Although we haven’t seen the volume of headline signings we might have expected so far this offseason, the truth is FC Dallas started it with a bang. Mere weeks after the first team’s loss in Austin ended official activities for the pro teams in 2023, FCD signed a pair of teenagers, Nolan Norris and Tarik Scott, to long-term deals, making them the 34th and 35th homegrown signings in club history.
Homegrown through and through.— FC Dallas (@FCDallas) November 15, 2022
From the Academy, to North Texas SC, to Bayern World Squad, to FCD, Tarik Scott followed every step in the pathway. pic.twitter.com/TAac1tireg
"Since I joined the academy at the age of 12 this is something I've envisioned"— FC Dallas (@FCDallas) November 16, 2022
Nolan Norris has been on this journey his whole life. Now he’s taking his first steps as a professional. pic.twitter.com/wjlEbuQiLI
The natural question, given the club’s long history of finding talent in its youth setup, is who will be next in line?
The last time we did this exercise, our top three options were signed as the next three homegrowns: Beni Redzic, Collin Smith, and Antonio Carrera. This time, we may have a longer wait for an answer. There is vanishingly little space left in the first team roster considering the additions still needed this offseason. Plus, with NTSC turning into another independent pipeline of first team players (Hernandez, Bernard, Mulato), the bar is raised for Academy signings. In other words, don’t expect a new homegrown until next offseason.
That, of course, seems to close the door on the Academy players born in 2004 or early 2005 – those kids will almost all age out of the U19s this summer and go to college or elsewhere. That’s not to say that a series of good performances with NTSC and at the Dallas Cup, GA Cup, and Academy playoffs couldn’t force the issue, but it’s pretty unlikely. Players in that group in roughly descending order of their qualitative chances of breaking that glass ceiling: ’05 Energizer Bunny DM Jared Aguilar, ’05 U19 Captain CM Diego Hernandez, ’04 Honduras U20 FW Manny Martinez, ’04 legacy CM Santiago Ferreira, ’05 transplant AM Dylan Lacy, ’04 gap year LCB Will Baker, and ’04 high-school-to-NTSC ST (and maybe not eligible to be a HGP) Pablo Torre.
The 36th is likely to be a young ’05 or an ’06 (there does not seem to be an ’07 who is knocking on the door). Meeting the level of North Texas SC in MLS Next Pro remains a priority. Still, the signings of Norris and Scott prove that excelling at that level is not necessary for suitably young players (or at least that being buried on the depth chart behind excellent NTSC players like Parker and Mulato can be an excuse).
Aside: Speaking of “requirements,” it’s notable that the decision-makers in the club and us outside observers have mirrored bodies of evidence on players. In terms of sheer time spent in different activities, top FCD youth players looking for first team contracts spend a lot of time training (on the field, in the gym, and the film room), spend some time in games with the Academy teams, and spend very little time playing with NTSC. The club presumably can observe all of that data, yet as outsiders, we see almost all of the least common activity, some of the second-least common, and basically none of (by far) the most common. Now, the least common activity may also be the most important in assessing player potential, but this serves as a reminder that we are missing a lot of data when we judge young prospects (and first team players too). We should guard against assuming that what we can see is the only thing that matters.
WHO WILL BE NEXT?
The next “blockbuster” best-in-the-country-level talent from the FCD Academy is probably too young to be in this conversation. Instead, as with Norris and Scott, there are a boatload of fringy YNT talents that need a few breaks to make it. In the US, where player movement between top academies is highly limited, graduating a “Ricardo Pepi” can’t-miss superstar yearly isn’t realistic. Those are usually the result of a thousand environmental factors falling the right way rather than repeatable developmental habits. While waiting for lightning to strike again, FCD continues to improve at making B-grade prospects and can rely on having a few to harvest every offseason. Again, these are ordered by how I rate their chances to be the next homegrown.
Anthony Ramirez, ’05 Attacker: a la Jesus Ferreira, Ramirez has the chops to play anywhere in the front five but lacks Ferreira’s pace (Ramirez is a fine but not outstanding athlete in space) and history of dominating above his age group. Throughout 2022, Ramirez bounced between YNT camps for Mexico and the US, and with Mexico’s U20s missing the 2023 World Cup, Ramirez could be first-in-line for their next cycle. For now, there is not much depth at NTSC on the wings, so some early 2023 appearances off the bench are possible.
Mason Grimm, ’05 CB: Grimm joined the club a couple of years ago from local youth rival Solar SC, where he was a metronome of a DM (and where his little brother is on the USYNT’s radar). In this case, the plus-plus trait is ball-striking – he’s tremendous from dead balls and an elite pass-hitter (see below), but he needs to grow as a pass-chooser. Like Nolan Norris, Grimm is much more comfortable defending on his front foot than on the back one.
Julian Eyestone, ’06 GK: Literally a huge prospect whose performances don’t seem to match his physical gifts or the amount of time he spends training with the pro teams in the club. A project. Signing Antonio Carrera to a homegrown deal made signing Eyestone awkward because keeping more than one young GK on an MLS roster bears a heavy opportunity cost. He could head to Duke University to play college ball next fall.
Alejandro Urzua, ’06 CM: The lanky CM spent quite a bit of time in a crowded NTSC midfield in 2022, but he appeared to be more focused on keeping his head above water than truly shaping the games. Although the sometimes-captain can dominate play at the Academy level with his engine and combos, he’s one that really does have to prove it against adults.
Nayrobi Vargas-Valerio, ’06 ST: The star player for the Honduras U17s (consider checking on the CONCACAF U17 Championships in February). While he can produce some great goals and assists, he scores too few of the boring variety. Vargas is listed at 6’3” and 190lbs (and that looks pretty close to true) and still moves like he’s adjusting to his body. I’m not sure he’ll grow into it.
Jared Salazar, ’06 AM/W: He’s a diminutive playmaker that’s getting some time as a winger with the U17s because they don’t have good natural wide attackers. Unfortunately, that role emphasizes his lack of space athleticism and minimizes his nose for pockets between the lines. There have been few (no?) Academy players that could choose and execute the killer pass better than he can.