FRISCO, Texas – When FC Dallas took the field against Columbus Crew SC last weekend, they did so without the services of Fabian Castillo, Blas Perez, Tesho Akindele and Mauro Diaz because of international duty and injury.
Lacking such star power on the offensive end – four of their top five goalscorers, to be precise – would be a devastating blow to many teams in MLS.
But with what head coach Oscar Pareja calls one of the best academies in the league, Dallas didn't blink twice.
“We have the best [academy] in the country and we have the best coaches in the country at the academy level, too,” Pareja said. “That’s something we don’t talk too much because we always speak about the players. But this week I want to remark the job the coaches in the academy have done in the last six, seven years. Now we are getting those results.”
Six Homegrown players have now started for FC Dallas this season after midfielder Coy Craft notched his first career start last Sunday. Five started in the 3-0 win over Crew SC, which set an MLS record for most Homegrown starters in a single game.
“It was awesome,” Craft said. “It’s crazy you have four players across the midfield and your 'keeper is Homegrown. Especially getting a 3-0 win against a big team, it’s awesome to be a part of that record.”
Sunday was not the first time this season FC Dallas has leaned on its Homegrown talent to make significant contributions. Between Craft, Victor Ulloa, Kellyn Acosta, Jesse Gonzalez, Moises Hernandez and Alex Zendejas, Homegrown players have accounted for a combined 5,109 of 25,740 available minutes, nearly 20 percent.
Trusting so much young talent while in the middle of a playoff push in a loaded Western Conference can be a risky endeavor, but in Dallas the dropoff is minimal when reaching into the academy system.
“They’re personality is being molded already for the big game, and obviously it’s going to take more time,” Pareja said. “But it’s healthy for the club to see its Homegrowns participating in the games and most importantly getting points. I know that will fill them with confidence.”
The club is not the only party to benefit from significant Homegrown contributions. To Craft, having your number called as a young player means more than just representing the academy.
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“It’s nice that we went out there and got the job done, because it shows we can be trusted,” Craft said. “Whenever [the starters] leave and we stay back, we can get the job done. It can change the rest of our season because if one of us goes out there and kills it, [Pareja] has to think about putting us out on the field more.”
As the playoffs inch closer, Pareja can sleep well at night knowing he has a plethora of young talent waiting in the wings in case of emergency down the stretch.
Perhaps more importantly, he also knows that his club is set up not just for this stretch run, but for stretch runs in the future as well.
“It’s important in every club and all around the world,” Pareja said. “For clubs to think about the future, they have to have a good academy program. And we have the best in the country.”