A new breed of Homegrown players

Baladez, Woodberry bring college experience as Homegrowns

FRISCO – FC Dallas is no stranger to Major League Soccer’s Homegrown rule. No club in MLS has produced more local talent and the club reinforced that reputation over the offseason by signing Academy products Bradlee Baladez and London Woodberry to Homegrown contracts.

Baladez inked his deal in December and Woodberry followed suit three weeks later, bringing the franchise’s all-time Homegrown signing count to nine. But these two represent something of a new breed of Homegrown player.

Baladez and Woodberry are the first FC Dallas Academy products to leave the U-18s to develop their games at the collegiate level before joining the first team. All seven of the club’s previous Homegrowns jumped straight from the Academy to the pros.

Head coach Schellas Hyndman said those extra years of development were invaluable for both players.

“When players go off to college like Bradlee and London, they’re both a little bit more mature than when they left for college,” said Hyndman. “They’re both coming out of very good college programs where they’ve been productive.”

Woodberry spent a full four years at soccer powerhouse Maryland, where he developed into a premier center back on a squad that made it to the NCAA College Cup semifinals in 2012. The young defender said his time as a Terp helped prepare him for the challenge of raising his game to the next level.

“You have to come in and really bring it every day,” said Woodberry. “That’s how I’ve tried to approach things throughout my whole life – especially in college – just try to get better every day. I’m going to try to do the same thing here.”

Baladez, on the other hand, opted to turn pro during his junior year after three seasons at the University of South Carolina. The striker was second on the team in scoring his freshman year before stepping up to lead the Gamecocks in scoring his sophomore and junior years.

He said he understands he’ll have to work hard to have the same kind of impact at the professional level.

“Obviously, I want to play and get a lot of minutes,” said Baladez, “But my main goal is to help my team. I know it takes hard work and dedication to make it at this level.”

Despite the extra experience, Hyndman said Baladez and Woodberry will be held to the same expectations and face the same challenges as other Homegrown players and drafted rookies: compete for starting spots and playing time against “seasoned professionals who’ve already been there and know what it takes.”

No matter how that internal competition plays out throughout the 2013 season, both players are grateful for the opportunity. Baladez said he was thrilled to be living out his childhood dream and Woodberry noted that doing so with his hometown club made the opportunity even sweeter.

“It’s cool that Bradlee and I are the first ones to go to college and then come back,” said Woodberry. “It was nice to know that [FC Dallas] wanted me here. I’m glad to be back.”