Why FC Dallas believe Nico Estevez is the right fit as next head coach

Nico Estevez FC Dallas

The Nico Estevez era is underway at FC Dallas, as the new head coach was officially unveiled Friday during an introductory press conference.

The 41-year-old Spaniard has been chasing an MLS opportunity for years, most recently serving as an assistant with the US men's national team under Gregg Berhalter. Estevez has familiarity with MLS, having worked under Berhalter as an assistant with the Columbus Crew, and carried out a lengthy stint with La Liga's Valencia, where he largely worked with the club's reserve and youth teams.

With that knowledge of the league and an opening at a club that famously places emphasis on developing and giving opportunities to young players, Estevez said the timing was a no-brainer.

"When I was thinking about this opportunity, I had a conversation with Gregg years ago, and we were thinking about when would be a good moment for me to step in as a head coach," Estevez said. "It's something that I was looking for. When I came here seven days ago, I really like the way FC Dallas works: The academy and how the group and the club was investing in homegrown players. It's something that stood out to me and it's something more similar to what they were doing in Europe, it's something that it got to me."

Berhalter was eager to support Estevez's endeavors, backing his right-hand man's chance to chart his own path.

"When he was done working with Valencia, he gave me a call and he came over to the states as director of methodology with the Columbus Crew with basically a one-year contract and basically gambled on himself," Berhalter said after unveiling the USMNT's December camp roster. "Through the quality of his work, he was able to get promoted to assistant coach and then he comes to the national team and does outstanding work there.

"But I think it's really about just the opportunity that the soccer world can give people. I think the trust that you have, if you're working with good people, good things will happen. Really proud of Nico and his dedication and supporting him all the way. Hoping he's going to do a great job with FC Dallas."

Estevez said that youth development is ingrained in his DNA as a coach, similar to the ethos that FC Dallas have embraced while bringing the likes of Weston McKennie, Reggie Cannon, Chris Richards, Tanner Tessmann and Ricardo Pepi up through their academy. McKennie (Juventus) and Richards (Bayern Munich, on loan at Hoffenheim) are now at some of Europe's top clubs.

"One of the things in my curriculum, something that I'm proud of, is every time I have been head coach of a first team and working at Valencia for two years, and also with the reserve team, I'm proud to say I always play young players," Estevez said. "And some of those players now play on big teams, some of them have been with the Spanish national team, some of them are playing in La Liga, others in the second division. That is something that is natural with me, something that comes with my personality."

"I always feel that young players have this dream to be a pro, this energy," he added. "And I think this is very valuable. But we also have to be cautious with how we move players forward and how we develop them because at the same time you can make a player not succeed because you rushed too much.

"For that reason, I think if we are experts on that area, we know the time and the right timing for the players to move to the first team, to the reserve team, when he has to play, when he doesn't have to play, what type of training he needs, what dedication he needs to be a pro. And I think if we work together as we're going to do because of the way I like to do it with the youth academy and with the reserve team, I'm pretty sure we'll create a great way where the players will feel comfortable coming to the first team."

Estevez's USMNT experience has given him familiarity with FC Dallas players called in by Berhalter, inspiring confidence that he can build upon what's already a strong blueprint. Pepi and Jesus Ferreira both featured in November's World Cup Qualifiers.

"It always helps knowing the players," Estevez said. "Think about that, with the national team we have called all these players because their profile is something that is good, it's something that is special of what we are looking for in the national team. It's something I feel comfortable working with. I think that helps a lot to me."

Ultimately, Estevez's job won't just be centered around youth development. FC Dallas are looking to recoup Audi MLS Cup Playoffs contender status after finishing 11th in the Western Conference standings. Former head coach Luchi Gonzalez, who's poised to join Berhalter's USMNT staff as an assistant coach, led them from 2019 until his departure in September.

Despite a setback in 2021, technical director Andre Zanotta is confident that FC Dallas was Estevez's first choice amid other potential opportunities around the league.

"I know Nico was approached by a couple other clubs in MLS but Nico didn't want to talk to them," Zanotta said. "He wanted to be a part of the interview process, but once he heard FC Dallas was interested in him, he felt it was a good fit for him and he wanted to be a part [it]. So this was something that already made me feel like Nico has something more that I want to explore here.

"Once we started to have conversations, I felt he was the right candidate to be a part of this process and brought him here to speak to Dan and Clark [Hunt]. And we just felt he fits exactly the profile that we were looking for and we're really glad we have Nico here today."