After a miserable 2021, FC Dallas have been hard at work rebuilding for the new MLS season.
The Texas side finished 11th in the Western Conference last year, only ahead of state rivals Austin FC and the Houston Dynamo.
But after the $20m sale of USMNT striker Ricardo Pepi, the Hunts have finally made serious investments into the playing squad, with a number of high-profile arrivals.
How did FC Dallas perform in 2021?
As mentioned, 2021 was an almost total disaster for FC Dallas. There were a couple of high moments, namely the rise of Pepi with 13 goals in 24 MLS starts, and bringing home the first-ever Copa Tejas trophy by being the best of a bad bunch in Texas.
But an 11th-place finish in the West isn't good enough for such a prolific talent factory. No side in their conference conceded more goals than FC Dallas (56) with Pepi unable to mask over their defensive misgivings alone.
All this resulted in the departure of head coach Luchi Gonzalez, replaced by Nico Estevez who has a lot on his plate.
FC Dallas transfer activity
- Alan Velasco (from Independiente, $7m)
- Paul Arriola (from DC United, $2m)
- Dom Dwyer (from Toronto FC, $50k)
- Marco Farfan (from LAFC, trade)
- Nanu (from Porto, loan)
- Maarten Paes (from FC Utrecht, loan)
- Lucas Bartlett (SuperDraft)
- Tsiki Ntsabeleng (SuperDraft)
- Alec Smir (SuperDraft)
- Isiah Parker (SuperDraft)
- Ricardo Pepi (to FC Augsburg, $20m)
- Bryan Acosta (to Colorado Rapids, free transfer)
- John Nelson (to FC Cincinnati, free transfer)
- Ryan Hollingshead (to LAFC, trade)
- Dom Dwyer (contract buyout)
- Justin Che (to Hoffenheim, loan)
- Bressan (released)
- Kyle Zobeck (retired)
- Alec Smir (released)
Nico Estevez: Tactics and style of play
Highly rated as a coach during his time with Valencia and with the USMNT, there's a lot of excitement about the style of play Estevez will bring to FC Dallas.
Reports from pre-season suggest he's setting up in a 4-3-3 formation with players put into roles that suit them perfectly.
Homegrown forward Jesus Ferreira is playing as a false nine, which will allow space for record-signing Alan Velasco to drive inside with his fast running and dribbling ability. Paul Arriola will do the same on the other flank, but with more two-way focus to allow loanee right-back Nanu freedom to get forward. Velasco will be backed by the more defensive Marco Farfan at left-back.
Homegrown midfielders Paxton Pomykal, Brandon Servania, and Edwin Cerrillo will likely line up in midfield, with one sitting and two shuttling forward. The deepest midfielder will not only provide a defensive screen, but also be in charge of progressing the ball forward.
All in all, FC Dallas have the potential to be far more fluid and easy on the eye in 2022 after their turgid performances last year.
FC Dallas predicted XI (4-3-3): Paes; Nanu, Hedges, Martinez, Farfan; Pomykal, Servania, Cerrillo; Arriola, Ferreira, Velasco.
Who are FC Dallas' key players?
We'll get to Dallas' big offseason arrivals shortly but first, we need to look at Jesus Ferreira.
Long touted as one of the most exciting talents in US soccer, the 21-year-old was usurped somewhat by Pepi last season, though he did form a great partnership with the teenager.
Dallas have gone all-in on Ferreira this year, though, signing him to a new contract that sees him become a Young Designated Player. Last season, he hit eight goals and eight assists after just one of each in 2020.
While he'll be expected to improve again on those returns, his primary role will be to facilitate Velasco and Arriola on the flanks. Even so, with Pepi gone, a lot of responsibility is now on Ferreira's still very young shoulders.
Signed for a club-record $7m, Velasco is one of the most exciting arrivals in MLS this winter.
The 19-year-old Argentine debuted for Independiente at 16 years old and went on to register 10 goals and 10 assists in 71 appearances for the club. He's also a regular for his country at youth level.
Known for his blistering pace and dazzling dribbling, Velasco will keep supporters on the edge of their seats and, hopefully, fire Dallas back up the table. A word of caution, though; it can often take young players a year to adjust to the unique travel demands and speed of MLS, so don't be shocked if Velasco only truly bursts into life in 2022.
On the left, Velasco is FC Dallas' record transfer. On the right, Paul Arriola is the most expensive internal transfer in MLS history.
Arriola is immensely experienced in Concacaf both at club level and with the USMNT and that alone makes him so important to a young Dallas group.
On the field, he'll be equally tasked with supplying ammunition for Ferreira and Velasco while scoring a fair amount of goals himself. Arriola will also provide industry on the right and should Estevez decide to try a 3-5-2 formation, he's versatile enough to do a great job at wing-back.
FC Dallas 2022 season prediction
It's taken long enough, but credit must be given to the Hunts for finally re-investing the money they've made from selling homegrowns to Europe.
In return, they should see a much-improved, far more entertaining product on the field in 2021. Velasco will need a year to adjust and there are still some questions to be answered in defense and midfield, so Dallas might well miss out on the Playoffs again.
But Estevez will learn a lot about his players while making them much more competitive.
Prediction: 10th in the Western Conference