We are inundated with praise for FC Dallas’ academy. The positivity seems to ooze out of the league’s very fabric as the club signs one promising academy kid after another. And when one scores, well, you light the beacons to Frisco and tell the rest of the league to follow the leader.
There is something undoubtedly numbing about all this from a partisan point of view. Fans of the opposition become necessarily calloused to it – here comes more FCD academy news – but there is a method to it. The notion an academy can feed an entire MLS club is notably new, a fleeting ideal that’s never been tested in any substantive way until recently. The MLS modus operandi has historically involved a heavy dose of mistrust when it came to its own fledgling academies. Shifting that viewpoint takes time, but it also takes some small measure of indoctrination.
FC Dallas provides the inroads to such a thing. Scientists need successful lab studies to prove a hypothesis isn’t fantasy. So it goes with working young kids systematically and voluminously through MLS first teams. If we need to publicly flog their ability to do it to prove it can be done, those successes will continue to ride shotgun in the American bus to the next level. Wherever that is and whenever it is we ultimately arrive.
For now, holy crap can you make a fun XI out of FC Dallas academy alumni.
That’s… well. It’s good.
To start with where it isn’t so good is to start with the back. Of course Jesse Gonzalez is probably the Best Homegrown Keeper Not Named Hamid ever produced, but that back four needs some tuning. Aaron Guillen is talented but still mostly a depth option in his second year, and Hector Montalvo, who may well be the best CB the club has produced, is still knocking on the door at Tigres after signing in December. Reggie Cannon is still young – too young to yet have pro minutes – and Mikey Ambrose has just six MLS appearances with Orlando City and Atlanta United since leaving the FC Dallas academy without a contract in hand in 2009.
This sort of mirrors the zeitgeist of the Homegrown movement. MLS clubs seem to have little trouble developing midfielders and forwards for the next level, but Homegrown defenders – and especially Homegrown center backs – are a different matter entirely. There aren’t many of them, or at least there aren’t many starting games consistently. FCD is not alone in this.
Everywhere else, though, is a joyful reminder of the caliber of player FCD is capable of producing. And that midfield is devastating.
FCD has as much a reason as anyone to be furious over the MLS Players Union’s stance that training compensation is an evil that should not be visited upon these shores. It is wrong in that, and FCD has learned from its losses. The club first lost Emerson Hyndman before it could sign him to a contract, and several years later it was dealt the same scenario when Weston McKennie left for Schalke. Since then, the club’s signed increasingly young, including Jesus Ferreira at 15 and Paxton Pomykal at 16 late last year. When you’ve lost two of the better players to ever emerge from an MLS academy for nothing, you learn pretty quickly that you need them under contract as quickly as possible to work around the convoluted rules set.
Can you imagine if neither had left? And Kellyn Acosta’s midfield backboards included a barn-storming Hyndman and a possession-forward No. 6 in McKennie? That’s a Homegrown central midfield with an average age of 21, and you’d be hard-pressed to find three or four better in the league right this minute. All three should probably end up on USMNT rosters in the months immediately following Russia 2018, and every day it seems likelier that Acosta is included in that final roster.
The front three is younger, and a bit shoehorned positionally, but all three are youth national team level. As we’ve already established, Jesus Ferreira already has his first professional goal 19 minutes into his career, while Paxton Pomykal (probably more of a central operator ideally) and Coy Craft have professional skill sets of their own. At the very least, both can give even the most veteran fullbacks in MLS a hard challenge.
There are no MLS teams who can match this roster position-for-position, although a couple – the New York Red Bulls, LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake, notably – can get in the ballpark. Troublingly, there’s a not insignificant portion of teams who can’t even make an XI out of locally produced players. FC Dallas, meanwhile, features a locally sourced bench with current Chivas midfielder and U20 World Cup veteran Alejandro Zendejas and holding midfielder Victor Ulloa, who already has more than 7,000 career MLS minutes. You simply don’t get that anywhere else.
For the time being, the rest of the league is playing follow the leader with FCD’s academy. And if anyone can tell me if we can make this XI a reality, I’ll send you an Edible Arrangements full of money.