One of the questions I get asked more than almost any other deals with the homegrowns and A. "Why aren't they playing more?" B. "Why is the team doing such a poor job of developing them?" C. "Why does Dallas have so many?" "D. How does Ruben Luna/Jon Top/Bryan Leyva look?"...Etc...etc...etc...
With the international break this week, I thought I'd take some time to look closer at the Dallas crop of seven homegrowns and taking the stock of the whole program.
Part one will look at the first four homegrown signings individually. Part two will look at the last three homegrowns and add a little bit to think about. Part three will look at ways to improve the academy and ways they have improved while part four will look at some of the players coming through the pipeline.
Hope you enjoy the series, obviously this team is my passion but tracking the young players and spotting the talent coming through is something I take particular pride in so writing things like this is really fun for me.
Bryan Leyva - Signed September 19, 2009 - 20 years old(2-9-1992)
Overview: Leyva was signed as the first FC Dallas Homegrown way back towards the end of the Michael Hitchcock era in 2009. He was signed just a few weeks before heading to the U17 World Cup with Mexico and became eligible to play in MLS in 2010 where he made one cameo appearance early in the season.
Leyva is an attacking midfielder who prefers to play in the middle, but has generally been pushed out to the wings for FC Dallas
Development: A very young Leyva kind of stumbled through his 2010 campaign, but put together some really nice performances with the return of the Reserve League in 2010. In 2011, Leyva parlayed some solid Reserve performances early in the year, plus a mystifying glut of injuries, into the first starting run of games in his career.
Perhaps Leyva's best moment came in his first ever start against Portland where a hard shot was saved well right into the path of Blas Perez
What's Ahead: Leyva's playing time stalled as the year went on and the team got healthier, but a season of almost 500 minutes plus a bunch of reserve games for a player that just turned 20 years old certainly isn't way off track.
2013 will be make or break for Leyva to see if the light turns on. Players on the team will tell you that he's one of the top 5 most gifted players on the team, but he must up his fitness levels and his defensive capabilities to start here. He could come into pre-season and earn a supersub role or he could be cut before the regular season ever starts. The sky is the limit though...
Ruben Luna - Signed July 30, 2010 - 20 years old(2-10-1992)
Overview: Luna signed with FC Dallas as an absolutely prolific goal scorer at the Academy level.With a six foot frame that was ready for the MLS level from day one, Luna has shown tons of promise but hasn't quite put all the pieces together yet.
Development: Luna's development was everything you would want in his first year and a half with FCD. He played in a few games his first year, even making the bench for every playoff game on the road to MLS Cup 2010. Things progressed well in 2011 leading the MLS Reserve League in goals and scoring his first in MLS with a tally on the last day of the season at San Jose.
After an injury in pre-season, things majorly stalled for Luna in 2012, however, as he went through some major growing pains. Luna hasn't been able to shoulder the load that Schellas Hyndman was hoping for early in the season and went through a major dip in confidence that will happen for younger players. He's been sent on loan to San Antonio Scorpions for the second half of 2012 and next year's pre-season will be very important for him.
What's Ahead: Luna still has a ton of time to prove himself. The tools are all there, he just needs to figure it out in his head and gain some confidence back. I'd even like to see a mean streak from the forward on the pitch, and feel like he owns the position rather than just hope a starting spot is given to him.
Moises Hernandez Jr. - Signed September 19, 2009 - 20 years old(3-5-1992)
Overview: Hernandez is a rare soccer player, one born to play left back. He was seen bombing up and down the left wing for the academy, earning a spot on the US U20 team. With FC Dallas, Hernandez has had to learn to adjust to the professional game where every pass matters and your positioning on the field matters at all times.
Development: The only of the original homegrown class that hasn't played in an MLS game, Hernandez has had an adjusting period to the professional game. He was sent on loan to Comunicaciones, making his professional debut last weekend and looks to get some decent playing time through the end of this year before potentially coming back for pre-season.
What's Ahead: The coaching staff has high hopes that Hernandez comes back from Guatemala a man instead of the kid he was when he left. Again, the potential is there to be an MLS player, especially once he hits 22 or 23 years old. He just needs more seasoning and, above all, games.
Victor Ulloa - Signed July 30, 2010 - 20 years old(3-4-1992)
Overview: Ulloa is a 2-way midfielder signed at the same time as Ruben Luna and Moises Hernandez. We really haven't seen a lot of this kid over the past two seasons as he has seen the field just once, in the last game of the 2011 season. Playing time has just been so hard to find for the youngster sitting behind Daniel Hernandez and Julian de Guzman
Every time I ask anyone about the kid, I only hear good things, but at some point you have to figure out whether the guy can sink or swim. Sending Ulloa for a full season on loan next year wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. His vision, movement and reading of the game are good, but we've just never seen him play in a match that matters so how can we know.
Development: The development in Ulloa's game has been so subtle because he's never gotten a shot in a game that counts. Ulloa did a good job at right back, playing out of position, in the Leon friendly but that's about it except for reserve games. At some point, it's sink or swim time.
What's Ahead: He will come into pre-season next year, depending on roster makeup, with a shot to earn some playing time, but a loan would be the best thing for his career. Somewhere, anywhere, to get consistent playing time. Ulloa is the case of a guy who probably would have been better served by going off to college, though he may have signed a contract in Mexico before doing that.