FRISCO, Texas – The phrase “meteoric rise” feels overused in sports. But it also feels accurate in the case of FC Dallas Homegrown Justin Che.
Less than a year ago, the Richardson, Texas native was looking forward to making his pro debut for FCD affiliate North Texas SC in USL League One—the third tier of American soccer.
Fast forward 10 months and Che is journeying from his home at the FC Bayern campus in Munich to join up with the senior U.S. Men’s National Team in Switzerland. Oh, and he’s still just 17.
“The last few months have been a blessing for me,” Che told FCDallas.com. “It’s been a time when I can really push my football career forward. I knew the sacrifices I would need to make starting from a young age. Seeing my dad play professionally and him telling me all the stories and what he had to go through, moving away from his family. So, I was up to the challenge from a young age. I never expected to move this fast just at 17. But life has its own course and you just have to push with it.”
After playing in all 16 games for North Texas SC and being named in League One’s Best XI for 2020, Che secured a loan move to FC Bayern II thanks to FC Dallas’ player development partnership with the German champions. Although he’d recently signed as FCD’s 30th Homegrown player, the five-month loan was an opportunity Che couldn’t pass up.
“It’s definitely been something I’ve really enjoyed,” he said. “The atmosphere has been different. The coaches are very different here. I’ve had the blessing to learn from top players, top ex pros and really add some things they’ve taught me into my game. I’ve gotten the chance to play in the first team with the best players in the world and really look and see how they train firsthand. For me, all of this is a learning experience so that I could be the best I could potentially be one day.”
Che trained twice with Bayern’s first team before focusing on Bayern II and its 2020/21 campaign in the German third division. He admits to being “a little nervous” before training with the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba—players he’d grown up seeing win titles at the highest level.
“It was definitely something, having watched them play in the World Cup, play in the Champions League and all this, looking up to them as a little kid and thinking ‘this is where I want to be one day’. So, for me to have that exposure at such an early age is something I’ll always be grateful for.
“There was one possession where the other team had the ball. The ball was coming towards me and I tried my best to get to it and I moved the opposing player so that he had to pass one way. But Lewandowski pushed me to the next level and told me ‘this is where you’ve got to win the ball’. He was a little frustrated for a second but I knew that coming here wouldn’t be easy. It’s not a walk in the park, they take every training 150% and that’s why they’re the best players in the world. All you can do is learn from it and make sure the next time you have that chance, do better.”
Once his experience with the first team ended, Che returned to Bayern II and started six games as the youngest member of the squad. He impressed, playing mostly center back and occasionally right back when the team was in need of a goal. It wasn’t long before his performances and promise pushed Che onto the USMNT radar.
“(After training) when I got back to the locker room, I saw that an unknown number had called me,” Che said. “But WhatsApp showed his name, Gregg Berhalter. I was like ‘Whoa. This is very surprising.’ I gave him a call back and he invited me to the camp and from there I was just stoked.”
Che joins fellow FC Dallas Academy products Kellyn Acosta, Reggie Cannon, Weston McKennie and Bryan Reynolds in the USMNT’s 27-man camp that will take on Switzerland on May 30. In what's becoming standard practice for him, Che is the youngest player on the team.
“Looking back, even a year ago, I wouldn’t think I would be with the senior men’s national team,” he said. “Back then, even with my own age (group), the U-16/17 national team, I wasn’t one of the first choices or top picks. I wasn’t brought to every camp. I don’t think I was seen as a top prospect. So, for me, a year later, to really put in the work, I honestly think I deserve it. I’ve always believed in myself, so to be able to put in the work and to hear from one of the best coaches in Gregg Berhalter, it’s something I’ll always be grateful for.”