FRISCO, Texas — FC Dallas was recently recognized as the 2019 Academy of the Year at the annual MLS Club Executive Awards in New York.
“It is difficult to be a club that really believes in young players,” Academy Director Chris Hayden said. “I think there are very few examples of clubs, at least domestically, that are really investing heavily in young players development and believing in it.”
For Hayden, the award means much more to the staff and organization than just a trophy. The award symbolizes years of hard work, dedication and investment into the local community.
“We have a lot of kids in our Academy that, because of circumstance and proximity to the first team, really believe that there is a pathway for them,” Hayden said. “We’ve got young kids that are coming into our Academy and young kids in the club that believe with hard work, effort and connection that they have a chance to arrive potentially into a career in the MLS. We’ve proven again and again that we are able to do that.”
Hayden says the award is the perfect way for those involved to sit back and analyze the progress they continue to make.
“When you look at it overall, it is great to get the award, but more importantly [to] reflect on what you’ve been doing and make sure you stay true to what [our] vision is: to produce players for the first team,” Hayden said.
The numbers speak for themselves. With the recent signing of Eddie Munjoma, FC Dallas officially rostered its 27th Homegrown Player, the highest of any MLS club.
“[I am] very proud of Eddie,” Hayden said. “Obviously, he’s gone a different path because he’s gotten an education. The future is really bright for him.”
For Hayden, not only is Munjoma’s journey to the FC Dallas first team a satisfying one, it is hopefully another landmark moment for the younger players to take inspiration from.
“I’m really excited because of the message it sends to all the other young players that are coming behind him,” Hayden said. “They can think, ‘Yeah, I can sign a contract here, but I can also go to college, graduate and then sign and play here too.’”
It is no secret that the Academy is a big part of FC Dallas’ identity. The ability to grow and develop high-level young talent is something the club takes pride in.
“That’s the crux of why we have invested and put so much importance on what we’re doing in the Academy,” Hayden said. “It is difficult to have a culture if you are constantly reinventing yourself at the first team level… I think because we are investing so much in young players, we can really help them with habits and create a culture in which they are going to be successful in MLS as teammates.”
The ability for Hayden to watch players work their way up from the youth level to the professional level is special.
“Along the way, a lot of these players that we are signing now would have pointed to multiple examples of players that came before them that really gave them the motivation,” Hayden said. “These moments matter and they matter for everyone.”