final third of the MLS season.
This week, before the conclusion of the league season, we’ll look at 10 superlatives for FC Dallas from the 2023 season.
1) MVP: Jesus Ferreira
When your leading goal scorer for the season has a 7 goal lead over the second-highest scorer, it seems like a pretty simple choice for the most valuable player on the team. Ferreira is, quite simply, essential to this team.
During his 5-game absence for the Gold Cup, Dallas went 1-1-3, including a first regular season loss to in-state rivals Austin, a first 4th of July loss for 16 seasons, and a loss to the lowly Rapids. It is not a coincidence that Dallas has not lost in regulation since Ferreira’s return to the team, despite him not being at his best during FCD’s 4 game Leagues Cup run.
Until recently, Ferreira was essentially the entire offensive threat for Dallas; if he wasn’t clicking or having a good game, there was little chance for Dallas to score even a single goal. If Dallas will do anything noteworthy in the final third of the season, it will be because Ferreira plays at a high level.
2) Biggest Surprise: Sam Junqua
Junqua was FCD’s last signing of the offseason, coming in just before the start of the season, ostensibly as cover for Marco Farfan. With Farfan’s 2022 performances, it seemed likely that Junqua would make just a handful of appearances over the course of the season. But with injuries heavily impacting the team in the early summer, Junqua became a real Swiss Army knife for Nico Estevez, being deployed at both full-back positions as well as both wings, scoring two goals and providing valuable minutes.
Junqua is on an unbelievably low salary for his value; he makes just $85k and has proven to be almost Ryan Hollingshead-esque in his ability to contribute in a variety of positions. With much fixture congestion on the docket to close out the season, Junqua will certainly get more opportunities to impress.
3) Most Disappointing: Paxton Pomykal
Unfortunately, there are a number of candidates for FCD’s most disappointing player so far in 2023. Veterans Paul Arriola and Sebastian Lletget, both coming off excellent seasons in 2022, have seen major drop-offs in form (as well as spending significant time out with injuries) in 2023. Alan Velasco has not quite lived up to the promise he showed in his debut season, though his performances in the Leagues Cup were extremely promising as his move into midfield looks to have changed his fortunes. And Jesus Jimenez has failed to have much impact at all as another forward option, arguably providing even less positive play than the much-maligned Franco Jara.
But, for me, the most disappointing player in the season thus far has been Paxton Pomykal. This is not to say that Pomykal has been outright bad. In fact, he has been better for large parts of the season than the players mentioned above. But Pomykal seems to have stagnated a bit and can’t seem to shake the injury problems that have nagged him over the course of his career. 2021 was largely a write-off season for Pomykal, with him being played largely on the wing to get him back to full health after his season-ending surgery in 2020. 2022 saw him return to his familiar central midfield position, and Pomykal was quite good, though he struggled to impact the scoresheet. The hope for 2023 was that Pomykal could push forward in that regard, adding more goals and assists (Pomykal hasn’t scored since 2021) to go along with his strong box-to-box play.
Unfortunately, that just has not been the case for the homegrown in 2023, as Pomykal only has a single assist thus far and has missed a number of games due to injury. A devastating missed penalty kick in the shootout in the Leagues Cup against Messi’s Inter Miami sadly said a lot about how Pomykal’s season has gone so far. At this point, he doesn’t look to be a starter in midfield. Pomykal will certainly continue to have lots of opportunities and chances for playing time; if he can find his form again, it would be a huge boon for FCD in the final third of the season.
4) Best Single-Game Group Performance: 2-1 Win against Vancouver
Of all the games to choose from for the best single-game performance from the team, a one-goal home win may seem strange. But perhaps more than any other game in 2023, Dallas put on a dominant performance over a very strong Whitecaps team, a team that has given Dallas fits in recent years, both home and away. Dallas jumped all over Vancouver right from the start of the game, dominating play and creating a number of chances. An extremely rare Maarten Paes gaffe saw FCD go down 1-0 just past the 20-minute mark.
Still, Dallas responded extremely well and immediately jumped back on the Whitecaps, getting their justified goal late in the first half to level the score. They then took the lead early in the second half and proceeded to largely stifle the Whitecaps for the remainder of the match. Dallas has struggled at times in 2023 to hold on to leads and see out games but against Vancouver in mid-May, they put on a complete performance and did exactly what Nico Estevez wants to see out of his team in late-game situations with a lead. It is a performance that FCD can reference as a goal to achieve in the back half of the season.
Of course, a special mention should be made for the 4-4 draw and subsequent penalty loss to Inter Miami in the Leagues Cup. Dallas came incredibly close to spoiling Messi’s magical run through the Leagues Cup in the round of 16 and put on an awe-inspiring performance for the sell-out crowd in Frisco. However, I simply couldn’t name it as the best performance considering the blown 4-2 lead in the final 10 minutes of the game.
5) Worst Single-Game Team Performance: 2-0 Loss against Nashville
Dallas has had worse losses in 2023, the 3-0 loss in Austin sticks out, but I’ll highlight Dallas’ one and only game in the 2023 US Open Cup, an away trip to Nashville. Both Nico Estevez and Gary Smith elected to rotate their teams for the match, but Gary Smith kept his Nashville side in a familiar shape and tactical setup. In contrast, Estevez elected to experiment, rolling out a 5 man backline that featured fullbacks Geovane Jesus and Marco Farfan as center backs and asked Tsiki Ntsabeleng to play up top alongside Jesus Ferreira.
Unsurprisingly, the experimentation did not work for FCD, and they were ultimately fortunate to only concede two goals. Dallas was rarely threatening in any fashion, and although Nashville didn’t score their two goals until the second half, it never seemed like Dallas had much of a chance in the game—a massive disappointment and performance in a competition that should be taken more seriously.
6) Best Goal: Sam Junqua vs. LAFC
Sam Junqua let it rip kid pic.twitter.com/YpKli3b3Mz
— FC Dallas (@FCDallas) July 2, 2023
In MLS play, FCD have only scored a single goal from outside the box in the season. Junqua doesn’t quite win by default, there aly plenty of great goals that can be scored from within the box, but Sam Junqua’s banger to seal the game against LAFC is FCD’s best goal of the season.
The strike itself is obviously fantastic, with shades of Messi’s goal in the Leagues Cup final against Nashville, but the entire build-up was very well worked, with Junqua playing a nice one-two with Tsiki Ntsabeleng to set himself up for the goal.
7) Best Save: Maarten Paes vs. Sporting Kansas City
Save PK ✅
Video Review says do it again ✅
Save second PK ✅
👏 Maarten Paes 👏 pic.twitter.com/TXjWH1R3jF
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 19, 2023
Paes probably has just about as good of a case for team MVP as Jesus Ferreira, and saves like this one are the reason why. It seems like every game, Paes makes a huge save to either keep Dallas in the lead or in the game. But this one against Sporting KC was especially good. Paes made an initial penalty save, but the referee deemed that he had come off his line early to do so.
No problem for the Dutch keeper; he just stepped up and did it again, a massive moment that ensured that FCD kept the lead and ultimately came away with the win.
8) Best Defender: Nkosi Tafari
After some hand-wringing early in the season from the fanbase about whether or not Nico Estevez would finally have Tafari as one of his regular starters at center back in 2023, Tafari has established himself as the best defender on the team this season. He has already surpassed the number of minutes he played in 2022 and is well on his way to career highs in appearances and starts.
He’s added two goals and two assists in 2023 as well as his typical aerial dominance and ridiculous athleticism keeping him in touching and tackling distance of any attacker in the league. He has also shown real leadership qualities, stepping up after the departure of Matt Hedges in the offseason. He looks set to be a key piece in the FCD backline for years to come.
9) Best Midfielder: Facundo Quignon
Facu hasn’t exactly been a fan favorite since joining midway through the 2021 season. Still, with players like Sebastian Lletget and Paxton Pomykal struggling this season, Facu has been a bright spot in midfield, particularly once FCD shifted into more of a double-pivot look part of the way through the season. Paired with Edwin Cerrillo, since traded to the LA Galaxy, Facu really came into his own and played some of the best soccer in his Dallas career. He primarily maintained that form and quality, showing his typical tough tackling as well as a bit more forward passing than we have seen in the past from him.
He’ll have some stiff competition in the final third of the season with new signing Asier Illarramendi coming into the team as well as Alan Velasco’s move into midfield during the Leagues Cup looking very promising. This will be a fun space to watch as the season winds down.
10) Best Forward Not Named Ferreira: Bernard Kamungo
Paul Arriola would have likely been who most would have thought would take this spot after a strong 2022 season, but with his struggles for form and with injury, things have opened up for other players. Alan Velasco has also had a tough season when played on the wing but looks to be renewed in midfield. Jader Obrian has had ups and downs, playing some of his best soccer since joining FCD while also frustrating at other times.
But there’s been one real breakout player, and that is the Tanzanian phenom with the best story in MLS: Bernard Kamungo. Kamungo made a few appearances late in 2022 and looked to push on to make more of an impact in 2023, but he started the season mostly playing with North Texas SC. When the injury crisis hit in early summer, Kamungo got his ample opportunity, first slamming home a game-winner against RSL and then establishing himself in the lineup as injuries impacted the team.
Kamungo has truly taken advantage of his opportunity, particularly in Leagues Cup play, keeping his starting position even with the return of injured players. His beautifully taken goal against Messi’s Miami looks to be a landmark moment in both his career and in FCD’s season, and if he can push on and keep his high level of play, Dallas will really be in store for something special in the last part of the season.