FRISCO, Texas – Change seems to be the resonating theme for the FC Dallas Development Academy teams as the start of the 2012-2013 U.S. Soccer Development Academy season approaches this weekend. The personnel have changed; the competition has changed; and the expectations have changed.
The personnel change happens every year. It comes with the territory. It’s what the Academy is designed to do. The goal of the program is to move players on to the next level; so that players gradually advance from the U-16 squad, to the U-18 team, and from there either on to college programs or directly on to the professional team through a Homegrown contract.
The FC Dallas U-18s accomplished this goal with more than half the squad last season, with several players moving on to college programs across the country and Homegrown forward Jonathan Top playing out his final year of eligibility last season. That means that several bench players from last season will see more playing time this year, players moving on from the U-16 team will help fill out the U-18 roster, and players from the Pre Academy will move up to the U-16 squad.
There will also be a change in coaching this season as FC Dallas Youth Vice President Chris Hayden officially hands the reigns of the U-18 team over to new head coach Luchi Gonzalez. Gonzalez was hired on with FC Dallas in June and was able to shadow Hayden as he coached the U-18s to a national championship in July.
Gonzalez said his main objective is to maintain FC Dallas’ signature playing style that’s employed at every level of the club.
“We’re proud of our style of play,” Gonzalez said. “We build out of the back, we’re a possession-oriented club. We play the game the way we feel it should be played. FC Dallas has a system in place and it’s about maintaining that and preserving that.”
The new coach also said his staff is comfortable with the new group of players that will represent the FC Dallas Academy this season.
“We graduated a lot of special players,” Gonzalez said. “There was a lot of talent in that group. This is a new cycle so there’s a lot of youth but [both teams] also have a good balance of guys from last year, guys from new clubs and new players from the U-16s [and U-15s]. We’re setting objectives and we’re excited to get the season started.”
When the season does start, the FCD Academy teams will be dealing with some new divisional opponents. After years of competing in the Texas Division, which only contained in-state teams, the U.S.S.D.A. pulled four clubs out of the Frontier Division and added the nine former Texas Division teams. So this year FC Dallas will compete with its usual in-state opponents along with Colorado Rush, Real Colorado, and MLS sides the Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City.
Gonzalez said the extra travel will help the players prepare for the collegiate, professional and international levels. He said playing against other MLS sides on a regular basis is a positive as well.
“We’re paired not with just one other MLS club, but now there are four of us,” said Gonzalez. “It’ll mean a higher level of play. Better competition makes all of us better.”
The division and the personnel aren’t the only things that will be different this Academy season. After the U-18s won the national championship last season, the expectations regarding the FC Dallas Academy teams will likely be different this year; not internally, but externally.
“At the end of the day, when you win you get attention,” Gonzalez said. “Players, programs, coaches get noticed. Every club wants to beat FC Dallas. There’s a big target on our back. It’s important that we represent ourselves well.”
But Gonzalez said that despite the increased attention FC Dallas may receive from other clubs, the teams will continue to play the game the FCD Way and the program will continue to focus on its goal of graduating players from one level to the next.
“Whether [the U-18s] had won [the championship] or not, we consider ourselves one of the top programs in the country,” Gonzalez said.
“There’s a culture here about development that is the best in the country and I’m proud to be a part of that now.”