The FC Dallas Two-Deep
This is a recurring look at the FC Dallas team and its depth chart, with comments on where there are holes, issues and the like.
January 30, 2013
This early in pre-season, it is hard to say exactly how things stand, but we do know a few things. First, the following players are hands-down, 100% starters when available: Blas Perez, David Ferreira, Jackson, Fabian Castillo, Peter Luccin, Zach Loyd and George John. It is likely that Raul Fernandez is on that list as well, but until we get further into the preparation for 2013, we can’t put him as the absolute starter.
Andrew Jacobson and Jair Benitez were on that list last season, but both currently are question marks. If Pipico pans out, or another forward is found and ready to play, AJ may likely be the casualty of the formation change, but based on recent comments from the Gaffer about Luccin’s fitness and ability to cover the defensive midfield position on his own, that change may not happen right away. It also may not happen right away if a forward has not proven himself in time to be counted on for March 2. Benitez, on the other hand, is most likely the starting left back, but there were so many questions about him last year that S.I.N. is not ready to count him as in the 100% category.
Pipico should be in one of the preceding groups, but his lack of fitness begs the question and so he isn’t. The availability of Perez due to suspension may put him in the starting lineup on Opening Day, but that doesn’t mean we think Hyndman starts him when Perez returns.
Now we turn to one of the uncomfortable spots in this conversation. Ugo Ihemelu. The fullback has been a solid MLS player for years and, if healthy, ready and available, would absolutely be in the 100% category. But because there is no indication that it has resolved, a second serious concussion that cost him much of 2012 may also cost him 2013. If Ugo isn’t able to play, then you have Matt Hedges ready to go. For all intents and purposes, Hedges is in the 100% category but for the hope that Ugo can make a go of it, and even if Ugo can go, Hedges might man the centerback spot next to John with Ugo moving out to the right wing, with Loyd switching to left and pushing Benitez out of the First XI. Both options for Ugo are long shots at this point.
The one big bright spot in the room is the cap space and allocation money FC Dallas would have if the Shea transfer goes through. It will be a lot easier for Clavijo and Co. to fill that spot next to Perez with a player who can be a top forward in MLS with that kind of wiggle room.
At this point, we have covered most of the starting spots and now we are working into the players who will usually make the game-day roster. Here you have Stephen Keel, Chris Seitz and recent addition to the training camp roster, Michael, a Brazilian outside fullback from Clube Athletico Paranaense.
Here is also where the real gaps start to appear. There is no real, MLS-proven support for outside midfield, forward or, beyond Jacobson, central midfield. Because of Keel’s versatility and Michael’s apparent ability, there is cover at defense, and Seitz in goal is more than most MLS clubs have at their back-up goalkeeper slot. Considering Jacobson’s strength the central midfield probably isn’t a huge challenge over a short stretch.
But with a true 4-4-2 in the offing, the need for effective forwards and cover for outside midfield is sorely needed, and the likes of Jonathan Top, Bradley Baladez and Ryan Hollingshead aren’t enough to really be able to fill in for the random injury, suspension or national team call-up that seems to happen to Jackson and Castillo on a somewhat regular basis. Again, with the Shea cap space and allocation money, unless they blow it all on one player, the Brain Trust should be able to find some cover here. There is the new Japanese forward, who most likely can be one of the second string forwards but probably is not someone who can step ahead of Pipico on the depth chart, although if the general assumptions about East Asian players (high work rate, fitness, etc.) are applicable to him, then he may very well be a player who can play off of Perez and Ferreira higher up-field. Those certainly are traits appreciated by Hyndman.
There is strength in the next layer, though. While not ready to be that next name below a starter, Top, Baladez, Hollingshead, Walker Zimmerman, London Woodberry, Bobby Warshaw and even Richard Sanchez and from early accounts, Kellyn Acosta all have shown that they are strong developing players, and many can make the jump that Hedges made last year and that Loyd made in 2011. That is a lot of youth that has mere strides to go before being MLS quality, and that is enticing. Some, like Top, have shown they can hang at the MLS level already. Most have the markers that indicate they will likely be contributors to an MLS team in the next 2-3 years, especially those who have put in 4 years of college play along with time in the PDL, which is most of the rest of those listed.
The last group are the hopefuls – Ulloa, Nelson, Zobeck, Cam Wilder and Cameron Brown. Zobeck and Ulloa seem to have the best chance to hang around, and Ulloa probably has the ability to develop into a player who contributes to the Eighteen in the next year or so.