MARIETTA, Ga. -- When Atlanta United FC host FC Dallas this Saturday (4 pm ET | ESPN in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada), it will mark the coming together of two teams with an eye on the future – and the present.
Atlanta coach Frank de Boer made his bones at Ajax, the club perhaps most famous around the world for producing top talent and ingraining those transfers into their business model. The Dutch club has produced international stars such as Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen, Roma’s Justin Kluivert and Wesley Sneijder, to name a few. De Boer even coached at Ajax, both in the youth and first team ranks.
All of this goes to say, De Boer knows a good academy when he sees one. And in FC Dallas, he sees exactly that.
“I think it's a good example of how it can work in the United States when your philosophy is like that and you're really focused on the academy and raise the kids well and become a product for your first team,” De Boer said Thursday, speaking to reporters after training. “I appreciate what they're doing, and they're doing a great job because I think they have five players playing in the first team already. That means they're doing something really good.”
Current youth products include midfielder Paxton Pomykal and right back Reggie Cannon, while US national team midfielder Weston McKennie came through the Dallas ranks, as did U-20 center back Chris Richards, now at Bayern Munich.
De Boer said he sees Dallas’ system as being boosted by its geography, benefitting from a Homegrown territory that has soccer “in their DNA” thanks to the influence of Mexican culture. But the Atlanta United manager added that with the right set-up, academies can serve to inspire even more kids and their families.
“If they see it can work, it will also motivate [more] American kids,” said De Boer. “It starts with a good academy. Between 7 and 14 years old, you have to have a good structure and learn the basic things. When the structure is good, you get this kind of result. It's a big compliment to [FC Dallas].”
Dallas’ academy is one De Boer and Atlanta’s technical staff will surely try to replicate, but for the moment, his attention is fully on the first team.
The academy of the defending MLS Cup champions is headed by director Tony Annan. One of De Boer’s assistants, Bob de Klerk, is the primary liaison between the professional and academy levels.
“If the first team is doing well, all of the environment of the club has an influence,” said De Boer. “I also have Bob de Klerk, one of my assistants here, who is going to be one part of his job to implement the ideas we have in the future [players]. They're already doing a great job. But of course, with experience that we have from the academy from Ajax, we can give them some input."