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FC Dallas Academy is expanding international with hopes to fuel the first team

A deep look into the rapid international expansion of the FC Dallas Academy.

On Dec. 18, 2019, Puerto Rico based Guaynabo Gol Soccer Club held a press conference that featured FC Dallas Director of Affiliates Francisco Molina as the main speaker. The press conference was to make an official announcement on Guaynabo Gol becoming the newest FC Dallas Affiliate:

FC Dallas Guaynabo was born as they became the second affiliate from Puerto Rico to join the FC Dallas Academy in the past five months. The other affiliate, Club Deportivo Barbosa, which changed its name to FC Dallas Puerto Rico back in August 2019. Devin Vega and the Servania brothers are a few of the notable names to come out of Puerto Rico. Planting academies in Puerto Rico makes particular sense as it’s a territory of the United States, which means players coming from there are U.S. citizens, won't take up International spots on the roster.

There are currently four FC Dallas Academy affiliates, outside of US soil, and all signs point to more International affiliates being added in the near future. I only say this, because FC Dallas has added three international affiliates in the past year: FC Dallas Juarez joined a year ago, after only having one international affiliate since 2013 (FC Dallas MX).

Clearly, FC Dallas is picking up the pace.

Those are the obvious signs of the FC Dallas Academy spreading its tentacles internationally in a bid to become more than just the best academy in MLS. The truth is that there are more than four affiliates capable of reaching outside US soil. Would you believe it, if I told you that there are four more FC Dallas affiliates with an International reach? That's correct. There are currently a total of eight FC Dallas affiliates capable of recruiting players outside of US soil. Once you know the locations of all eight affiliates. It becomes very obvious what the FC Dallas Academy international expansion model is and where their next affiliates are likely to be located.

First, let's take a look at the four known international affiliates and see what they have in common.

Small school, big potential.

Back in 2013, Virgin Soccer out of Monterrey was a small, yet successful, independent academy with only six teams from the ages of U5 up to U16. Virgin Soccer was wanted by both local Liga MX clubs Monterrey Rayados and Tigres UANL. However, Virgin Soccer felt like neither were the right fit. This left the door wide open for FC Dallas to walk through. FC Dallas offered wide access to their coaching staff, training facilities, integration of the "FC Dallas Way" methodology, and most importantly, full funding for entry into two international competitions per year (which Virgin Soccer wanted most). That and several other perks (including scholarships) sealed the deal and FC Dallas Monterrey was born.

Fast forward to 2020, and today FC Dallas Monterrey has grown into a very large academy consisting of five different “Unidades” (FC Dallas Oriente, FC Dallas Poniente, FC Dallas Anglo, FC Dallas el Barrial, and FC Dallas Apodaca) collectively known as FC Dallas MX. The academy (FC Dallas MX) has a large national and international presence, fielding multiple teams for both boys and girls in the age categories of U5 up to U19. They have collected more than 100 championships across the different age groups, and have helped in the formative growth of more 4,000 young student athletes.

The two newest affiliates, FC Dallas Puerto Rico and FC Dallas Guaynabo, are both academies that have been in operation for at least two decades and both have operated without help from their local municipalities (Rio Grande and Guaynabo). These are established academies with boy and girl teams in the age groups of U5 up to U20. The one thing that both academies lacked, and both craved, was international competition. Now, as affiliates of the FC Dallas Academy, both will have more support than they have ever had. They each have access to the best training facilities, access to all the staff and services provided by FC Dallas, access to training camps, access to college showcases, and the ability to participate in international competitions. Another bonus perk that they receive through their affiliation is the ability to share resources as both academies are located within the San Juan, Puerto Rico, a mere 41-minute drive from each other.

FC Dallas Puerto Rico U17 squad

The fourth affiliate is FC Dallas Juarez (Ciudad Juarez, Mexico), which has been around for a little more than a year. Unlike the other three affiliates, this academy is quite new, and quite large. FC Dallas Juarez is made up of three large entities, those being Escuela Preparatoria Cultural (a private High School), Universidad Cultural (a private university), and Gimnasio Challenge (a large private gym). This is an all-inclusive academy that offers many other sports besides just soccer. Sticking to soccer, just one year in, the academy has boy and girl teams in the age groups of U3 up to U19.

The location of FC Dallas Juarez is a pretty big deal, and needs to be discussed, but we’ll talk about that later. First, let’s talk about issues hampering the growth of the FC Dallas Academy.

MLS and all its limitations

FC Dallas wants to become a “selling club”, one that funds all its operations and roster, through the sale of players. While the team has begun selling players, it’s a long way from achieving that goal. FC Dallas needs to grow the academy, significantly increase its talent pool, and significantly increase the reach of the academy.

There are however, several limitations imposed on FC Dallas by MLS that severely hamper the ability to maximize the academies’ potential. The first of these rules is the “Homegrown Territory”, which prevents teams from recruiting in areas that are controlled by the local MLS club. Some areas include just the surrounding city, others include multiple states.

Christian Cappis, who played for the FCD Academy, but was prevented from signing with the senior FC Dallas team due to him being raised in the Houston area. Mandatory Credit: FC Dallas

What it means is that FC Dallas can’t recruit in someplace like Houston (rival Houston Dynamo territory), and while the academy can sign players from that territory, the professional team can not sign them to the roster. This is exactly what happened with recent USMNT call up, Christian Cappis, who played for the FCD Academy, but was prevented from signing with the senior FC Dallas team due to him being raised in the Houston area.

There are many talent rich areas across the US not affected by the Homegrown Territory rule, but as MLS continues its rapid expansion, the available areas to recruit are lessening in number. This means that FCD must establish footholds in talent-rich areas unaffected by the MLS regulations, today, or in the future.

Another set of issues that hampers FC Dallas, is the limited roster space (32 roster spots), combined with the salary cap, and the regulations attached to them. This prevents FC Dallas from stockpiling homegrown players by signing many to pro contracts, then loaning many of them out (like most major clubs around the world do). The arrival of North Texas SC in USL League One has helped in that area, but it’s not enough. Higher-level prospects may not be willing to accept a contract with a lower-level club (like North Texas SC), and may opt to sign with a foreign club instead. This recently happened with Johan Gomez, who turned down an offer to join North Texas SC, and opted to sign with FC Porto (Portugal top flight)

Until MLS does away with the Homegrown Territories, increases both the roster sizes and the salary cap, FC Dallas has to find creative ways to grow the academy, and retain its player pool.

This is where FC Dallas Juarez, and its location comes into play, as this helps overcome some of the limitations imposed on FC Dallas by MLS.

Ni de aqui, Ni de alla

FC Dallas Juarez is located in the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez Borderplex, a binational metropolitan area with a population of more than 2.7 million. There are six binational metropolitan areas along the Texas-Mexico border. Each borderplex has one thing in common: they behave more like one singular community, and many of its inhabitants see themselves as being neither from here, nor there (Ni de aqui, ni de alla). I may be oversimplifying the inner workings of all six different borderplexes, but that's a completely different conversation. People commuting back and forth is as normal to borderplex residents as it is for those who commute back and forth in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. So an FC Dallas affiliate located on the Texas side of the Borderplex, can easily reach across the border into Mexico for recruiting purposes. Players such as Ricardo Pepi, Alex Zendejas, and Aaron Guillen, are just some of the more notable players to join FC Dallas from Juarez-El Paso.

FC Dallas MX

Most of the Mexican cities along the Texas-Mexico border, do not have any established major professional soccer teams, neither does Puerto Rico. Ciudad Juarez only recently acquired a major pro team, in the form of FC Juarez (Liga MX). Border cities are also some of the youngest and fastest growing cities in both the United States and Mexico, with Ciudad Acuña currently the fastest growing city in Mexico. This means that there is a ton of untapped potential along the US-MX border with no major established entities to compete against.

So with that in mind, let us take a closer look at the six borderplex locations, along with the San Juan, Puerto Rico Metroplex. I’ll list all locations, starting with the highest population, and see just how FC Dallas has been expanding into these areas:

  1. El Paso-Juarez (2.7 million people) - FC Dallas El Paso (September 2011) & FC Dallas Juarez (November 2018)
  2. San Juan, Puerto Rico (2.6 million people) - FC Dallas Puerto Rico (August 2019) & FC Dallas Guaynabo (December 2019)
  3. Reynosa-McAllen (1.5 million people) - FC Dallas Rio Grande Valley (January 2018)
  4. Matamoros-Brownsville (1.1 Million people) - FC Dallas Harlingen (January 2018)
  5. Laredo-Nuevo Laredo “Los Dos Laredos” (800,000) - FC Dallas Laredo (August 2015)
  6. Del Rio-Ciudad Acuña (300,000) - N/A
  7. Eagle Pass-Piedras Negras (250,000) - N/A
  • Monterrey, Mexico (4.7 million people) - FC Dallas MX (June 2013)
  • FCD RGV has actually existed two years longer than listed here, but expanded into their current larger academy, two years ago.

As you can see, FC Dallas has really picked up their pace of expansion, with five new affiliates within the listed locations in the past two years. This does not include new affiliates within the United States, such as FC Dallas Northwest Louisiana, which just joined in the Spring of 2019. All of the FC Dallas International affiliates are located near the US border. It’s not hard to see that the next FC Dallas international affiliate will likely be located near the US border.

While the strategic locations of the affiliates helps alleviate one of the limitations placed on the FC Dallas Academy, all four international academies offer something that could someday alleviate the roster issue.

Professional teams with room to grow.

All four international affiliates operate professional teams. Let’s take a quick look at each of these pro affiliates.

FC Dallas MX (also known as FC Dallas de Santiago) is currently one of the top teams in Liga TDP (Mexican 4th Division), and is one of the favorites to challenge for promotion into Division 3.

FC Dallas Puerto Rico competes in the Puerto Rico Soccer League (Puerto Rico top flight). Currently in their off season and have recently played in friendlies.

FC Dallas Guaynabo competes in La Liga Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico top flight), rival league to the PRSL. Currently nine weeks into their regular season, FCD Guaynabo is 5th place on the table (out of 13 teams).

In March 2019, FC Dallas Juarez launched the Semi-Pro team Inter City SC in the UPSL (US Division 4), which they share with fellow affiliate and neighbors FC Dallas El Paso. The team is based in El Paso and will begin their second season in March 2020.

All four pro affiliates have room to grow of varying degrees. The Puerto Rico affiliates have pro teams that are considered “Amateur Elite”, which places them at the same level as Inter City SC. FC Dallas MX plays in Liga TDP, which is basically a U20 professional league. At their current levels, these teams cannot help FC Dallas alleviate the problem of what to do with all the Homegrown Players it can’t find roster spots for on either of its two teams.

Now let us take a look at the growth options for each pro affiliate, and the picture becomes much brighter.

The PRSL has begun a $200 million investment, which will see the league build 5,000-seat capacity stadiums for each of its member clubs over the next 10 years, along with other infrastructure projects to elevate the overall level of the league. This means that the potential growth for the FC Dallas affiliates in Puerto Rico is somewhere between USL League One and USL Championship. There’s also the fact that both teams are eligible to compete in the Caribbean Club Championship (should either win the Puerto Rico qualification tournament) for the right to participate in CONCACAF League. Those two reasons combined, mean that the Puerto Rico affiliates might be an option in the future, for HGPs flying under the radar.

FC Dallas MX

FC Dallas MX is one of the top teams in Liga TDP, and has a very real chance to compete for promotion to Liga Premiere A (Mexico Division 3), which is essentially a pro U25 league. While the Liga Premiere A is comparable to USL League One, it wouldn’t really be an ideal destination for US-born HGPs, but it would be a viable destination for Mexican-born HGPs. At this time, the Mexico Division 3 is the highest possible level that FC Dallas MX can attain. They play out of the Monterrey Rayados training stadium, and would require a much bigger stadium and financial commitment to elevate higher than the Mexican Division 3. Their level of ambition to achieve a level higher than Division 3 is unknown at this moment.

FC Dallas Juarez is a completely different animal. You see, FC Dallas Juarez has big ambitions, that go far above their current Semi-Pro team. FC Dallas Juarez has made it known, that they plan to launch two professional teams in Mexico. The first team could be based out of the Escuela Preparatoria (high school) and will look to compete in Liga TDP (Mexico Division 4), which is the same level that FC Dallas MX currently plays in. The second team would be based out of the Universidad Cultural (university), and will look to compete in Liga Premiere A (Mexico Division 3). This second team, would play their home games at the Estadio Olimpico Benito Juarez, which has a capacity of 19,703 and is the current home of FC Juarez (Liga MX). With the recent news that FC Juarez plans to build their own stadium within the next three years, this means that FC Dallas Juarez would then have the stadium necessary to make the jump up to the Ascenso MX (Mexico Division 2). For those of you that don’t know, many consider Ascenso MX to be the third best league in CONCACAF, ahead of the Costa Rica league, and well ahead of the USL Championship. This would be an ideal destination for any FC Dallas HGP ... should it come to pass. In the meantime, FC Dallas Juarez has already begun the process of signing players for a professional team.

Well, this is a lot to take in, I might have gotten a little carried away, but we’re not done yet. Time to speculate on the location of the next international affiliate.

The next FC Dallas affiliate will be located in...

With all the information available to us, I’ll list the most likely location of the next international FC Dallas affiliate:

  1. Puerto Rico - With only five months separating the addition of the two new Puerto Rico affiliates, and the possibility that it will take less than five months to announce the next affiliate, there’s a very real chance that Puerto Rico is about to receive its third affiliate. A massive metropolitan area with no major or mid-major pro teams, many established independent academies, and a ton of growth potential, San Juan is a clear no-brainer.
  2. The US-Mexico border - Establishing an affiliate in any of the growing cities along the US-Mexico border (and not just the Texas-Mexico border) is an obvious, and logical choice.
  3. South America - Not talked about, but not to be ignored, are the multiple partnerships that FC Dallas has established with independent academies across South America. Like their most recent partnership with Tahuichi Academy in Bolivia. Maybe one of these partnerships, is about to be upgraded. How does FC Dallas Colombia sound?

Where do you think the next International FC Dallas affiliate will be located? Are you excited by any of the international pro teams and their potential? Let us know your thoughts!

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