FRISCO, Texas – With the 2011-2012 U.S. Soccer Development Academy season approximately a third of the way through and the FC Dallas Academy teams preparing to compete in the 2011 Development Academy Winter Showcase in Sarasota, Fla. this weekend, FCDallas.com recently sat down with FC Dallas Youth Vice President Chris Hayden and Academy Director Oscar Pareja to discuss the importance of high-level competition and the state of the Academy.
In the second of this two-part series, Pareja discusses the state of the Academy, plans for the future and more.
FCDallas.com: For the 2010-11 season, the FCD Academy was given the only four-star overall rating in the end of year evaluation given by the U.S. Soccer Federation. What do you think makes this program stand out?
Pareja: The commitment of the entire club to the youth system is remarkable. In addition to this commitment, FC Dallas has created a training program that is player-centered. This program was designed to help the players reach their potential through an effective routine of training. The training includes physical, mental and emotional development in a professional environment.
FCDallas.com: Most people know that the Academy has produced six Home Grown professional players for the first team, but what about all of your other Academy graduates?
Pareja: We try to keep sight of the players that have been part of the program, whether they go to the college programs, national team programs or abroad. We think the most important thing for us is the advancement of our former players and the way they represent our club in their next level of competition.
FCDallas.com: Three months into the fall season, how do you feel about the overall performance of the U-16 and U-18 Academy teams?
Pareja: The teams are performing well so far. At this time we evaluate their level of development because players know what standards they need to reach at each age group in order to progress to the next level. The biggest challenge is normally for the youngest players to adapt to the demands of the program for the first couple months.
FCDallas.com: This year you made it mandatory that all Academy members participate in the Soccer Intensive Academic Curriculum program – what changes have you noticed as a result of that change?
Pareja: This is the first year that all the players are included in the SIAC program. The players are training every morning, which is a big difference from past years. They also have more time on the training ground and more time at home after school. That helps them have more quality time with their own lives and gives them the opportunity to deal with the demands of their academics.
FCDallas.com: What other program changes have you implemented this season? What are you doing different?
Pareja: We have increased the number of sessions during the week which allows us to conduct video sessions with more frequency. The increase in the number of sessions also increases the amount of strength and mental training. Overall, we have more access to the players, which aligns with our objectives. The longer we have the players, the better they will become.
FCDallas.com: How do you select players for the Academy and what types of characteristics do you look for? Do they come exclusively from FC Dallas Youth teams?
Pareja: FC Dallas’ vision is to have and develop technical players. Technique is the first characteristic we look for in a player. Then, we evaluate other aspects such a work ethic, game intelligence, and physical and mental balance.
Players normally come from our youth program but everyone knows the commitment of the club and the program is to look for the best players. Players know they have to be at the front of the race all the time. Some players do come from our affiliates and a few others from tryouts.
FCDallas.com: Can you comment on the rumor that the Development Academy will be adding a U-14 age division next year?
Pareja: It is not confirmed yet but we are prepared to start it any time. Our Pre Academy program is in place and the teams mirror the Academy schedule, so we can make the transition smooth for the players. FC Dallas has fully supported the Academy program since it started.
FCDallas.com: Your opponents for the 2011 Development Academy Winter Showcase are all MLS Academy teams (Vancouver, Seattle, Real Salt Lake). Why do you think that is?
Pareja: I imagine the Federation realized the importance for the MLS Academy teams to play against each other. We don’t play MLS Academy teams from other states regularly, so this is a great opportunity for us at the Winter Showcase.
FCDallas.com: Do you think FC Dallas will have a residential facility on site for its Academy players?
Pareja: This country has a lot of potential in soccer and the Metroplex has a lot of good soccer players. Many players are showing interest to come from a different state or even different countries, so the idea is there. I can see it happening at some point due to the quality of the training facilities, the educational system and the support of the owners of this club.
FCDallas.com: What is your main objective for the Academy in 2012 and what is the most important thing you’d like your players to take away from their time with FC Dallas?
Pareja: The main objective for this year – like any other year – is to develop players for the first team and keep feeding the National team and college programs. The most important thing is to keep developing and educating these young men and help make it possible for them to reach their potential and make their dreams come true. The players will take away the spirit of a club like FC Dallas, and know that we will always support them – that they will always be part of the FC Dallas family.