MLS experts make their picks: Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs Bracket Challenge

FRISCO, Tex. – Marco Ferruzzi remembers how things used to be for FC DallasHomegrown players.

Ferruzzi, an FCD assistant between 2005 and 2018 under Colin Clarke, Steve Morrow, Schellas Hyndman and Oscar Pareja, is now the club’s director of soccer operations.

During his tenure, he’s seen FCD evolve from veteran-laden rosters under Clarke and Morrow, a mix under Hyndman to skewing much younger under Pareja and first-year coach Luchi Gonzalez.

In FCD’s 6-0 home shutout of Sporting Kansas City on Decision Day presented by AT&T, Dallas fielded a first 11 where only five players were over 25.

One of those five starters was captain Matt Hedges.

“There’s more confidence in the young guys in the last few years,” Hedges said. “The guys coming through the academy are fantastic players. You just see the quality, how much they grow just in this one season. You can see why we’re playing them.”

Ferruzzi also remembers FCD’s first Homegrown Player, midfielder Bryan Leyva, signed in 2009. He also recalls how difficult it was finding consistent minutes for Leyva, who ended up playing nine first-team games between 2009 and 2012, and other young players to continue their development.

Between 2005 and 2014, the MLS Reserve League was one resource, but that league’s schedule wasn’t substantial or consistent enough for youngsters, so FCD loaned players out to get them minutes.

Sometimes these loans were to lower-division sides while other times arrangements were made with international clubs. Regardless of where these players were sent, results were mixed.

Some embraced the change of scenery and thrived, while others for a variety of reasons, didn’t. Others simply refused a loan and stayed in Dallas, stalling their development.

“In the past, [it was a question of] how can we get them moving? We signed Homegrowns but we didn’t have places for them to play,” Ferruzzi said. “We all take responsibility for that. We didn’t have those opportunities. Back then, even the second division, those were even more veteran-heavy leagues, more veteran-heavy than MLS. You’re going to send a teenager into a veteran team. He’s not going to play there just like he’s not playing with us.”

The addition of USL League One side North Texas SC, the club’s first locally-based affiliate, has helped immensely in getting young players steady minutes.

North Texas roared through the League One regular season, leading the circuit with 53 goals and 56 points. On Saturday, North Texas SC host Greenville Triumph SC in the championship game at Toyota Stadium, looking to cap their inaugural season in the new league with a championship.

“Now [development] is more balanced,” Ferruzzi said. “We’ve always had talent here in Dallas. We’ve had good resources. We’ve had this complex. We’ve had people that are willing to work, but it’s really the vehicle to get them there. Now there’s more options. We’re having a great League One run. Now it’s materializing.”

Last fall’s departure of Pareja, who started the FCD academy in 2008 and won the U.S. Open Cup and MLS Supporters’ Shield in 2016 by playing mostly youngsters, was a blow to the organization. But the hiring of Gonzalez, FCD’s academy director between 2012 and 2018, ensured that the process of building the first team around a young, homegrown core will continue.

Gonzalez’s first season has seen ups and downs for the rookie coach and players, but as FCD prepare to face the Seattle Sounders in the 2019 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Round One at CenturyLink Field (3:30 PM ET, FS1 in US; TSN, TVAS in Canada), Gonzalez has the utmost confidence in his youth-laden group to leave Seattle with a win and advance.

“This team, they’re monsters in responding. All year, they’ve responded,” Gonzalez said. “In a tough situation, they’ve gotten back up. This is a locker room full of men that respond. Good human beings that are open, that are students, and warriors. Warriors in terms of not feeling sorry for themselves, knowing that we have duties on and off the field that we just got to keep finding solutions, keep pushing, being there for each other.”

One of Gonzalez’s goals which remains a work in progress is making FCD more formidable on the road. Dallas were 3-11-3 away from home this season, but a 0-0 draw in Seattle in mid-September is one favorable road result which gives him considerable optimism heading into the weekend.

“We’ve learned some really important lessons away in the last month, one of which was in Seattle,” Gonzalez said. “We have to analyze all those, show balance in our approach but leave everything on the field for each other and for our fans.”