FRISCO - Summer school has been in session for the FC Dallas Academy players through the last couple months and the classroom has been the first team training pitch.
It’s been a common occurrence at first team practice through June, July and August to see U-16 and U-18 Academy players as well as graduates currently playing college soccer measuring themselves against the guys who play on Saturday nights.
“I think it’s important with the philosophy and methodology of the club,” said head coach Oscar Pareja. “This is our model and bringing academy players into regular training with the first team means a lot for everyone in the program and it’s a way for us to reinforce the concepts, fundamentals and be around the first team players and learn from the experience of training there. That’s what we want.”
While earlier in the summer it was more common to see FCD’s academy alumni currently playing NCAA soccer like Marco Ortiz, Mark Ashby and Aaron Guillen, through the last six weeks up to a half-dozen players moving up to the U-18s from the U-16 National Championship squad have littered training sessions. The opportunity to test themselves and see the level needed to find Homegrown success is incredibly important in the development of these young prospects.
“It’s vital for them to find habits and know what it takes at the highest level in terms of training environments and making this a lifestyle not just a hobby,” said U-16 head coach Luchi Gonzalez. “They’re training side-by-side with guys who make their living doing this and while the concepts are similar, the pressure and day-to-day battling and grind teaches them a lot.”
For players coming from a team that won the National Championship with a combined 20-0 score in six playoff games, it can also serve as a humbling experience to keep their feet on the ground.
“Seeing those players that you see every weekend playing, it’s a great opportunity to see where you stand and get exposure with first team and coaches,” said U-18 center back Brandon Terwege who started nearly every match with the U-16s last season. “You start off and think you’re on cloud nine and it really takes you back down when you play with the pros and you see their level compared to yours.”
“It was a very good experience,” said outside back Eddie Munjoma, an SMU commit. “The main thing that you have to adapt to is the pace of the game and how physical it is, but it’s good to learn because you adapt to the pace there and then come back to your team and have a little bit more fitness.”
According to Gonzalez, the experience can serve as one that not only helps them to see the level they need to get to, but continue the evolution of becoming a leader on their own academy team.
“You have to mix and match, give a taste of it and then have him return and be a leader with his own academy team,” said Gonzalez. “Stay humble, be the hardest working, be the earliest to get there and the latest to leave.”
Of course, Pareja is quick to note that Academy players are rarely involved in the training exercises used in preparation for the next game, but any exposure can only help, especially for a group of young players as talented as the ones FCD currently has.
“It’s a special element to give them and put them in their place and make sure they know where they are. Always reinforcing the respect and distance they need to have from the first team and the privilege they have to train with them and not to take it for granted or think it is easy,” said Pareja, when asked to compare it with a baseball batter swinging a heavier bat while in the on deck circle. “All those things combine and we can make the bat a little heavy on them and when they come back to the Academy they can value everything and hit some home runs down there, exactly.”
This integration between the first team and academy is, according to technical director Fernando Clavijo, something that is rarely found around the globe.
“What we’re doing today, I’ve been around the world for a long time and you don’t see that many places in United States or anywhere in the world with the integration we have between the academy and first team,” said Clavijo. “It is something unique here and I’m personally very proud of it.”