Remember when Dan Hunt would speak of FC Dallas fielding a starting eleven made up entirely of Homegrown Players? Seems like it was 2017... Kellyn Acosta and Victor Ulloa combined in the midfield. Jesse Gonzalez was a rising star in goal. That team also included Coy Craft, Moises Hernandez, Aaron Guillen, and a very young Paxton Pomykal. Most of them are gone (and for a variety of reasons). But I can’t recall the last time I heard that line about the starting eleven.
How much would I love to have Kellyn Acosta on our current roster? Not just because I think he would be an upgrade over our current Acosta (and I don’t mean to criticize Bryan Acosta here), but because Kellyn is the model that I think we wanted for our homegrown players: Winner. MLS standout. USMNT regular.
But he left. And Ulloa left. And Gonzalez... And the dream of the starting eleven... faded.
I recently re-read a piece by Jake Castillo from OneGoal.us about Kellyn’s final year at FC Dallas. In it, Castillo discusses how European teams were interested in Acosta – to the tune of $5 million – but the front office tried to delay a deal so the team could finish the season. Understandably, Acosta was upset and his form plunged. And then he was injured. And Dallas basically gave him away in the trade for Dominique Badji. He was 22.
Granted, Kellyn is playing well again in Colorado this year. He played well in the Nations League for the USMNT. But he’s almost 26 and the offers from Europe are surely different than they were.
Last year when Reggie Cannon was sold to Boavista, the team reportedly made about $3 million and will receive a sell-on percentage when he moves on: presumably they’re hoping to make more than $5 million in aggregate. Reggie was 22 last year.
Chris Richards was sold to Bayern at 18 for about $1.25 million. And a sell-on percentage. He’s 21 now. If he had stayed in Dallas, presumably playing behind Matt Hedges and Reto Zeigler – and then stepping in for Zeigler as he aged out - would the team have been able to sell him this season for more than the $5 million that was on offer for Acosta? Matt Miazgo similarly went to Chelsea for $5 million. According to Transfermarkt, Richards is worth $8.25 million. But that’s after Bayern and Hoffenheim. Should the Hunts have held on to the dream of that starting eleven? Or should they have a profitable business deal?
On the one hand, I look at Bryan Reynolds and his transfer fee to AS Roma and I say of course Dallas could have developed Richards and won games and gotten a higher fee for him too. Maybe this is the new strategy for Justin Che. Is he starting because he’s our current best option at RB? Or because we’re dangling him in front of Bayern for more money? Or because Dallas believes that they can develop him into a player that earns an eight-figure transfer fee?
On the other hand, what if there is a personal issue like Gonzalez? Or what if he gets hurt like Pomykal, who seemed well on his way in 2019 before he got hurt. But it’s 2021 and he isn’t even starting. What kind of offers is FCD getting for him right now (if any)? He’s 21. The clock is ticking. Brandon Servania is 22... was there an opportunity to cash in on him?
At 21, Kellyn Acosta started for a team that finished first in the Western Conference in 2016 and won the Supporter’s Shield along with the US Open Cup. He was winning. And he wanted to go to Europe. And the opportunity was there. At age 19, Brenden Aaronson starts for the Philadelphia Union in 2020, wins the Eastern Conference and the Supporter’s Shield before transferring to Salzburg.
If I’m Dante Sealy or Justin Che or Matthew Corcoran, do I want to play for a team that is struggling near the bottom of the table? (To be fair, this worked for Alphonso Davies in Vancouver.) If I put the team on my shoulders will that get me to Europe - preferably to a good team on which I will be ready to start in a top-five league? Or am I better off going as soon as possible and by-passing the Dallas first team?
As a fan, I don’t think that I will like the answer to this question. I want the kids to stay and play – and be successful with the first team. That’s a storyline I want to support. Even if we finish mid-table.
But I think Jake Castillo was right in his article. I think the sting of losing money on Kellyn Acosta is still with the Hunts. And they know that this team is near the bottom of the West. They need to sell the prospects while there is value and while the player is happy. Right now they will sell potential because it's financially more secure than trying to polish and then sell. Dallas needs to sell the homegrowns before they turn 23 - and by 23 the player needs to be a proven starter with some polish. Potential – Tanner Tessman – is sold before age 20. Given that Ricardo Pepi is 18 and assuming he remains healthy, I will be shocked if he’s still in Dallas at this time next year.
Convince me that I’m wrong.