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Why a FC Dallas USL D3 team will work, and why it may not

Some aspects sound really good, while others could be troubling.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Oscar Pareja has made official what many have suspected for quite some time - FC Dallas will have a USL D3 team in 2019. On its surface this seems a very good thing, creating more opportunities for young players and home-grown players while extending the pipeline to the first team. There are two sides to every coin and for several of the positives there are negatives as well. Let’s take a look and see what’s in store for FC Dallas.

First - the pros

First and foremost, it should be celebrated that FC Dallas is making the commitment to start their own USL D3 team. It is something that many (myself included) have been waiting and clamoring for recently, and the surface thoughts are nearly all positive. The opportunities for young players, the roster extension, the route to the first team, and the chance to reach a larger area with the franchise are all distinct positives that come from the expansion team.

Let’s dive into those points one by one:

Opportunities for young players - we have seen this first-hand in Dallas as players have left for other opportunities AND players have not been signed to the first team because they simply did not have a place for them. Ruben Luna, Moises Hernandez, London Woodberry, and Carlos Avilez are a few players who could be or could have been signed with a D3 team in order to keep and further develop them. Those players have gone on to play for other clubs in NASL, USL, and MLS further showing that they certainly have professional ability.

Roster extension is a big asset to having a subsidiary lower division team. The club then owns a reserve team that gets to play competitive games, but also allows players to train with the first team and be available for the manager should the need arise to bring them up for a game or three. Again this allows for further development within the franchise’s model and under the hands of the club’s own coaches. This cannot be understated - developing players yourself is more reliable than counting on another franchise to do the work for you. When your development is something that you hang your hat on (FC Dallas, take a bow) then the ability to continue developing talent is even more important.

Regarding personnel, adding a D3 team provides a clearer and more extended route for players to the first team. Those not ready for MLS play at 18 or 19 years old can continue to play, train, and improve while staying close to home and remaining within the organization. Not every player is immediately ready to play at the highest professional level in the country as soon as they age out of the academy program and having an alternate route, albeit slower, gives the whole organization the opportunity to take chances on players that would normally be left outside the organization.

Finally, we come to the reason outside of players and coaches - fan reach. By playing games outside of Frisco (please, please, please come to Dallas - it is the name of the club after all) the club is able to reach fans that maybe would not otherwise make it out to a professional FC Dallas game. Whether that game is in Fort Worth (TCU), Highland Park-Dallas (SMU), South Dallas (Mountainview) or somewhere else not in Collin County the franchise is able to extend their brand throughout the Metroplex. Minor league or grassroots soccer franchises can draw quite well and I genuinely think that placing the team in the right neighborhood could be the key to really growing the fanbase of the first team and the organization as a whole. I am partial to Oak Cliff as it is my home and I see kids playing soccer outside literally each and every day, but there are tons of areas that would help the club thrive. If the team is playing games at a couple of sites that can work too, so long as the club really gets the residents of the area behind the team. There is no reason that the USL D3 team cannot draw a few thousand people per game and have a really fun atmosphere. An intimate stadium in the right neighborhood could work wonders for this organization.

Next - the cons

Nathan Hill has brought up several solid points and I will try to present those and expand on some others as well. Overall this does have a bit of the feeling as if the club has failed at several attempts and decided to go in-house as a last resort. Failing at establishing a solid USL partner, losing youth players, giving up too soon on others, struggling with their chosen home location and not filling up the stadium are all valid thoughts and possible reasons for concern.

Frankly, FC Dallas has not been able to establish a productive relationship with a USL team. This has severely limited youth opportunities for players on loan and this cannot be blamed on the USL team(s) chosen by FC Dallas as partners. They have their own agenda and priorities, and simply put, developing FC Dallas players is not high on that list. The disconnect is tough to overcome and without having a halfway in-between situation (ala Rio Grand Valley & Houston Dynamo) FC Dallas will continue to have this struggle.

As noted above FC Dallas has either given up on several players or been forced to let others go because they simply did not have roster space to develop those players. There have been notable players who have left FC Dallas’ organization after aging out of the academy without being offered a homegrown contract. Several could help or could have helped the team with depth had they been allowed to continue their growth and development. The sad truth is that the club has genuinely lost some quality players and adding a team full of roster spots of their choosing does seem like the option the club wants but has not wanted to commit to. Admittedly this is the weakest argument of the group because the club has had amazing success with signing homegrown players. No team is perfect though and there is still something to be said of their shortcomings.

Lastly, by choosing to play games outside of Frisco is the club admitting that they made a mistake with the Collin County location? Poor overall attendance has haunted the club, and admittedly that has not been an issue exclusive to the Frisco location. Could the USL D3 team be an excuse to explore other locations for the future? (No, of course not. They did just build the Hall of Fame but you can see the question arising.) In an attempt to reclaim or well at least stake a small claim to the Dallas sporting area, FC Dallas is branching out. Having failed to do so for 22 years now, one could argue that gaining a better foothold is incredibly important for the club to continue to move forward.

Finally - what to make of all of this

Overall, I feel the move is a positive one but, it does give me pause. The hair on the back of my neck stood up when I first heard the news becoming official and though my spidey-senses were on full alert, I have to say that I am having trouble feeling a whole lot of negativity around the club I love adding a USL D3 team. Hopefully this means more positive things for the franchise and that this could be a burgeoning empire in North Texas. With the success of the academy teams and the (mostly) positive play of the first team, bridging the gap between the two could be the USL team. Take the announcement and cross your fingers but do not hold your breath because while initially positive this could turn out to be quite the mess if not handled correctly. I am not sure if USL D3 will be covered by the ESPN+ USL agreement, but if so then we can all watch our team’s up and coming stars take on the rest of the developmental teams in a full-on professional league and that is pretty freaking amazing.