In an important signing today, FC Dallas gave midfielder Ronnie O'Brien a new multi-year contract. His contract was set to expire after next season, but the organization threw that deal out and awarded him a new multi-year contract. This signing is an attempt to build a solid core in Dallas that will develop around three dynamic, younger players coming into their own. These three players are Ronnie O'Brien, Cory Gibbs and Eddie Johnson.
After suffering a broken right tibia in the third match of 2003, there must have been abounding doubts in the mind of Ronnie O'Brien. The qualms booming in his head may have been about his return to the MLS, or his fear about playing at a high level ever again or even his uncertainty about what the future held. Whatever it was that tried to bring him down only made him stronger as he became the first player in franchise history to be nominated for the MLS Comeback Player of the Year at the conclusion of the 2004 season.
"I wouldn't say that there were doubts in my mind, but I will say that I was lucky to have broken my leg last year," said O'Brien. "If I would have broken it two or three years ago, I think I may have quit. With that being said, I guess I broke my leg at the perfect time."
Thank goodness he did not give up for not only did O'Brien shine in 2004, but he became an impact player on an up and coming team. He started in all 29 matches he appeared in and tied for second in the MLS in assists (10). Along with leading the team in assists, O'Brien ranked tied for second on the squad in points (14), second in shots (67) and second in shots on goal (30). The Dublin, Ireland native was also selected to start in his first MLS All-Star Game in July and was even named MLS Player of the Week after contributing to three Dallas goals on August 28. From an individual standpoint, he couldn't imagine the season going any better than it did.
"It's funny because I still don't think I am as good as I was before the injury," said O'Brien. "I haven't gotten back to where I was a couple of seasons ago. Just before the broken leg, I thought I was going to have a great season and had a lot of goals I wanted to achieve.
"I'm hoping next year I can get to the level I want to get to."
From an FC Dallas standpoint, this is not a signing that rewards a player for his accomplishments performed the previous season. This signing has to do with the organization's desire to build around a young core of talented players. During the 2004 season, the team talked about constructing a squad that would be good now and for years to come. Their actions met their words on Tuesday as they now have O'Brien, Cory Gibbs and Eddie Johnson under contract for multiple seasons. Although these three players have shown signs of greatness here in Dallas, some believe there is still another gear they can shift to.
"All three of those players performed at a high level this past season for us, but I think they have another gear to get to," said President and General Manager Greg Elliott. "We are going to challenge our best players to make their teammates better."
The future looks bright for the FC Dallas organization as the team will move into a new stadium in Frisco with high aspirations for the 2005 season. With a 25-year old O'Brien, a 24-year old Gibbs and a 20-year old Johnson, the MLS better serve notice that FC Dallas is young, hungry and ready to become a team to be reckoned with in the years to come.
"We've got to have the right mix of players and right now we have a great core to build around," said O'Brien. "Last season, we didn't achieve what we should have achieved as a team. We will probably bring in one or two new faces and hopefully those guys will gel and we will be as good as we should be."
FC Dallas fans hope you're right Ronnie.