SAN JOSE, Calif. -- For MLS fans searching for the league’s next superstar, there will be 20 names on offer at the Chipotle MLS Homegrown Game on Wednesday (9 pm ET, FREE stream MLSsoccer.com).
For anyone searching for the league’s next superstar academy, there is one good place you could start at.
With wide player Coy Craft, goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez and defender Aaron Guillen on the Homegrown roster and a pair of just-won US Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) titles under its belt, the FC Dallas Academy program comes into this year’s Homegrown Game vs. Mexico's Under-20 National Team on an all-time high.
Add to that the fact that FC Dallas’ first team leads MLS with 41 points at the break -- and does so with contributions from plenty of talent cultivated at the academy level -- and it’s not hard to see why the that pipeline is drawing plenty of attention.
“If you’re recruiting somebody to come to the club and they see the championships and they see the atmosphere and they see the academy, training right beside the first team, then I think that just draws them in,” Craft told MLSsoccer.com after Homegrown training on Monday. “It’s a great spot to be. Dallas is a good place. I think it makes a lot of sense for those young professionals.”
Added Guillen: “People see that the club has success and the kids that want to become professionals see that there’s a spot to be developed here, to get to that level.”
Craft, Gonzalez and Guillen all pointed to a couple of common threads when asked about the academy’s success, which includes winning USSDA championships earlier this month at the U-18 and U-16 levels. They also mentioned the fact that players live and train in close proximity, and the choice by head coach Oscar Pareja to heavily integrate academy players into first-team practice sessions.
“Oscar has done a great job with incorporating the youth into our trainings,” Craft said. “Usually, every week there’s one or two trainings where there’s not just one or two but there’s several academy kids that are either defending against us or playing with us. And I think that’s a huge part of it, that they know that that’s a goal they can achieve. It’s not something that’s just a dream and an intangible.”
Gonzalez had a sparkling run at the end of Dallas’ 2015 season, helping carry the team into the Western Conference Championship, and now Craft might be the next Homegrown Player given the opportunity to make an impact for Pareja. The 19-year-old Craft is one of the speediest players on Dallas' roster and could replace Fabian Castillo if the Colombian's reported move to Turkish club Trabzonspor is completed in this window.
That would be just another highlight for a program that is enjoying an epic run.
“It’s nothing but hard work that guys have put into the academy,” Gonzalez said. “They have invested a lot in the academy throughout the years. I think it’s helping with the program.”