Reporting: Garrett Melcer

FC Dallas to Face Former Head Coach Luchi Gonzalez: “We have a special connection”

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FRISCO, Texas – You can expect a warm reunion on the sidelines when FC Dallas takes the field this Saturday in San Jose, CA.

It offers a chance for Dallas’ Homegrown players to reconnect with an influential figure: Luchi Gonzalez, their former head coach who now plies his trade in northern California with the San Jose Earthquakes.

Gonzalez spent a decade with FC Dallas. He began coaching in the club’s Academy in 2012 before ascending to the club’s top job six years later. Gonzalez led FCD to the playoffs in his first two seasons before parting ways midway through 2021. But his impact in Dallas goes far beyond that of most three-year head coaches.

Gonzalez fostered the development of FCD Academy’s golden generation and welcomed it into the first team. Jesús Ferreira, Paxton Pomykal, Edwin Cerrillo, Ricardo Pepi, Bryan Reynolds, Reggie Cannon, Justin Che, Chris Richards and many more can trace their early careers back to the FC Dallas Academy and Gonzalez.

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Ferreira, Pomykal and Cerrillo have continued their progress in Dallas under Gonzalez’s successor, Nico Estévez, and are crucial pieces of his team that sits fourth in the Western Conference—just one place above Gonzalez’s San Jose. Saturday’s showdown pits pupil against master with eventual playoff places on the line.

“It should be exciting,” said Cerrillo, who Gonzalez signed out of FCD’s youth ranks two months after taking charge. “All he’s ever known was FC Dallas – just like me – and to see him somewhere else is kind of strange. But it’ll be good to see him again. It’ll be a good competition and there’ll be just that extra little bit (on the line) because he’s their coach.”

“I’m excited to see him and happy to see him doing well in San Jose,” said Pomykal, who earned an MLS All-Star appearance after enjoying a breakout campaign during Gonzalez’s first season. “They’ve changed a lot of what they do this year and turned their team around. They’re doing really well and it’ll be a fun battle.”

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No Dallas player has experienced more with Gonzalez than Ferreira. The pair worked together in the Academy before Gonzalez promoted Ferreira from a rare, late-game substitute into his starting striker in 2019. Then just 18 years old, Ferreira finished the season as FCD’s top scorer—the youngest in club history.

But Ferreira’s career year didn’t come until after Gonzalez had left Dallas. Last year, 21-year-old Ferreira scored 18 goals (tying another club record) and earned a myriad of awards: MLS All-Star, MLS Young Player of the Year and #1 in the league’s 22 Under 22 ranking. His biggest accomplishment, however, happened to reunite him with Gonzalez once again. Ferreira was included in the United States’ 2022 World Cup team where Gonzalez was an assistant coach.

“He’s a person I’ve known for a long time and we have a special connection,” Ferreira said. “Playing for him in the Academy and first team and having him in the National Team, he’s taught me a lot of things. Facing him is something I’m looking forward to. Obviously, we’re going over there to try to get the three points. But at the end of the day, this is a relationship we had outside the field and it’s exciting to see him be successful in the league and have a good run.”

The added sentiment behind Saturday’s contest isn’t lost on Gonzalez, either: “We’re human beings and there’s always emotional attachments to things. I’m very thankful for my time in Dallas and I wouldn’t be here to compete as a coach or have the opportunity to be on the (USMNT) staff for the World Cup if it weren’t for the opportunities I gained in Dallas,” the 42-year-old said in the Earthquakes’ midweek press conference.

“To see them (Ferreira, Pomykal and Cerrillo) compete in the league, even when I wasn’t coaching San Jose, there’s a sense of pride. It’s great to see them continue to show us a long-term career in our league and getting national team opportunities. There’s still at young ages so there’s so much more ahead of them. I’m proud of them and a lot of the players that I coached in Dallas. We’ll always have those personal relationships and fond memories and appreciate it.

“Those are competitive and talented players, so as much of a pleasure it will be to see them, we’re also wary that we need to neutralize them. They’re players that we need to be ready to compete against.”