I mentioned levels in my SuperDraft article. This piece is an attempt to give some detail to that.
Please take this post with a full salt-shaker as I am not a licensed coach, nor have I worked in the business as a coach, so all of this is general commentary based on my observations over the year covering the team for MLSSoccer.com and generally following the league since its inception in 1996.
To me, this is someone who is a starter if he is available, pretty much for any MLS team. This means there are some players who have started for Dallas last year - and may even this year - that don't make this list.
Blas Perez at forward
Mauro Diaz at attacking midfielder
Fabian Castillo on the wing
Michel at central midfield
Victor Ulloa at holding midfield
Matt Hedges at centerback
Zach Loyd at centerback or right fullback
Dan Kennedy in goal
First Level-Second Level Tweeners
This group are the guys who really aren't going to necessarily start for any MLS team, and may not start for FC Dallas under some circumstances, but have shown themselves to be a reliable starter. In this group you do see some real talent that may or may not start because of coaching decisions, including formation or matchups.
Tesho Akindele at forward
Atiba Harris(*) at forward or wing
JeVaughn Watson(*) at wing or outside fullback
Moises Hernandez at left fullback
Chris Seitz in goal
These are the players who make the 18 on a regular basis. I consider them to be guys that should be able to at least be a role player for a stretch if the situation warrants it. Some of the players in this group are here because of some injury questions (such as Keel, Zimmerman and Acosta) or positional logjams (such as Texiera).
David Texiera at forward
Ryan Hollingshead on the wing
Stephen Keel at centerback
Walker Zimmerman at centerback
Kellyn Acosta at holding midfielder or right fullback
These are players who mostly come from college or the homegrown process that have shown something of an ability to contribute in MLS. Odds are they have played some professional ball somewhere, whether in MLS, NASL or USL Pro.
Brian "Cobi" Span at forward
Danny Garcia at attacking midfield
Coy Craft in midfield
Otis Earle(+) at outside fullback
These are the young players, usually homegrown players from the Development Academy, that haven't earned first team time. The difference between Third and Fourth Levels is often situational.
Alex Zendejas in midfield
Jesse Gonzalez in goal
(*) Contract under negotiation
(+) FC Dallas' 2015 First Round Draft Pick
Even before the team brings in free agents, FC Dallas has 18 players who can start and be productive. That is some legitimate depth and indicative of why they were able to survive the 2014 MLS season despite all of the injuries, suspensions and international absences and still make the playoffs. The other positive is 11 of those 18 are in the early years of their career.
And yet the team has quite a few roster spots and a significant amount of room under the salary cap to add to that First Level. Again, as I have said elsewhere, I think if the team can sign a First Level winger and center-back, as well as a Tweener attacking midfielder, they will have put themselves in position to be more than just a playoff team in 2015. Frankly, if they can stay healthy, they could very well already be there, assuming they can finalize the deals for Atiba Harris and JeVaughn Watson. Filling those gaps would leave only a holding midfielder slot to fill the Second Level with a lot of the Third Level full as well except on defense.
And frankly, the team has depth on defense that the only spot they really need to fill with a quality First Level starter to upgrade the team from last season is right midfield.