Thursday, January 15, 2015

Levels for FC Dallas

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 and generally following the league since its inception in 1996.

First Level

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

Second Level

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 

Third Level

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
Fourth Level

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.

FC Dallas - MLS SuperDraft thoughts

First off, here is the in-house article from Matt Doyle on FC Dallas.

Here are a few other thoughts that didn't make that article, and then the details of what FC Dallas ended up doing at the bottom.

To start with, make sure to read the articles from Big D Soccer and 3rd Degree/Dallas Morning News, as well as the FC Dallas Official site, coming into today as they do a good job of looking at a variety of details.

My sense is that for what Dallas needs to improve from being a good playoff team to one that challenges for MLS Cup, the answer does not lie in the MLS SuperDraft. As I wrote in my year end recap for, the key positions Dallas needs to upgrade are right wing, centerback next to Matt Hedges and backup to Mauro Diaz - none of those are really positions found in the SuperDraft, and nothing has changed that perception since then.

That being said, Dallas has the No. 15 pick and Pareja and Dallas have done well in the draft, so it will be worth watching. Don't be surprised to see Dallas move up or down in the draft as they have had success with that as well, though, as most of the time, value in the draft is in the first 10 picks and Dallas is not there right now.

But again, traditionally, Dallas has done their homework going into the draft, which is why you see success stories like Ryan Hollingshead - a huge risk that Dallas took that paid off with a player that will have a role in MLS.

And you have Pareja's success with Tesho Akindele winning Rookie of the Year last year and local product Dillon Powers winning the same award the year before. But bear in mind, Tesho was taken 6th overall and Powers 11th.

Bottom line - the MLS SuperDraft isn't comparable to the NFL Draft, but rather closer to the MLB or NHL drafts where there is little immediate help, but finding players you can develop is the key to success for MLS clubs, where Dallas has a track record of success.

Follow along here for the live presentation.

Talking specifics, I agree with Drew Epperly of Big D Soccer - if a defensive midfielder is available, that is the route FC Dallas should go at 15 if they do not engineer a trade. Again, the kinds of players FC Dallas needs at right midfield, back up attacking midfielder and center-back just are not the kind of players found in the SuperDraft. If not, getting some depth at central fullback or maybe left fullback might be worth a look. At the first and second layer of the FC Dallas depth chart, you really don't have places where an MLS SuperDraft player can step in and contribute.

So that means that any value that Pareja feels he can develop that can come in at the third layer of the Dallas depth chart is worth a look. Is that goalkeeper between homegrown and developing Jesse Gonzalez and Seitz and Kennedy? Is that a central defender or defensive midfielder? Is that a forward or winger?

The best thing that can be said about FC Dallas here is that with their success with the homegrown program and depth returning from 2014, the MLS SuperDraft is not a place where the team needs to be successful in 2015 or even beyond.

Other good pieces from local writers:

Big D Soccer - History of the #15 pick 
3rd Degree/DMN - Interview with Pareja on the draft
FC - Interiew with Pareja on the draft

With the 15th pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, FC Dallas selected Otis Earle, left fullback from UC-Riverside.

Take it for what it is worth, but MLS held a mock draft and they had Earle going 7th and 10th.

Here is's piece on the left fullbacks in the draft where they had him second at the position.