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FC Dallas Academy: How they stack up with other MLS clubs

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We know FC Dallas has put out some great talent over the years, but has it been enough?

MLS: Portland Timbers at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

I apologize in advance – this article is still a work in progress. I’m going to need feedback. Probably lots of it. Maybe I can return to it at some far later time with an update.

When I watch the national team play, one of my first objectives is to count the homegrowns. Weston McKennie and Kellyn Acosta started the game and Reggie Cannon subbed in overtime. Big Bad Bryan was in attendance but as a spectator. All FC Dallas Academy players. Mark McKenzie started. Brendan Aaronson was on the bench. Team Philadelphia. Gio Reyna started. NYCFC. Tyler Adams subbed in. New York Red Bulls. Tim Weah spent a hot minute in the Red Bulls Academy before moving to Paris. Ream started and is a former Red Bull but he was a draft pick – not an academy player.

So in this season when I’m frustrated with the Dallas first team, I keep thinking about the academy - how good is the FC Dallas Academy? And how do we answer that question? This is where I’m going to need help.

FC Dallas leads MLS in the number of homegrowns who have advanced to the first team – Collin Smith was the 32nd homegrown when he signed in April. Understandably, after Bryan Reynolds and Reggie Cannon were sold for transfer fees in the millions, there are growing expectations for the players who continue to rise through the ranks. After Chris Richards’ success with Bayern and Hoffenheim, what level of the transfer fee will FCD get for Justin Che? If Jesus Fereira and Paxton Pomykal (and Ricardo Pepi) come on strong after the break and pull our season out of the abyss, will they similarly be rewarded with multi-million-dollar transfers? This last question seems to be a matter of when more than if.

For the purpose of these ruminations (and because I just watched the national team play), I will be comparing FC Dallas’ homegrown signings with those of the Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls. And just because I’ve heard a fair amount about Salt Lake’s Homegrown players, I’ll throw them in too. However, I’m specifically limiting myself to players signed since the fall of 2016 (because Transfer Market is aligned with a European season and provides information according to its calendar [and I was looking at when Pomykal, Reynolds, and Ferreira signed]) and I’m mostly comparing games played, minutes played, and … well... looking at where players are now. There are so many variables (and my familiarity with Philadelphia, New York, and Salt Lake is relatively low) that I have clearly neglected many factors. Forgive me... and help a brother out.

These are Dallas’ homegrown numbers (Games Played 2020/2021, Games Started, Minutes Played) for players signed since late 2016:

FCD Academy since 2016

Last First Age GP20 GS20 Minutes 2020 GP 21 GS 21 Minutes 2021 Current Team
Last First Age GP20 GS20 Minutes 2020 GP 21 GS 21 Minutes 2021 Current Team
Tessman Tanner 19 19 9 1001 6 6 441 FCD
Redzic Beni 18 0 0 0 FCD
Richards Chris 21 Hoffenheim
Roberts Thomas 20 0 0 0 0 0 0 FCD
Cerillo Edwin 20 2 0 17 1 0 23 FCD
Sealy Dante 18 5 0 49 1 0 24 PSV
Che Justin 17 Bayern II
Smith Collin 17 0 0 0 FCD
Pomykal Paxton 21 5 1 150 7 0 190 FCD
Ferreira Jesus 20 19 13 979 0 0 0 FCD
Reynolds Bryan 19 17 14 1267 AS Roma
Servania Brandon 22 12 4 398 0 0 0 FCD
Cannon Reggie 23 5 5 450 Boavista FC
Munjoma Eddie 22 6 5 367 FCD
Pepi Ricardo 18 17 4 458 6 1 155 FCD
4769 1200

In roughly the last five years, Dallas has signed fifteen homegrown players – on average three per year. And, of course, Weston McKennie is not on this list because he never signed with Dallas. Of those players who did sign a homegrown contract, three have permanently transferred to European clubs. In addition, Che’s transfer is pending and Dante Sealy just showed up at PSV. Of those remaining, several are significant contributors at FC Dallas week in and week out. And others are barely old enough to vote (note: Smith isn’t old enough to vote) and maybe a few years from contributing. Clearly, the minutes played for Pomykal and Fereira would be significantly higher if they were not in the midst of recovering from injury. But that’s soccer.

That said, there are also players – Brandon Servania and Thomas Roberts? - who are struggling to find a place. Will we cut them loose for next to nothing as we did Kellyn Acosta (who just started the Nations League final!)? Or will Dallas find a way to profit from them? An intra-league sale? It is for these players that I wish Dallas had an affiliate USL Championship side to further player development (I don’t pay for such things, so I can dream). The oldest homegrowns still on the roster are 22 and I’ve got to believe that the clock is ticking on them… and they probably know it.

For the sake of comparison, here are the homegrowns for New York Red Bulls over the same time period:

Red Bulls since 2016

Last First Age GP 20 GS 20 Minutes 2020 GP 20 GS 20 Minutes 2021 Current Team
Last First Age GP 20 GS 20 Minutes 2020 GP 20 GS 20 Minutes 2021 Current Team
Lema Chris 24 0 0 0 San Antonion FC
Adams Tyler 22 RB Leipzig
Tolkin John 18 3 1 97 NYRB
Mines Ben 21 5 1 172 FC Cincinnati

There are only four players listed. As I discovered when I began researching, many of those whom NYRB has signed in recent years from their second team were not academy players. In contrast to Dallas, New York has signed many more players (and from more diverse backgrounds) to their USL Championship side. Both Aaron Long and Caden Clark derive from these acquisitions rather than their academy. Similarly, the oft-mentioned Cristhian Casseres, Jr., signed from Red Bull II, but TransferMarkt doesn’t list him as a transfer from the second team (which I don’t understand). So their strength seems to be in their acquisition of young talent rather than their actual youth development. But even then, among New York’s seventeen signings from their second team are several who are no longer with Red Bull or no longer playing soccer. Only five of the seventeen NYRB2 signings remain with the first team. This leads me to wonder about academies around the world. Dallas, of course, has signed players who had no realistic shot at first-team minutes (Kris Reaves and Jordan Cano come to mind). But how many players are signed simply to fill out a practice squad? Or how many simply wash out?

Here are the numbers from Philadelphia:

Union Academy since 2016

Last First Age GP20 GS20 Min 2020 GP21 GS21 Min 2021 Current Team
Last First Age GP20 GS20 Min 2020 GP21 GS21 Min 2021 Current Team
Turner Cole 19 1 0 3 0 0 0 Philadelphia
Harriel Nathan 20 0 0 0 Philadelphia
Real Matt 21 15 5 622 4 1 89 Philadelphia
Trusty Auston 22 Colorado Rapids
McGlynn Jack 17 4 2 138 Philadelphia
Aaronson Brendan 20 23 23 1913 RB Salzburg
de Vries Jack 19 4 0 13 0 0 0 Philadelphia
Fontana Anthony 21 17 5 510 7 3 254 Philadelphia
Aaronson Paxten 17 1 0 1 Philadelphia
Craig Brandan 17 0 0 0 Philadelphia
Sullivan Quinn 17 3 0 7 Philadelphia
McKenzie Mark 22 22 22 1980 Genk
Freese Matt 22 1 1 90 0 0 0 Philadelphia
489

In between Dallas and New York (in terms of player acquisitions [I don’t have a map in front of me, so no promises regarding geography] is Philadelphia. With twelve homegrown signings in the last five years, the Union is just behind Dallas. Like the Red Bulls, the Union has signed players from Union II who were not academy players, but the majority of their young players are homegrown. And the majority are still with the team – which suggests to this fan that their signings are of a higher caliber than NYRB. Most MLS fans are aware of the success of Brendan Aaronson and Mark McKenzie who have signed with European clubs for sizeable transfer fees and are now experiencing some success with the national team. Aaron Trusty and Derrick Jones have moved on within MLS. But otherwise, Philly’s young players seem to be limited to supporting roles or still a season or two from significant contributions. In terms of minutes played, their homegrowns are clearly contributing less to the first team than Dallas’.

And let’s look at Real Salt Lake:

RSL Academy since 2016

Last First Age GP 20 GS 20 Min 2020 GP 21 GS 21 Min 2021 Current Team
Last First Age GP 20 GS 20 Min 2020 GP 21 GS 21 Min 2021 Current Team
Brody Andrew 26 5 4 411 RSL
Davis Bode 19 0 0 0 RSL
Dewsnup Jeff 17 0 0 0 RSL
Garcia Chris 18 1 0 1 0 0 0 RSL
Glad Justen 24 17 14 1279 6 6 540 RSL
Herrera Aaron 24 20 20 1796 4 4 300 RSL
Holt Erik 24 7 4 383 3 2 181 RSL
Iloski Milan 21 1 0 1 0 0 0 RSL
Ochoa David 20 1 1 90 5 5 450 RSL
Schmitt Tate 24 4 3 254 0 0 0 RSL
Toia Donny 29 20 19 1674 5 4 348 RSL
5478 2230

The first item that stands out for me is minutes played – RSL has gotten more minutes from their homegrowns than Dallas both this season and last. And the bulk of those minutes come from a handful of players who have developed into solid MLS players. But Donny Toia and Justen Glad probably do not have Europe in their futures. Again, they’re solid MLS talent. Also, RSL’s homegrowns are older, which similarly suggests to me that their career paths are unlikely to climb higher.

So what does this mean?

Anything? Nothing? I know there are other MLS teams whose homegrowns are contributing. But just looking at where Dallas’ players are now... and how many are contributing to the current squad... our academy is clearly succeeding. We aren’t leading the league in homegrown minutes played because some of our best homegrowns have been sold. In fact, the academy churns out so many high-quality players that the club has been slow to sign young players in the same mode as NYRB – we’ve already got a bottleneck in the midfield. Our connection to Bayern Munich has clearly paid off and the club’s previous success is breeding more success as bigger clubs focus on our academy players. Our kids are younger and seem to have a higher ceiling than our friends in Utah. But Philadelphia is a legitimate rival. And I say good for them – it makes the league better.

But where and how do we improve? (Hmm… that sounds like a sequel)