FRISCO, Texas -- For the third year in a row, the FC Dallas U-18 Academy team will participate in the Gordon Jago Super Group at the Dr Pepper Dallas Cup. In 2010 that meant a 4-2 opening day loss to Chelsea's Academy team. In 2011 it meant a 3-1 opening day win over FC Barcelona's Academy team. In 2012 it means an opening day headline match against a Manchester United side (Sunday, April 1 at 7:30 p.m.) comprised mostly of Reserve players. Professionals. Age-eligible professionals, but professionals none the less.
This Manchester side will quite possibly be the most talented team in Dallas Cup history. And that's saying something when talking about a tournament that's been attracting the best youth teams from around the world for more than three decades.
But when it comes to the FC Dallas Academy players, the idea of going up against pros from one of the most storied soccer clubs in the world elicits more excitement than intimidation.
Midfielder Alonso Gallegos is in his first year with the team from the club's El Paso affilliate, and despite growing up in Texas, this will be his first time playing in Dallas Cup.
"It’ll be a great experience," said Gallegos. "I’ve never played a team with that much quality. It’s a dream come true to be able to play against one of the top teams in the world."
That sentiment was echoed by midfielder Danny Garcia, who's been lighting up Development Academy goalkeepers this year with 17 goals in 19 games played.
"This is a great opportunity," said Garcia. "Last year I got the chance to play against Barcelona, and this year getting to play ManU, it couldn’t be better. I’m excited to play against ManU and so many other good teams. It’s going to be a great tournament."
And it's not as if the match will be an all-pro team vs. an all-amateur team.
"We have some pros on the FC Dallas Academy team too, so it should be a great game," said Homegrown striker Jonathan Top.
Top is one of two FC Dallas professionals who are still eligible to play for the Academy in addition to U-17 World Cup champion goalkeeper Richard Sanchez.
Still, Sanchez and the Dallas defense will have to be in top form if they plan to stand toe-to-toe with a team that possesses this much talent.
Although you can never be sure which players a team will be bringing to Dallas Cup until they actually land stateside, two dangerous players included on ManU's preliminary roster are forward William Keane and midfielder Jesse Lingard.
Lingard has scored a goal in each of United's last two Reserve matches and can be dangerous on the flanks or in his preffered central role behind the striker.
Keane, too, has scored a goal in each of the club's last two Reserve games. The young forward has also already made his first team debut, coming on for Rafael in the 85th minute of a 3-2 loss to Blackburn at Old Trafford back in December.
But United isn't the only talented team FC Dallas will face at this year's Dallas Cup. The next day they'll play Tigres from Mexico, the same club that eliminated FC Dallas 5-0 in last year's semifinals.
"Tigres is a team that possesses the ball; they’re very technical," said Top. "They’re definitely not as physical or strong as most U.S. teams, but you can't ignore their technical ability. It’s a team I think we definitely have a chance of beating. They’re not the same team we faced last year."
FCD's last group opponent will be CS Cartagines from Costa Rica, a team they beat 3-0 in last year's tournament. Despite that result, the FC Dallas players know they can't take any team in this tournament lightly.
"You can’t really sleep on them because it’s pretty much a whole new team, so we don’t know what they’re going to bring to this tournament," said Garcia.
Playing in one of the toughest brackets in Dr Pepper Dallas Cup XXXIII, FC Dallas will rely on their collective professional, Reserve league and various national team experiences to make an impact at this year's tournament.
"Having that quality and experience is important," said Top. "Richard [Sanchez] and I will have to bring some things to the table, but I think we have a very strong, tight team this year.
"Our team chemistry is very good, so I think we have a strong chance of doing some good things at Dallas Cup this year."