FRISCO, Texas — Monday morning was filled with smiles, laughs and hugs. After a three-month break from the end of the 2019 season, the FC Dallas squad is back in North Texas. The Toros had their first training season of 2020, which consisted of rondo drills and conditioning. FC Dallas Preseason is officially underway.
There was a sense of anxiousness as the players walked over from the north-end locker room to Advocare Field 1 at Toyota Soccer Complex. As soon as their cleats embraced with the freshly cut grass, it was full speed ahead.
The training session was open to public viewing, and it was the first time anyone had the chance to see all of the new faces that joined the team since the conclusion of the 2019 season, including newly-transferred from the Philadelphia Union, Fafá Picault, and the 2020 MLS SuperDraftees Nkosi Burgess, Cal Jennings and Manuel Ferriol.
“Everyone’s been helpful — even in finding a place to live,” Picault said. “Just from the small things, you can tell the guys are really helpful. I just want to be a part of the family and help it grow.”
Among the new arrivals was a familiar face — FC Dallas’ 27th Homegrown, Eddie Munjoma. Monday was the first time Munjoma trained with the squad as an official FC Dallas player after going through the Academy system and enjoying a successful, four-year experience at SMU.
“I was really excited this morning when I woke up, knowing it’s the start of something that I wanted for a long time,” Munjoma said. “It’s good to get the first [training] out of the way, and I can’t wait to keep going the rest of the week and the rest of preseason.”
When speaking to the new arrivals from all over the country, there was one theme that was consistent with their first experiences with the team — the family-style of environment. Since arriving at FC Dallas, Head Coach Luchi Gonzalez wanted to build something more than just a team that could win games. He wanted the culture around his team to be inviting to visitors and newcomers.
He wanted the identity of FC Dallas to be associated with family — something that is very important to both he and President Dan Hunt.
“Whatever the experience that people have in this club, whether short or long, it’s important that they know they have support,” Gonzalez said. “We expect things like hard work and honesty… and being open and learning. All of that is growth, and we want to make sure that our people have an experience where they can grow.”
A big part of that integration of the culture Gonzalez has planted is the leaders on the team willing to buy in and get others on board as well. Along with captain Reto Ziegler, veterans Matt Hedges and Ryan Hollingshead have been crucial to the team’s improvement on and off the pitch.
Hedges has welcomed various players into the FC Dallas family over the years, whether they come from the MLS SuperDraft or internationally. It’s all the same to him.
“I’m just trying to help them with my experiences as being a new player and being a draft pick,” Hedges said. “It’s their first time in a professional environment, so I just try to help those guys and pass on what I’ve learned.”
In 2019, Hollingshead enjoyed his best season so far in his six-year MLS career. He played at just about every position throughout the season, and he was voted Team MVP by the fans once the season ended. He’s hoping to keep that confidence and momentum in his career moving forward in his seventh season.
“Man, I just want to keep building, keep getting better,” Hollingshead said. “Last year was probably my best season, and my body feels like the best it’s been since I started playing. Just keep growing, becoming a better teammate, better player, better friend.”
There’s just 40 days left until the season opener against the Philadelphia Union on February 29th at Toyota Stadium, and the players are already itching to begin the season. These next few weeks will be filled with two-a-day training sessions, preseason matches and traveling.
Gonzalez knows there’s still work to be done before the first game of the 2020 season, but he’s ready to take another step in his coaching career this season and try to bring a trophy back to North Texas.