Over the last couple months, Schellas Hyndman's eventual replacement on the FC Dallas bench has been the most popular FC Dallas topic of discussion. However, yesterday's report that FCD will have a reserve side in USL Pro, as will LA Galaxy, conveys news that is likely more important than who will coach the senior team. This club has signed 11 players from its academy since the founding of the Homegrown Player rule in 2008, but they haven't created much beyond a comfortable butt groove at the end of Hyndman's bench. While Kellyn Acosta did break through this year for 1,004 first team minutes, the other 10 have combined for 1,609 minutes, which amounts to 76.6 per player-season. Clearly Dallas hasn't been acting out the advice of one of the cheesiest singles of 1986:
I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Dan Hunt has consistently said things similar to that first line, so there seems to be an understanding that the academy should be the foundation of this club. Based on accolades and youth national team call-ups for academy players, the club is teaching them well. But once they graduate from the academy, it doesn't seem that FC Dallas' young players have often been given opportunities to lead (or even play), and as Bobby Warshaw's writing has exposed, players who aren't playing in Frisco can find it hard to see beauty and pride in their game.
Not all of the reserves' lack of development can be laid at the feet of Schellas Hyndman. Often when a player from the academy has been signed, it comes out that a foreign club was trying to sign them, and if FCD hadn't given them a contract, they wouldn't have gotten a red cent for developing the player. That's all well and good in terms of retaining control of valuable prospects, but it does mean that players are usually signing to the first team without the coaching staff necessarily seeing a use for them in the rotation.
Should Hyndman have found a way to better groom the likes of Ruben Luna, Bryan Leyva, Victor Ulloa, etc.? Sure, but some of the blame has to fall more broadly on the club for lacking a larger strategy to develop these kids while their games are likely to be jammed into the awkward spot in between promise and utility. To the FC Dallas' credit, it looks like they will do just that next year after dabbling in lending solutions over the last couple years with Moises Hernandez, Luna, Richard Sanchez, and Bradlee Baladez.
The new USL Pro club would be superior to the current MLS reserve league in at least two significant ways:
1) More games. FCD reserves played 13 matches this year (and some other teams' reserve got as few as 9), while Reckless Challenge's story on 2014 USL Pro states that its clubs will have 28 matches next year. Experience is an enormous factor in prospects' development, and has been a sore spots in US Soccer development well beyond FC Dallas. This move would be enormous for the club's academy players and homegrown graduates.
2) Real competition. MLS clubs take very different approaches to the reserve league, some of them even throwing high-salary players in just to prevent them from getting rusty. Regardless of how the squads are chosen, few of them have continuity through the reserve season, and the players by and large don't take the competition seriously. In contrast, USL Pro players are very aware that they are competing for trophies and a chance to advance their careers. Young players are going to develop much better when facing resistance than when they are up against slumping or rehabbing veterans who don't want to be in a reserve match.
Meanwhile, a dedicated reserve side will offer a clarity of message that no lending strategy could ever duplicate. If FC Dallas is going to have a signature style, it would be best to cultivate it in the academy and the reserve team so that the youngsters will all get years of grooming for roles specifically valued in the senior team.
This reserve club could also be a means to expand FC Dallas visibility in other parts of the Metroplex. Admittedly, this is affixing conjecture onto rumor, but Dan Hunt may be looking to base the FCD Reserves in the main field of the Elm Fork Athletic Complex that FC Dallas is going to operate and maintain, which should open in Northwest Dallas next year. Also, with little gate income at stake, it might behoove FCD to take this team on tour around the Metroplex to some extent. If they can identify good sites, a few matches in Fort Worth, the mid-cities, or downtown could be a great way to attract the attention of soccer fans who don't make a habit of coming out to Frisco.
4 Big Questions:
A) Is it true? This all springs from Reckless Challenge stating that a USL Pro "club staffer unintentionally published a picture showing what the 2014 table will look like." That seems like a pretty solid source, but it's not a full guarantee of veracity. The article goes on to quote USL Pro president Tim Holt thusly, "This will be fully resolved by our AGM next month in Clearwater Beach with public announcements following shortly thereafter." So, we shouldn't have to wait long.
B) Can amateurs participate? I've heard from a few folks that they expect academy players to be eligible for USL Pro matches, but not academy products currently enrolled in college. This is how it works in the current reserve league, and opens up a side question as to whether FCD should also have a PDL club for their college players, as a few clubs in MLS have done already.
C) How will it work? There's no precedent for MLS clubs having full farm teams, which leads to many sub-issues. Will assigned players have to stay with the reserve team for a certain amount of time (implications for rehabbing veterans)? How will players in the reserve side effect the MLS roster size limits and salary cap?
D) Who will run this? Marco Ferruzzi seems an ideal candidate to coach, having been the reserves coach last year, but this is still an open question.
Regardless of the details, this would be a huge moment for the club, with implications for every young player in the FC Dallas Academy system. Coaches come and go, and honestly there's not a huge difference in quality between MLS managers anyway. Concentrate on the coaching search all you like, but a dedicated reserve side will strengthen the very foundations of the club for years to come.