Working hard, taking your chances and playing with confidence are probably the three most important attributes of any good forward. It's the three things that have made Blas Perez an instant fan favorite in Dallas and now homegrown forward Jonathan Top is showing that, when it comes to impressing Schellas Hyndman, there's no substitute for hard work and not letting an opportunity slip away.
It's been a little over 15 months since Fort Worth native Jon Top was signed as the fifth homegrown player in FC Dallas history, and the adjustment to the professional level was quite the task for the kid who graduated from high school the same month he was signed to a professional contract. According to Head Coach Schellas Hyndman, it was adjusting to the fitness levels of Major League Soccer that has been the biggest adjustment so far.
"You have to realize, when he came in last year, he was probably carrying about 18% body fat and he's probably lost 20-25 pounds," said Hyndman. "So he's a guy that's really taken this and embraced this opportunity and because of that, things are now happening for him."
While Top had no problem scoring at the Academy level, to the tune of 14 goals in 21 games last season, the step up to playing against first teamers like Brek Shea and Ugo Ihemelu had the young forward a bit star struck.
"I feel it's just last year I guess whenever I came in, it was the first year as a professional and I was kind of in over my head. I was just thinking 'I'm actually here, thank God, it's a dream'" Top said on his first season with FCD. "Training with these guys every day, the same coaching staff and the players talking to me and giving me the confidence, I feel like I have it from them so it's good."
It's that confidence that can be so essential in the psyche of a young forward and it has showed for Top with fantastic performances in MLS Reserve Games this season. In a reserve game against Real Salt Lake last month, Top scored his first ever goal in the 87th minute receiving the ball in midfield and marching into the box before hitting a low, hard shot to the far post. It was a beautiful goal and one that confident forwards score.
"Where do you perform if you're not getting into the first team?" asked coach Hyndman. "You've got to perform with the reserve team, you've got to do it. We don't want any player to say I'm not taking this serious, I'm saving it for the first team. That's a mistake."
Another coach that has taken notice is US Men's U20 National Team Manager Tab Ramos who called Top, along with FCD Academy teammates Danny Garcia and Boyd Okwuono, into the first major camp in preparations for the 2013 U20 World Cup. The homegrown forward started and played almost the entire game of the U20's 1-0 defeat of The University of Washington and Top credits coach Ramos with settling his nerves.
"Yeah it's definitely been the biggest camp so far, starting the U20 cycle," Top said. "It was very exciting, the first camp, so I was a little bit nervous at first, but coach Tab likes to play a lot so he gave us the confidence saying 'I don't care if you lose the ball, but work hard to get it back' so that was good."
After returning to Dallas early last week, it was immediately back on the road as he played 81 minutes in the 3-0 reserve team win at Real Salt Lake, grabbing the game winning goal just before halftime. According to Top, a cross was cleared out of the box and fell to him with his subsequent volley finding the far netting of a slick and rainy pitch. Another goal that a confident forward scores.
"Sometimes you don't even think as a forward and I think that's the better times," Top said about his goals. "Whenever you start thinking 'am I going to place it?' that's when you stress. It's just instinct, you do it over and over."
It might be tough for Top to not think about his play this weekend, though, as news has broken through Twitter that the youngster has made the travel squad for FC Dallas' road game at Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night. It's Top's first time to travel with the team and should he make the 18, it would be the first time he suits up for an MLS game. Hyndman was quick to give all the credit to Jon for his quick rise.
"Understand, it wasn't, we signed Jon Top and the next day he is where he is today," Hyndman said. "Give him the credit, because he's worked awfully hard to get himself into the U20 national camp and now competing for a travel spot. I think all those things are in his grasp because he is performing."
The 19-year-old doesn't seem too phased by it all, however, and if he is, he'll never tell you.
"Once you step on the field, anywhere you go, anywhere I've been, the nerves go away," Top proclaimed. "You just step on the field and they go away once you get that first pass completed."
With his professional debut possibly on tap for Saturday night, a few nerves could be forgiven, as long as he keeps playing with confidence and gets that first pass completed.