FRISCO, Texas – When Hunt Sports Group vice president Dan Hunt envisions a future FC Dallas star, he doesn’t necessarily see a big-name South American playmaker or a cultured European finisher.
He sees someone native to the Dallas area who has come up through the FC Dallas Academy. He sees someone who looks a lot like rookie defender London Woodberry.
“With the way the salary cap works, if you develop your Homegrown players, you can compete,” Hunt told MLSsoccer.com recently. “It frees up more cap to sign the one or two or three special playmakers you might need to help complete a roster.”
“I hope we look up in 10 years and it’s half the roster that’s FC Dallas Academy kids.”
FC Dallas have been a big adopter of the Homegrown rule, with 10 signings since the initiative was introduced in 2008. They currently have five Homegrowns on their first-team roster – tops in MLS – and continue to stress a clear commitment to growing their club from within.
“I want us to have a very specific style of play that is attractive to fans and we can teach it from our academy,” Hunt explained. “Look at the rest of the world – their academy systems are what keeps these teams in business.”
In Frisco, Woodberry is the shining example. A native of nearby McKinney, he spent 2008 and ‘09 in the FC Dallas youth system before embarking on a collegiate career at the University of Maryland. In January, FCD made him the ninth Homegrown signing in club history.
“When we have kids that come from [the Dallas metroplex], I think it can really drive attendance to see hometown heroes,” Hunt said. “We have this opportunity much more than any other sport. You can’t keep homegrown players in hockey. You can’t keep homegrown players in basketball and you definitely can’t keep them in football, especially with the way the NFL Draft works.”
With 271 minutes logged this season, Woodberry is already third in FC Dallas history for minutes played by a Homegrown signing, behind striker Ruben Luna and midfielder Bryan Leyva (both of whom were released in 2012).
“Right now, he’s doing a good job for us,” FC Dallas head Schellas Hyndman said of the young defender’s progress. “He won every head ball in [last weekend's 2-1 win over D.C. United] that came to him, so that’s real positive.”
But Hyndman takes it a step further in rating Woodberry’s potential: “He’s probably very similar to where George John was in his first year.”
According to Woodberry, who turns 22 later this month, the very reason he has been able to step in with the first team and quickly acclimate to MLS play is mostly down to the time he spent in the FC Dallas Academy.
“Definitely, I feel like it’s very similar,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “We’d do a lot of technical work and one-v-one defending, stuff like that and I feel like we’re doing the same things [on the first team]. I feel like there’s a definite connect on the style of play they’re trying to bring.”