FRISCO—Although North Texas SC’s inaugural USL League One game will likely be remembered as the day 16-year-old Ricardo Pepi announced himself on the professional scene with a debut hat trick, the occasion was also marked with encouraging performances from the two current FC Dallas Academy players included in the matchday squad.
“We feel like it’s a great opportunity for our Academy players to play up (with North Texas),” said FC Dallas Academy Director Chris Hayden. “Number one, so they can be out of their comfort zone, and also so we can also evaluate them and how they react. It’s really important as we’re pushing kids to the next level to find out how quickly they can adapt.”
The first Academy players tasked with adapting to USL League One were two teenaged full-backs, Kevin Bonilla and Imanol Almaguer. If the objective was to push the pair out of their comfort zone, neither really showed it.
“They (Almaguer and Bonilla) did outstanding,” head coach Eric Quill said. “They were playing on their off-foot in their very first professional game and that’s not easy. Kevin started the game and played beautifully, defended great and went forward with aggression and belief. Imanol came in the game and did the exact same. Both of them, again, you see performances like that and you think these guys are definite pros in the making.”
Bonilla, a naturally right-sided player, started the game at left-back playing 57 minutes before being forced off with an injury. Although his debut was cut short, Bonilla made the most of his playing time by providing width and an extra attacking outlet on the left side when left-winger Dante Sealy drifted centrally. Bonilla contributed 31 passes with an 87 percent success rate, as well as a defensive clearance and an interception.
His impressive performance aside, Bonilla noted the differences between this professional opposition in comparison to the Academy players he’s accustomed to facing.
“Something that was big for me was the experience the players had,” Bonilla said. “They had little tricks and things to get you off your balance or to get in your head, so their experience really stood out to me.”
This taste of the professional game, and the tips and tricks of the trade that come along with it, will likely prove to be an invaluable learning experience for Bonilla going forward—and for all Academy players who follow in his footsteps.
“This USL team is a great addition to the FC Dallas program,” Bonilla said. “I think it will help a lot of academy players development faster within that professional environment. I think it’s going to help a lot and be a benefit to us Academy guys.”