FRISCO, Texas – Waking up early is not something most teenagers typically look forward to, but Alonso Gallegos and Aaron Guillen are anything but typical.
The two joined the FC Dallas U-18 Development Academy squad from the club’s El Paso affiliate this season, and as such they start their day at 8 a.m. with an hour-and-a-half training session. After practice, Gallegos, a senior at Liberty High School, is in school by 10 a.m.; and Guillen is off to class at Collin County College by 10:30. FCD’s SIAC (Soccer Intensive Academic Curriculum) program is designed to allow players like Guillen and Gallegos time to be normal students. That is if you can call spending your free time training at one of the best soccer facilities in the nation, “normal.”
The FC Dallas Academy was recently given the only four-star overall rating in the nation by U.S. Soccer. FCD received a four star rating in player development, and five stars in the funding and facilities categories. One of the big changes Guillen has enjoyed is the access to the five-star facilities at Pizza Hut Park.
“We have this complex to practice at and the experience is great,” Guillen said. “This is definitely the best complex I have ever been at.”
Another advantage is the SIAC program, made possible by FCD’s unique set-up with the Frisco Independent School District that provides players with an opportunity not available anywhere else in the nation. The one-of-a-kind training regimen is part of what convinced the duo to move to Frisco from El Paso.
“We have more time to practice here,” Guillen said. “We practice a whole week here. In El Paso we only had two days of practice.”
Gallegos and Guillen played with the Texas Fire Soccer Club in El Paso before the club became FC Dallas El Paso this past year. U-18 team captain Michael Ambrose – who saw time with the FC Dallas Reserves this season – followed a similar path to FCD two years ago. He moved from El Paso to Dallas to play with the U-16s.
“When I came over I didn’t really know anybody,” Ambrose said. “It was probably a little tougher than their transition because they know me and a few of the other guys.”
That familiarity with other players has helped to maintain the team chemistry on a squad that made a run at the national championship last year. Ambrose said he has been pleased with Gallegos and Guillen’s ability to assimilate.
“They are fitting in very well,” Ambrose said. “They are working really hard and they love playing soccer, so they fit perfectly here.”
The Texas Fire became FC Dallas El Paso as FC Dallas’s first and only “Tier 1” affiliate, according to the newest provision made possible by MLS that allows specific incentives for teams to affiliate with out of market clubs. FC Dallas El Paso joins other affiliates like FC Dallas West (Midland, Texas) and FC Dallas Emerald Coast (Florida), however, El Paso is the only market currently under Tier 1 protection.
The two newcomers hit the ground running with their new team. Guillen has started six of the eight games this year, while Gallegos has started four games and come in as a substitute in two of four additional matches. The FC Dallas U-18s have started the year 7-0-1 while allowing only four goals.
The U-18s’ match on Oct. 15, a 4-0 win against Solar Chelsea FC, saw Gallegos register his first points of the season as he assisted on two first half FCD goals. This past weekend, the pair assisted their U18 squad to a 5-0 shutout victory over MLS conference rival Houston Dynamo. Guillen had his first assist of the season, helping teammate Flavio Guzman score the opening goal of the game in the 11th minute.
The win kept Dallas undefeated and in first place in the Texas Division of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Academy Director Oscar Pareja said the two players have been valuable for the team early in the season.
“What I like about Aaron is his technique,” said Pareja. “He’s a central defender that is a natural left footer and has the ability to play it out of the back.
“Alonso is always available on both sides of the ball. He has good technique and has a good knowledge of the game.”
But the two are not the only FCD El Paso players assimilating to a new environment this year. FC Dallas U-15 Pre Academy Coach Francisco Molina also welcomed El Paso natives James Olmos, Jose Livano Salas, and Cesar Murillo to join his squad, making a total of five players who have moved from El Paso to Frisco this season.
Both Murillo and Salas have been added to the U-16 Academy roster as well – named as “Developmental Players” – giving them the option to play up with the older team up to six times throughout the course of the season, per league rules.
“It’s hard to adapt when you come to a new place,” Guillen said of the transition to FCD. “But the guys are really cool here. I’m adapting as if I’ve been here for a while.”
Leaving family and friends behind at a young age is a difficulty that Ambrose, Guillen and Gallegos have all faced. Guillen hasn’t seen his parents in three months and hopes that will end during the Christmas break. The sacrifice is one he said he knows he has to make, and will be only one of many hurdles in his path to becoming a professional.
“It’s hard to not see them as much as I used to,” he said. “But I am over here trying to reach my goal of becoming a professional soccer player.”
The players have also had to learn a new system and coaching style under coaches Pareja and Josema Bazan. Although fully understanding a new coach’s philosophy can be challenging, Guillen recognizes the value of adapting to new systems.
“He’s a really good coach,” Guillen said of Pareja. “He’s a coach that pressures you a lot. He makes you play tops the whole time.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Gallegos. “It’s a pleasure to have him as a coach,” Gallegos said. “I know that he is a great coach – a great person too. It’s awesome having him as a mentor.”
The duo recognize the challenge they have taken on, and are excited at the opportunity FC Dallas presents. Pareja also knows the obstacles the two have had to work through, but said the pair have done an impressive job integrating with the team.
“It feels like they have been here for years,” said Pareja. “It’s been really remarkable. We are very pleased with the boys’ progress so far and look forward to the ongoing process of working closely with FC Dallas El Paso in the future.”