The new FC Dallas season kicks off Saturday, and there’s plenty to wonder about. Last season’s third-place finish in the West and subsequent playoff run mean Dallas now faces the most expectations since 2017, when it won both the MLS Supporter’s Shield and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Will the club live up to them? That, I can’t tell you. But I do have a prognostications for what might happen over the next six months. And if all of them come to pass, FCD might be on track for one of the best seasons in club history.
Alan Velasco ends the season as an MLS MVP candidate.
Let’s start with something on the safer side. Velasco isn’t the first MVP candidate who comes to mind, and you shouldn’t take this as any shade toward the chances of Jesús Ferreira. The 22-year-old finished tied for fourth in MLS last season, with 18 goals. Even more impressive, he did so with zero penalty attempts. There’s every reason to expect another double-digit scoring campaign for Ferreira, and that will keep him in the awards race after his breakout season last year.
Still, this is shaping up to be a big season for Dallas’ franchise-record signing, and a step up from Velasco will place him among the league’s elite. We saw growth in the 20-year-old as both a better team defender and dynamic goal contributor as 2022 progressed. It helps that the coaching staff better understands Velasco’s game. The winger spent more time centrally near the end of 2022, allowing him to influence the game more with both his shooting and passing. He’s already picking up where he left off, including this sweet assist to Paul Arriola in the team’s final match in Spain against Hammarby.
It’s now about taking the next step with last year’s knowledge becoming this season’s dominance. With Ferreira and Arriola continuing to demand attention plus a full season of Sebastian Lletget pulling strings in midfield, Velasco’s breakout feels inevitable. If he can outpace his other goal-dominant teammates, the V in MLS MVP could stand for Velasco.
Nkosi Tafari becomes the team’s top center back.
Now we’re getting spicier. Matt Hedges’ departure left a big hole in the backline, and while Dallas brought in Sebastian Ibeahga from 2022 champions LAFC for depth, 2023 is about Tafari’s ascension.
The 25-year-old has qualities you’d want in a premier defender. Listed at 6-foot-4, with a stride that covers a lot of ground with minimal effort, Tafari is a giant on a team lacking in size. That makes him a threat both attacking on and defending against set pieces. So the skills are there.
The question is how well he can deploy them. Early last season, he didn’t always make good decisions. This goal by Houston’s Teenage Hadebe from last summer demonstrates Tafari’s shortcomings: a lack of awareness and missing aggression when dealing with dangerous balls in high-scoring areas. To his credit, moments like that Dynamo goal became less frequent in 2022’s second half. It’s no coincidence that Dallas won five of the last seven games that Tafari played in down the stretch, including going undefeated in his final three starts.
All of that makes Tafari the best candidate on the roster to fill Hedges’ spot. He’s also played loads alongside José Martinez, and with his close friend Ibeagha on board (the two roomed together during the preseason camp in Spain and shared a strong interest in fashion), there’s mentorship aplenty to aid his development. Even if he endures another slow start like he did last season, Tafari should entrench himself as a team cornerstone come season’s end.
Nolan Norris plays a lot more, and a lot better, than everyone expects.
Reach for your water, because we’re approaching habanero levels.
Alongside injured forward Tarik Scott, the 17-year-old left center back signed homegrown deals this offseason. Like most homegrown deals, it was a move rooted in the future. Then camp started, and Norris showed he just might be part of the present, too. He moves and controls the ball well, has a relentless engine, and hasn’t looked outclassed the way teenaged defenders so often do.
He does need to work on team concepts such as positioning relative to his fellow defenders and when to let balls go versus attack them. But the only way to improve those skills are on-pitch minutes. The schedule might work in his favor, too: the club could push 50 matches this season depending on how far the club advances, the U.S. Open Cup, and Leagues Cup. Depth will be essential, and the current roster has Norris as the team’s best option as cover for Martinez. The young defender will play. Expect him to surprise when he does.
FC Dallas will make not one, but two big midseason additions.
The first half of this would be a reacquisition as much as an addition. Dante Sealy has been playing on loan in the second-division Dutch league with Jong PSV, and a decent ’21-’22 season has given way to a less productive campaign so far. The loan expires this summer, and a purchase currently seems unlikely.
The solution seems obvious. Sealy returns to Frisco, where he’ll learn from a new staff along with talented players such as Velasco and Arriola. Even if Sealy is still developing, it makes sense to give Nico Estevez another young, talented attacker to integrate, especially one who isn’t afraid to get physical, has good passing touch, and boasts a relentless engine. If Dallas needs a player to lean on a tired defense late game with more than just speed, Sealy can provide that skill set.
Now it’s time for the five-alarm prediction.
The other acquisition? Sergio Busquets.
The Barcelona captain’s contract expires June 30, and rumors are his time in Spain could be ending. Meanwhile, Dallas is holding onto a big salary number and a Designated Player spot, both of which would be required for the former Champions League winner.
Busquets is one of the best defensive midfielders of all time, and even at age 35, the value he’d add at a position of need as well as in the dressing room would elevate Dallas from MLS Cup contenders to potential favorites. The symbolic value cannot be overstated, either. It would confirm Dallas is serious about winning now, and that matters to a fan base that has watched their club “play the kids” to underwhelming performances for so long.
Dallas should do everything in its power to make this happen. This team is a contender, and contenders make bold moves. But internal development will be even more crucial for this club to take the next step.