Image: USA Today
The 26th season of MLS approaches. Preseason has already begun and with it, a quick look at FC Dallas' currently roster. This is the second part of the "FC Dallas' Roster" series, the first post, "FC Dallas' Roster: Goalkeepers" can be found in this link: (https://www.mlsnowpodcast.com/post/fc-dallas-roster-goalkeepers)
FC Dallas currently has five center-backs on its' roster, long time starter Matt Hedges, rotational piece Bressan, newcomer Jose Antonio Martinez, 2020 Super-Draft pick Nkosi Burgess, and homegrown Justin Che.
Center-Back for FC Dallas will have one major change. Matt Hedges should be among Luchi's first choice for the starting eleven, there is a question mark, however, surrounding who his partner will be. Hedges' Center-Back partner of three years Reto Zigeler left the club after the 2020 season ended. Towards the end of last year, Ziegler did not feature much for Dallas, giving Bressan a chance to start alongside Hedges. Bressan performed well but during the offseason, Jose Martinez was brought in.
Image: FC Dallas
Jose Martinez was brought to Dallas in late December on a TAM deal. Before his transfer to Dallas, Martinez was on loan to La Liga club Granada. Many in the FC Dallas community are expecting Martinez to start on opening day. He has spent most of his time in Spanish 2nd and 3rd divisions with clubs such as Sevilla B, Barcelona B, and most recently Granada CF, who were later promoted to La Liga in the 2018/2019 season. Martinez and Bressan will battled it out in preseason to see who starts alongside Hedges on opening day.
Center-Back will be an interesting position to watch this season. Hedges has been consistent during his time with Dallas, Bressan has performed well when given a chance to play, the main questions will be if Martinez can perform in MLS, will Nkosi earn some minutes for the first team, and will Che return and play for Dallas at all.
Image: FC Dallas
Hedges has been rock in the FC Dallas defense since he was drafted in 2012. 2021 will mark his 9th year with the club. During his time with Dallas, Hedges has scored 16 goals and recorded 4 assists in the regular season, been named as the MLS Defender of the Year (2016), been named to the MLS Best XI twice (2015, 2016), been a part of the MLS All-Star roster three times (2017, 2018, 2019), and was named as the youngest captain in FC Dallas history (2014-2018). (https://www.fcdallas.com/players/matt-hedges)
Matt Hedges has already cemented his place as an FC Dallas legend and despite the craziness that was 2020, remained fairly consistent in the backline. There are no doubts that he'll be one of the regular starters for Luchi this season. Unless he gets injured in preseason, Hedges will start on opening day.
Image: USA Today Sports Images
Bressan was originally brought to FC Dallas in the 2018 off-season after a six year stint with Brazilian club Gremio. (https://www.fcdallas.com/post/2018/12/21/fc-dallas-signs-brazilian-defender-bressan)
During his time with Dallas, Bressan has played in 36 regular season games, with 23 of them being starts. It is unknown if Bressan was brought to Dallas to mostly be a rotational piece or if the original plan was for him to challenge either Hedges or Ziegler as a starter. Towards the end of 2020, Bressan started in 7 consecutive games due to a Matt Hedges injury and then Reto Ziegler being dropped from the roster. During this time FC Dallas had a record of 4-2-1, the two losses, however, were blow outs that saw a combined score of 0-6.
Bressan has a slight edge over Martinez due to the fact that he is already familiar with MLS and has played with Hedges before, giving them some chemistry. Bressan may start the first few games of the new season until Luchi is confident of Martinez.
Image: FC Dallas
Jose Antonio Martinez-
Martinez was transferred to Dallas during the recent off-season. Previously, he has played for clubs such as Sevilla B, Barcelona B, Granada CF, and SD Eibar. 2021 will be his first year with FC Dallas and MLS.
Martinez has already been studying his new club, learning of its' 26 year old history and has had contact with new teammate Bryan Acosta on how the style in MLS is different than Spain. (https://us.marca.com/claro/futbol/mls/2021/01/18/6005d8f122601d1f288b4649.html)
Martinez has been Dallas' radar for a few years now and it is possible that he is set to be Hedges' new long term partner at center-back. Will he be starting on opening day though? Probably not. Luchi has been known to be conservative when it comes to the defense. After the transfer of Reggie Cannon to Boavista, Bryan Reynolds did not automatically start at right-back, instead he was slowly eased into the starting eleven, with Luchi giving him a sample taste of MLS action. Once Reynolds earned Luchi's confidence though, he took the right-back spot and never looked back. It is possible that a similar situation will accrue with Martinez. Bressan will probably start alongside Hedges for the first few games of the new season, with Martinez coming off the bench to ease him into MLS. Martinez, should he then earn Luchi's trust, could then edge Bressan out and become Hedges' new partner in defense.
Image: FC Dallas
Burgess was acquired by FC Dallas in the 2020 Super-Draft with the 14th pick. He has yet to make his debut for the senior team, instead spending some time with 2nd team North Texas Soccer Club where he played 6 games. During his time in USL-One, he scored 1 goal and tallied 1 assist. (https://www.fcdallas.com/players/nkosi-burgess)
Burgess is a project for the future and will require more minutes in the upcoming season, it is just a matter of where. He could feature for NTSC again which would keep him close to Luchi and the coaching staff or he could end up on loan somewhere else such as USL Championship like other draft picks in the past. Currently he is lowest on the center-back depth chart, if Luchi has no plans to use him during the regular season, then a loan may be the best chance for him to jump start his professional career.
Image: FC Dallas
Che was signed to a homegrown deal in the off-season of 2020 so he has not featured for the first team yet. In 2020 he spent time with North Texas Soccer Club, where he played 1,427 minutes and started all 16 games of their season. He recorded his first and only assist of the season in the home opener. (https://www.fcdallas.com/players/justin-che)
In January of 2021, Che and five other homegrown players traveled to Bayern Munich for a three week training camp. (https://www.fcdallas.com/post/2021/01/04/six-fc-dallas-homegrowns-train-fc-bayern-munich)
During his time at Bayern, Che impressed the coaching staff and was later loaned out to their U-23 team. (https://www.fcdallas.com/post/2021/02/12/fc-dallas-loans-homegrown-justin-che-fc-bayern-munich)
Due to the loan, it is unlikely that Che will feature for FC Dallas in 2021 or perhaps at all in the near future. There is some speculation that Che may end up transferring to Bayern upon the completion of the loan, much like fellow homegrown Chris Richards. (https://www.goal.com/en-us/news/sources-chris-richards-completes-15-million-move-to-bayern/a99grrir4nj91l74tbgtvglxx)
Image: FC Dallas
The battle over who will be Matt Hedges' center-back partner will be interesting one during pre-season. Bressan and Martinez are the two most likely candidates to start alongside Hedges. Bressan may have a slight edge over Martinez on opening day as he is already familiar with MLS and Luchi has been known to be more conservative in defense.
The development of Burgess and Che will be something to watch during the season. Both are young and promising. Che may or may not rejoin the club but his development will still be something to keep an eye on. Even if he should not come back to Frisco, he is still a possible USMNT prospect. As for Burgess, he will be entering his second season with the club. He will need to earn minutes with either Dallas or another club on loan.
As of right now it would not be unlikely to see a Hedges and Bressan pairing on opening day with Martinez coming on late in the game to give him a taste of MLS action.
By Melanie G. Isbell