The FC Dallas Way: Growing the women's game
FRISCO, Texas – At first glance, the FC Dallas player development pyramid (right) might appear to be gender-exclusive. After all, the pinnacle of the illustration is the FC Dallas first team. But the many goals of an organization as wide-reaching as FC Dallas Youth can't be easily demonstrated through a simple graphic.
"FC Dallas, as a leader in the soccer community, has the responsibility to create opportunities for both boys and girls to enjoy the sport of soccer," said FC Dallas Youth Vice President Chris Hayden. "We are working very hard daily to provide the best place for both boys and girls to learn the game and develop a love for the sport."
Just as it is not the club's sole objective to develop young men into professional athletes that play for FC Dallas in Major League Soccer, so it is not the club's sole objective to develop male athletes exclusively. In fact, FC Dallas Youth's girls program has arguably experienced more growth than the club's boys program - and is on track to be just as successful.
When FC Dallas Youth was first established in 2005, the club was represented by approximately 20 girls teams across various age groups. Today the club boasts more than 70 teams ranging from U-7s to U-23s.
In 2009 FC Dallas was invited to be an inaugural member of the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL). The ECNL is the girls equivalent of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and since its founding three years ago, league membership has increased from 40 to 66 clubs nationwide. FC Dallas currently has five ECNL teams from U-14 to U-18 and will add a sixth in 2013 in the league's new U-23 division.
As the program has grown, so has the need for support from full-time staffers, which led to the hiring of Director of Girls Coaching Chris Ring, PDP and ECNL Coordinator Matt Grubb and Affiliates Coach Ben Waldrum.
“Chris Ring has a tremendous amount of experience working in the women’s game,” said Hayden. “He is providing much needed leadership in guiding our technical discussions within the club on the girls’ side. By recently adding Matt Grubb and Ben Waldrum to our full time staff, we feel we have never been in a better place than we are today to create pathways for the elite girls soccer player.”
The growth of the program has led to additional success, according to Ring.
“The girls side of our club is not just growing in quantity, but has also become a nationally recognized and competitive program,” said Ring.
FC Dallas has had girls’ teams finish as U.S. Youth Soccer Association Regional quarterfinalists once, Semifinalists twice and Finalists twice. Additionally, the FC Dallas U-14 ECNL team made it to the national finals last year. In 2012, the FC Dallas Women won its conference with a perfect 13-0-0 record in the Premier Soccer League (featured in video above, the squad will become FC Dallas’ U-23 team in the ECNL in 2013).
In addition to the success on the field for FC Dallas, College Director Scott Dymond has helped more than a hundred young ladies move on from the FC Dallas Youth program to earn college scholarships for soccer.
Beyond collegiate success, 21 players from the FC Dallas girls program are currently part of various U.S. National Team identification programs.
The popularity of women's soccer in this country has reached new levels in recent years thanks in large part to the success of the U.S. Women's National Team. Making it to the final of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup and winning gold at last summer's Olympic Games in London has made star players like Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach and Hope Solo household names.
That undeniable popularity has spurred the creation of a new women's professional soccer league in the United States. That league is slated to launch next spring and is already getting support from clubs at the MLS level.
As the women's game continues to prosper across the nation, FC Dallas aims to contribute to the momentum locally. Current plans include fielding a team in the ECNL's U-23 division in 2013 as well as hosting an ECNL National Event at the FC Dallas Stadium Complex in February that will bring approximately 150 teams from outside the Metroplex to Frisco.
"We are all on the same page and ultimately share the same vision," said Ring, “Our goal is to have the FC Dallas girls program mimic what the boys’ side has accomplished. Our goal is to be the top program in the country.”