National Writer: Charles Boehm

"The FC Dallas agenda” rises again at USMNT January camp

Charlie FC Dallas USMNT

From the identity of their next head coach to the shape of their preparations for the next World Cup and beyond, a great deal about the US men’s national team is up in the air at the moment.

One of the few predictable elements around the program, though: From World Cup to January camp, competitive fixture windows to offseason workouts and friendlies, most any USMNT roster these days will sport an FC Dallas flavor.

The roster that Gregg Berhalter took to Qatar two months ago had four alumni from the club’s fertile youth system (Kellyn Acosta, Jesús Ferreira, Weston McKennie and Shaq Moore). Another, Walker Zimmerman, spent the first half-decade of his first-team career in North Texas. Several other current or former FCDers topped the lists of near-misses from that squad, like Paul Arriola, Reggie Cannon, Ricardo Pepi and Chris Richards.

It’s much the same at this month’s winter gathering under interim boss Anthony Hudson in Carson, California. Despite limited overlap with the aforementioned World Cup squad, Acosta, Arriola, Ferreira, Zimmerman and midfielder Paxton Pomykal are currently in the fold, while Jonathan Gómez and Alejandro Zendejas can also trace their developmental roots back to Frisco.

Those last two, it should be noted, are Mexican-American dual nationals whose allegiance has been keenly courted by both sides of the border rivalry.

Add in the fact that Berhalter’s former assistant Nico Estevez is now the head coach at FCD and has instituted a press-and-possess 4-3-3 system quite similar to the USMNT’s current approach, and the shared DNA becomes a powerful factor for those seeking to follow suit.

“The support back home [at FCD] has been tremendous with Paul and Jesús coming in [to the national team] a lot, and obviously Nico as well, telling me keep my head up,” Pomykal told reporters on Saturday as he rejoined the USMNT for the first time since earning his first senior international cap in a friendly vs. Uruguay in September 2019.

“Ultimately, my focus was all back home and with [Dallas] and performing well. At the end of the day, that's how you get here. But I'm happy to be with those guys. And they've obviously had tremendous careers here with the national team, and hopefully, I can follow in their footsteps. And they've given me great advice, both on and off the field, just as people.”

The quality behind the “agenda”

The staying power of this FCD-USMNT pipeline has been encapsulated by a sort of cult catchphrase in certain corners of Dallas’ fanbase, which the club does not hesitate to trumpet on its own social media channels:

That “agenda” has been recognized and valued by the federation for some time, and looks likely to remain so going forward, whoever is eventually tabbed as the senior men’s team’s permanent head coach.

“I remember being the youth technical director at U.S. Soccer and we were all saying, 'Wow, Dallas is where all of the players are coming from, or most of them,'” former US Under-20 national team coach Tab Ramos told ESPNFC for a November feature that labeled the club “ground zero” for the “U.S. Soccer youth movement” that powered the USMNT back towards global relevance. 

“No doubt you could tell who the FC Dallas kids were. There was something about the Dallas player that was different. The Dallas player had this intensity about them, they had this willingness to do whatever it took to win, on top of having the skill.”

New chances abound in January friendlies

FCD products make for some of the most interesting plotlines in this week’s friendlies: Serbia on Wednesday night at LAFC’s BMO Stadium and Colombia at LA Galaxy's Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday.

Gomez is one of the top young left back prospects in both the US and Mexican player pools and remains uncommitted, having made a point of spending extended time in multiple camps of both nations. He faces stiff competition for minutes in Southern California, though, with the New York Red BullsJohn Tolkin and New England Revolution’s DeJuan Jones also in the mix at that spot.

It also bears watching how Arriola and Ferreira respond to recent travails at international level – the latter coming off a frustrating World Cup playing just 45 first-half minutes in the Round of 16 loss to the Netherlands, and the former being cut out of the tournament squad entirely.

Zendejas: “An incredible player”

But chief among the current talking points is the form and future of Zendejas, currently a standout for Mexican giants Club América. 

The El Paso-raised winger has for some time now been a top performer on one of Liga MX’s most talent-rich squads, scoring six goals and providing two assists in the Apertura regular season and liguilla (playoffs) before starting 2023 with a bang via Saturday night’s 1g/1a, man-of-the-match outing in a 2-2 draw with Club Puebla.

Zendejas was one of the first tangible products of FCD’s “play your kids” paradigm, making eight MLS appearances in 2015 as a teenage homegrown before Chivas Guadalajara paid a reported half-million-dollar transfer fee to acquire him the following year.

A long climb up the ranks in Liga MX eventually took him to stardom at Necaxa, then América. Pomykal is among the many eager to see what he will bring to the table as he returns to the US fold, following a dalliance with Mexico’s national team that reportedly hinged on his refusal to sign off on a one-time switch of international allegiance from the Yanks to El Tri – and recently-announced disciplinary measures imposed on Mexico by FIFA for fielding Zendejas in two friendlies without said paperwork being filed.

“Zendejas is an incredible player. When I first came to the club, he was a year older than me, but this guy was insane. So I'm really happy to be able to see him again,” said Pomykal. “As a friend of mine, I’m just happy to see him in camp with us. And obviously, outside of the friendship, he's a tremendous player and we're really lucky to have him here and showcase where he can do this week.”