Why FC Dallas dismissed Nico Estévez & what's next

Nico Estevez - FC Dallas - coach

Shortly before addressing the media on Tuesday morning to discuss the recent dismissal of head coach Nico Estévez, FC Dallas president Dan Hunt had something of a realization.

"I came around the locker room this morning, and there's a ton of talent," Hunt told reporters. "I just don't think we're at our best moment."

That, in a nutshell, explains FCD's decision to part ways with Estévez on Sunday, a day after a 1-1 draw at a short-handed Minnesota United FC extended the club's winless run to five games, dropping them to 13th place in the Western Conference with a 3W-8L-5D record (14 points).

Luccin takes over

Assistant Peter Luccin has since taken over on an interim basis through the end of the season, in what Hunt calls an "audition" for the Frenchman to earn the job permanently. And just like Estévez before him, expectations will be sky-high for the 45-year-old who has been a first-team assistant since 2019.

"We have 18 games left in the regular season," Hunt said. "... It's about getting into the playoffs. And there have been several [clubs who've dismissed a coach mid-season] who've gone on to win MLS Cup."

Additionally, Dallas are eyeing domestic silverware with the US Open Cup (they'll visit Sporting Kansas City in the quarterfinals in July) and want to make a deep run in the upcoming Leagues Cup.

"I think Peter's going to bring a very fresh look to this and how he plays," Hunt said, alluding to the club's Western Conference-low 18 goals in 16 games and negative-7 goal difference.

"It's not lost on anybody here, the expected goals per game (15.2, second-worst in MLS per FBref) is the most telling statistic, right? And that is something that has to change immediately because we have guys that can put the ball in the back of the net."

Those guys – including club-record signing Petar Musa (5g/2a), 2023 breakout star Bernard Kamungo (0g/3a) and US internationals Paul Arriola (1g/1a), and Jesús Ferreira (2g/4a) – will now get more chances to do just that under Luccin, according to chief soccer officer and sporting director André Zanotta.

"More than the formation, it's just the mentality and the aggressiveness that we want to see moving forward in every game," Zanotta said. "This desire to win and just have a style of play that is more attractive for our fans."

"We should be in a better place"

Estévez, who went 28W-27L-28D during his two-and-a-half seasons in charge, attempted a more aggressive tactical approach early in the year by adopting a 3-4-2-1 formation, only for injuries to Ferreira and midfield anchor Paxton Pomykal (out for 2024 with a left knee injury) to force him back to his customary 4-2-3-1.

Still, Zanotta believes the former coach didn't get the most out of the squad, even when factoring in the long-term absences of playmaker Alan Velasco and right back Geovane Jesus.

"I think we have a roster with options in all the positions with enough talent to play even when missing key players," Zanotta said. "The only one that we were not expecting to miss this season was Paxton. This was the surprise we had this year.

"... The players we brought, the investment we made, we believe we should be in a better place than we are now."

Academy roots

Additional investments will be made during the upcoming Secondary Transfer Window (which opens July 18), according to Zanotta, who also wants to see Luccin explore the club's academy-to-first-team pipeline more than his predecessor.

"We believe we have young players who can step up and didn't have much opportunity. They can have an opportunity right now," he said. "Every time you make a change, a change of coach, certain players who were not getting minutes, they feel this change can be an opportunity for them. They will step up."

Hunt echoed that sentiment, suggesting the club's famous youth system could soon be producing future stars along the lines of famous homegrowns and current USMNT regulars such as Weston McKennie, Ricardo Pepi, Chris Richards and Ferreira.

"I think we have so much talent here," Hunt said. "What I'm excited about is players coming behind at [MLS NEXT Pro side] North Texas [SC] and the success they've had and the players from our youth system. I now believe that we have generations of talented players coming back through the club."

In the short-term, however, it's the current crop of players who need to right the ship and make something out of FC Dallas' 2024 season.

"In general, we felt the locker room understood our decision and they're ready to step up," Zanotta said. "They all know we need to do more.

"... We all believe in this club that we should be in a better position than we are right now. They're ready to work and start a new chapter."