The future of FC Dallas is now, officially, rooted firmly in the present.
On Thursday, the club announced that it has signed three members of its young core roster to new, multi-year contract. Forward Tesho Akindele has signed on with the club running through the 2018 season, while midfielder Mauro Diaz and defender Moises Hernandez have both agreed to contracts through the 2019 season.
“When you’re looking at our idea [of] how to build a team, you have to look at the core [players],” Technical Director Fernando Clavijo said. “Being able to keep these [three] players playing in the United States is a huge opportunity for us to show that we have a place to provide for these young players – not only to play at the highest level, but to keep growing.”
“I think it’s very important, obviously, to give continually to the core players that have been here when they’re still young and most importantly committed with the club,” head coach Oscar Pareja said. “I think there’s a lot to read in that decision from these players to trust the club and trust the coaching staff and the fans and the city and everybody here. We’re pleased to have them.”
The Reigning Rookie
It’s been quite the month for the 2014 MLS Rookie of the Year.
After making a decision to play for Canada on the international stage, playing a key role to his country’s advancement in World Cup qualifying and being named to the Canadian Gold Cup roster, Tesho Akindele has now pledged his allegiance to the club that believed in him from the start.
“I couldn’t be happier right now,” he said. “This team obviously took a chance on me when maybe some other teams wouldn’t have in the draft. I’m glad it worked out my first year and I’m excited to be here.”
The 23-year-old also added that he is still continuing to grow.
“[My] life changed drastically that year just playing in MLS – everything seemed crazy fast,” he said of his first year in the league. “This year, I feel like I’ve kind of slowed down, I feel like I belong here and I keep improving as a player.”
“He is a very intelligent young player,” Clavijo said. “He’s very mature for his age and he has an incredible opportunity right now to keep growing…I don’t think we’ve seen the best out of Tesho just yet.”
As FC Dallas hits the mid-point of the 2015 season, Mauro Diaz has already made it a career year.
After signing with the club in July 2013, the speedy midfielder has dazzled when he’s on the field – but until now, staying on the field hasn’t been easy. Diaz struggled with injuries in his first season and a half with Dallas, but has already set a career-high in minutes played and games started in 2015 – a trend he hopes will continue well into his newly-contracted years.
“Personally, I’m just very happy that I’ve been able to play and not get injured,” Diaz said. “I’m very happy [to be] with the team that wants me here and has made me feel at home since day one.”
Having him on the field has proved to be crucial in the team’s success. Since Pareja took over as head coach before the 2014 season, in the 23 games that Diaz has played more than 45 minutes in, the team has lost only four games.
“Mauro has a special talent and it’s not easy to find,” Pareja said. “We are targeting those kinds of players to stay in the league and come young, get them in their prime years and with Mauro that is happening.”
“He makes things happen on the field that nobody else is capable of,” Clavijo said. “He makes players around him better and that’s exactly what we want to have on the team.”
Moises Hernandez is blazing the trail that FC Dallas hopes many others follow.
As the team’s Academy program continues to grow, Hernandez is now the first homegrown player to sign a long-term contract extension.
“This is a dream for me, a dream come true, to play in Dallas and sign for more years here,” Hernandez said. “This is my home. I’m happy to be here, this is my team, it’s a blessing to be playing in front of my family and friends and I’m happy to [have signed] my new contract.”
However, Hernandez’s success as a young player hasn’t come easy. After signing a homegrown contract in 2010 and playing with the FC Dallas Reserve team for much of the 2011 season, the defender was loaned internationally for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. When he returned to FC Dallas in 2014, Hernandez stepped into a large role with the first team – starting 13 games in his first MLS season, and appearing in four more.
“Those almost two years I was gone playing on loan made me the player I am today,” Hernandez said.
“This was one of the guys who two years ago, three years ago [we] took a chance on going abroad and playing in Guatemala and Costa Rica,” Clavjo said. “He, I think, matured a lot in those two different teams in two different years. That gave us an opportunity to see something different when he came back.”
With Kellyn Acosta, Victor Ulloa and Alejandro Zendejas joining him in the ranks of homegrown first-teamers, Hernandez serves as a model for the development system FC Dallas is looking to capitalize on.
“Mo is a good example of what we want to build in many others – players that are built here in the community, players who have a longing for this club,” Pareja said. “Seeing them now play for not just FC Dallas, but seeing them go and be part of their national teams and become international players - that’s great.”
“We’ve got a great Academy,” Hernandez said. “As you can see we’ve got a lot of talent here. Me as a player signing this extension with the team, it shows the other players that their dreams can come true.”
Time to Shine
Akindele, Diaz and Hernandez – along with Fabian Castillo, who was also signed to an extension through 2019 prior to the 2015 season – are without a doubt the core group of young players that FC Dallas hopes to build from in the years to come.
“The first thing is that they need to understand, and I know they do, [is] keeping their minds [focused] on the commitment and responsibility we all have with our fans and with our club,” Pareja said. “They understand that they’re here to succeed and not just be part of a program and that for me is crucial long-term.”
“I think right now we have a young team, but we also have a lot of players with experience that are young,” Akindele said. “I think for the next couple of years our team is going to be one of the best in MLS.”
The next step is for the young group to leave their legacy.
“I think they need to make an impact in FC Dallas [history]. They need to make a mark,” Clavijo said. “The team has responded, now it’s another part for the players – they need to respond back to the team [and] that trust that we’ve put in them to keep growing.”