In terms of the youth movement in Major League Soccer, few teams can match the achievements of the FC Dallas Academy.
Five players have signed with the first team from the Academy, known as FC Dallas Juniors: Moises Hernandez, Bryan Leyva, Ruben Luna, Victor Ulloa and, most recently, Jonathan Top. And while their contribution with the first team has yet to show, the youth movement has truly caught on in Dallas.
Headed up by former FC Dallas player Oscar Pareja, the Academy has grown tremendously since its beginning in 2007.
“These past three years have been pretty successful since we have signed five players already from the Academy,” he told MLSsoccer.com. "Eventually, these players are going to help the first team sometime soon."
Pareja – who serves as the team’s director of player development – attributed the Juniors’ early success to two points: the close relationship with coach Schellas Hyndman and the first team, and the team’s owners, Hunt Sports Group.
“The first part is the belief and the connection we have with the first team,” he said. “Obviously, the other is the vision that the ownership has – they believe in the program and believe it is the time for us to develop players here.”
[inline_node:108461]Those five signings are all a testament to the investment the owners have put into the program as well as the effort of Hyndman, who has worked closely with Pareja to identify possible first-team candidates.
This year, the program took another step forward with the creation of the Soccer Intensive Academic Curriculum. Twenty players will train twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, attending school with a modified schedule in the Frisco Independent School District.
For Pareja, one of the problems he saw with player development in the United States was the lack of time available to train players at a young age. This program is a step towards solving that, while also placing an emphasis on a young players’ academic pursuits.
It’s a move towards a possible full-time residency program. Pareja admits he’s hesitant to keep kids away from their families all the time, so he’s using the SIAC as a test of sorts.
“It is in the process,” he said. “We wanted to have a pre-residency first, if you want to call it that. We want to do everything in the benefit of the boys first – we don’t want to rush things. I think this is a great first step because we want to keep education as a priority.”
Top, who is the team’s fifth Home Grown signing, credited the Academy on his improvement as a player, and overall maturity.
“It helped you improve more, and you had to become more responsible as well,” he said. “Making sure you were on time to practices, to games, just being on top of things.”
Younger players coming through the Academy in Frisco have also earned looks from youth national teams in the US and internationally. Luna recently earned a call up for the Mexico U-20 camp, while defender Hernandez spent time with the US U-20s at a training camp last month in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Both will hope to earn a spot with their respective national teams and play in the upcoming U-20 World Cup CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Guatemala.
More immediately, all five signings will be available for selection and each will be fighting for a spot on the field. Meanwhile, players at the U-16 and U-18 levels will be working on developing their game, hoping to follow in the footsteps of those who have already climbed through the ranks.