FRISCO, Texas – The last time Fernando Clavijo publicly discussed the off-season before Christmas, he said the team was far from done making moves.
He stayed true to his word.
Since trading Dan Kennedy to the LA Galaxy and parting ways with Blas Perez, David Texeira and others, Clavijo and FC Dallas have been busy trying to build on last season’s franchise-record 60 points and trip to the Western Conference Championship. The most notable addition came within the last 48 hours, signing 20-year-old defensive midfielder Carlos Gruezo from Bundesliga side VfB Stuttgart.
“To find a player like that, willing to come this way and land with FC Dallas, we are excited,” Clavijo said. “We’re going to be more physical than ever, we’re going to win a lot more balls than we did before, and not only will that help the back four, but it’s also going to help the wingers like Mauro [Diaz], [Fabian] Castillo and [Michael] Barrios to free themselves a bit more.”
Head coach Oscar Pareja called Guerzo potentially the splashiest signing in his tenure with FCD, referencing how much the youngster has accomplished at just barely 20 years old.
“I like the fact that he competes a lot internationally,” Pareja said, mentioning his 10 caps with the Ecuadorian national team and appearance in the 2014 World Cup. “I like that he’s experienced playing in one of the best leagues in the world. He has the aggressiveness and the intensity that I like, and the competition in the middle is going to get more wild.”
Aside from Guerzo, FC Dallas also added Juan Esteban Ortiz to the defensive midfield mix. Pareja is familiar with Ortiz due to the 28-year-old’s tenure with Independiente Medellin – the team Pareja began his career with nearly 30 years ago. Those two, along with returning Homegrown starters Kellyn Acosta and Victor Ulloa, give the team much-needed depth, given a full slate of games this season with their berth in the CONCACAF Champions League.
The depth was also a necessity after the team knew it was not going to be retaining 2015 midseason acquisition Ezequiel Cirigliano, who started just five games after joining the team late last July.
“I think it was more off the field kind of things,” Clavijo said of what went wrong in Dallas for Cirigliano. “There was nothing wrong with the kid, and he didn’t do anything wrong either. But I think psychologically he needs some help. He’s had some issues in the past that he hasn’t been able to overtake, but he’s dealing with it. He’s dealing with it to the point where he may even quit the game. It’s sad because he’s a good kid, but he needs to find himself before he can keep playing professionally.”
One position still lacking in depth, however, is the forward position, which now lacks familiar faces Perez and Texeira.
But even with the addition of Maximiliano Urruti, who Clavijo believes will give the team a “completely new look” up top, the team is not done shopping.
“We’re still looking for a forward,” Pareja said. “The message from ownership and the club and the technical direction and coaches is that we want to bring in the right one. We just want to be tactful on that, we want to make the right move, and the ownership is committed.”
The team’s other high profile signing of the off-season, which has not been made official yet, is the addition of former Colorado Rapids defender Maynor Figueroa. Another player with heavy international experience (113 caps for Honduras), Figueroa provides an element of leadership in front of young goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez.
It also provides necessary depth given the elephant in the room for FC Dallas – Walker Zimmerman. The mean-mugging, PK hero against Seattle in last season’s Western Conference Semifinal graduated from his Generation adidas contract and has yet to accept an offer from FC Dallas. According to Clavijo, who spoke to Zimmerman Friday, the Furman product is currently taking try-outs in Europe.
Clavijo insisted however that he will not trade Zimmerman.
“I think right now if I could advise him, everybody wants to come to the United States. Really not very many people want to go to Europe,” Clavijo said. “I think this is a place and team that could operate in a way that can help keep him healthy and bring him back to where he belongs.
“I am not going to guarantee him or anyone playing time, but I think the offers we have put out are in tune with what we believe he is. And we believe he is one of the best players in the league at that position.”
The team has lofty goals having come minutes away from advancing to its second ever MLS Cup Final. And even with a couple of question marks lingering, FC Dallas’ brass believes they’ve done the necessary things to make the next step.
“I think this team is better than 2015,” Clavijo said.