Things are different around North Texas than when FC Dallas' Brazilian technical director Andre Zanotta spent a semester abroad as an exchange student in 1997. But, despite just a year on the job, Zanotta still feels right at home.
It's a feeling of familiarity that has more to do with his professional life than any teenage nostalgia.
Zanotta previously worked for a pair of leading Brazilian clubs, Santos and Gremio. No country in the world produces and exports more soccer players than Brazil, the home of jogo bonito, and he personally oversaw the development and eventual transfers of some of the country's, and the world's biggest names, including Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar, as well as Barcelona's Artur and West Ham's Felipe Anderson.
While there may not be too many similarities between North Texas and Brazil, in FC Dallas, Zanotta is with a club that shares that developmental ethos with some of Brazil's leading exporters of soccer talent.
“This is in FC Dallas’ DNA, to have the Homegrown players playing minutes," Zanotta told MLSsoccer.com. "This was the perfect club for me. I was at Santos and Gremio, two of the top academies in Brazil and now I’m here, the top academy in the US."
Led by the likes of Reggie Cannon, Paxton Pomykal and Jesus Ferreira, FCD already have three key contributors in the first team. Ricardo Pepi, Thomas Roberts and Bryan Reynolds are a few hoping to break through further in 2020. And this is without mentioning any of the panoply of promising teenagers already signed to North Texas SC, the club's USL League One affiliate.
“The players I see here in talent—there’s so many good talents in the first team already," Zanotta said. "It’s such a great thing to have. It’s not easy to find this anywhere in the world, with so many young players with great quality playing in the first team. Unfortunately we have limited roster numbers in MLS, different from what I was used to in Brazil where we could sign 60 players if we wanted. But in MLS we have restrictions. We need to keep some of the players with the second team, some we find other clubs for them to keep playing."
There are more deserving players than minutes to go around.
“It’s obviously not easy," Zanotta admitted.
One way to remove a logjam is selling players, which often isn't simple in regards to timing, both financially and by way of the player's development.
“That’s another challenge, finding the right time to sell," Zanotta said. "Obviously, being from Brazil, I understand the desire for players to play in the top leagues in Europe. It’s natural."
That doesn't exclusively apply to the likes of Pomykal, Cannon and Ferreira, either. It goes deeper, too.
In an intriguing move last week, North Texas agreed a deal to send USL League One MVP Arturo Rodriguez to the Real Monarchs on loan with an option to purchase. The Monarchs, of course, are Real Salt Lake's affiliate.
Dallas already have a glut of promising attacking midfielders, as well as senior attacking options, like Fafa Picault and Michael Barrios, blocking a reasonable pathway for Rodriguez to minutes. The decision came from discussions with the player and his representation.
“The idea was based on the competition he has in the first team, those other players are already in the first team," Zanotta said. "We feel they’re more ready at this moment, but we hope Arturo can come back and play with us. Obviously we have the risk that if they want to buy him in the end. But we’d keep a percentage of a future sale. It’s something we left open.”
North Texas SC was a smashing success in year one. Not only did they win the inaugural League One championship, they gave valuable experience to a number of players. Pepi started his season there and lit up the league, paving the way for his Homegrown deal signed in the summer. Callum Montgomery, the No. 4 overall 2019 SuperDraft selection, got 22 starts. Roberts had 13 starts for North Texas while debuting in MLS.
Other top prospects Dante Sealy, David Rodriguez, Reynolds, Gibran Rayo, Tanner Tessman and more got valuable professional experience in year one. Rayo and Tessman are two under the radar prospects the club are high on, Zanotta says. They're two of many, as roster spots are already a valuable commodity even at North Texas for FCD's promising youngsters.
“One thing we’re doing with North Texas is bringing in young players from top places," Zanotta said. "We have two Brazilians, we have one from Monterrey on loan and a goalkeeper from Club America. We try to bring interesting young profiles from other countries that could project to the first team.”
With burgeoning talents behind them, there will likely be a day in the not-too-distant future that Cannon, Pomykal and Ferreira will all be sold abroad. And it won't be the end of the world.
"I’m always in contact with their agents, especially the young ones, trying to understand their desire and so they understand the plan we have for them," Zanotta said. "Markets are looking at MLS differently. As they continue to play, they’ll continue to attract attention from many clubs abroad."
It's all part of the plan for FC Dallas because, just like that, the pipeline will keep flowing.
"We’ll have to keep developing other talents," Zanotta said.