From academy to first team, FC Dallas' model sets the standard in U.S.

ISI Photos-Michael Janosz

U-16 and U-18 national champs, MLS Supporters' Shield contenders. FC Dallas is setting the bar at all ages, Paul Tenorio writes.

FC Dallas is on top of the American soccer mountain.

Its senior team sits in first place in the Supporters’ Shield standings with 40 points through 22 games and the club’s under-16 and under-18 U.S. Soccer Development Academy teams both won the USSDA national championships, the first time one club has captured both titles.

“Don’t forget the U-14s have not lost a game this year and the U-15s are playing in Colorado right now and will go to the finals,” FC Dallas technical director Fernando Clavijo says.

I don’t believe any other team has the integration with the first team the way we have it with our academy."

- Fernando Clavijo

Clavijo is not bragging, just completing the picture. (And yes, the FC Dallas under-15s will play for a national title on Monday morning and the under-14s finished the season 24-0-3 with 97 goals scored and just 19 allowed.)

How has FC Dallas built such a complete club?

It begins with a faith in youth development and is reinforced by the club’s willingness to feature younger players in the first team. The philosophy starts with the coach, Oscar Pareja, and has been fully supported by ownership and Clavijo.

American soccer supporters often call for teams to #PlayYourKids. FC Dallas actually does. That’s a credit to Pareja, without whom Clavijo said, “I don’t believe we would be where we are.”

“It’s dedication,” Clavijo said. “Ownership that knows exactly where they want to go and a coach that facilitates and compromises himself to play younger players. And in addition everyone who focuses on youth at FC Dallas from the technical director to the assistant technical director to the coaches to the trainers. The amount of work we put for youth teams are first-class right away. For us it’s taken us a little bit, but we dedicated so much time to it. … It’s the path we decided we wanted to go with our academy and the pro team. I don’t believe any other team has the integration with the first team the way we have it with our academy.

“A lot of people’s very hard work that made this thing happen.”

FC Dallas is pulling from one of the most talent-rich areas in the country, but it’s also competing against Liga MX sides that are scouting and recruiting the same players. That job is made more difficult by the fact that U.S. Soccer does not allow teams to receive solidarity payments, meaning FC Dallas can lose players from its academy with no compensation.

Solidarity payments is an issue Clavijo pointed to several times in our discussion this weekend. It is a challenge he believes threatens the FC Dallas model. Clavijo said he would put his academy up against some of the best in the world when it comes to the facilities, coaching and investment, but “to be able to protect our players is something we face today and it’s very difficult.”

USA Today Sports Images

Clavijo and Pareja. (USA Today Sports Images)

Clavijo said he often feels the club’s work in the academy is like a quasi-showcase for other teams around the world to scout. That won’t change unless the system does.

For now, FC Dallas is trying to keep its top players in the system and move them through to the first team. Pareja steps into training sessions at times, and academy players are often integrated into first-team training. FC Dallas isn’t the only team to do this, but right now it’s easy to argue they’re the best.

The hope, Clavijo said, is that not only will they produce players for FC Dallas, but that one day there are “five to six of our academy players in the U.S. national team.”

FC Dallas’s senior team won again on Saturday night, beating the Chicago Fire 3-1. They did so with two Academy products in the lineup, goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez and midfielder Kellyn Acosta, and two more on the bench, defender Aaron Guillen and midfielder Victor Ulloa. It fields one of the youngest lineups in all of MLS, yet for a second straight year the team in the hunt for a Supporters’ Shield.

This year’s team has been reinforced by some important additions, most notably 21-year-old Ecuadorian midfielder Carlos Gruezo. Its young stars, Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz, have played a significant amount of minutes within the league.

A title would only reinforce the belief that the path the club chose was the right one.

“It’s not easy for anyone to play younger, aggressive, attractive soccer and win,” Clavijo said. “But we are willing to take chances. Oscar is marvelous to work with and part of that is the chances he takes on younger players. Ownership is willing to take chances even when they want to win. There are no guarantees, but it’s not going to be a lack of effort or for lack of playing aggressive and coming out to get a result.

“We’re going to be all out and hopefully all the moves in the offseason pay off.”

Kreis to Orlando City?

I reported Sunday night that Orlando City was in advanced talks with Jason Kreis for its head coaching job.

It would be a smart hire for Orlando, but it could be an interesting fit for Kreis. The prevailing thought around the league is that, like Heath, Kreis was not given enough time to develop the roster or his system at NYCFC. Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes said last week he believed Kreis would be similarly successful in New York this year if he was still in charge. (Patrick Vieira has done a fantastic job with NYCFC, which is in first place in the East.)

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The big question, then, is whether Orlando City would be willing to give Kreis the time and power to build things his way after having a short leash in its first year and a half in MLS. Orlando City has an assistant GM in Niki Budalic, someone with a positive reputation around the league, but it may agree to give Kreis some sway in soccer operations. That would be important if Kreis wants to make big changes within the roster to fit the personnel to his preferred style of play.

Expectations are high in Orlando – the leadership has repeatedly pointed to its aspirations of making the playoffs when explaining changes in the front office and soccer structure – but if Orlando City is able to close the deal to hire Kreis, it would be considered by most as a smart hire. Kreis’ reputation remains strong around the league, and his knowledge of the MLS rules and talent pool could help restructure a team and organization that is still in the building process after less than two years in MLS.

If the Kreis-Orlando City marriage is finalized, it would also have implications around the league for other jobs, including Atlanta, Minnesota and Seattle, where many believed Kreis would be the replacement if the Sounders part ways with Sigi Schmid.

The chain reaction might also have an impact on the landing spot for Heath, who will surely be a top candidate for jobs around the league.

The Final Third

RSL bans columnist: I was shocked to hear of Real Salt Lake’s decision to pull the credential of Salt Lake Tribune columnist Gordon Monson. In my experience, RSL has one of the top communications staffs in MLS. This is a situation that feels like it’s coming from the very top, and apparently traces back to some columns critical of RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen.

This column in the Deseret News sums up why it’s always a dangerous thing to start revoking credentials, and this tact never usually produces the desired effect.

MLS should quickly reverse this decision and it should fine RSL for the action. It’s a bad look for the league and for RSL. If it’s not rectified soon, maybe the Associated Press Sports Editors should consider pulling reporters from all participating news organizations from MLS games.

Union save a point: Philadelphia is a fun team to watch this year, and it’s one of the better stories in MLS in the past few seasons.

It is not easy to build a winner in MLS – I continue to believe three years is the best guideline for creating a sustained winner – but the Union had several significant pieces in place and made the right signings to take it over the top. Chris Pontius needed a change of scenery and has been fantastic, Andre Blake is in the midst of a breakout season, Keegan Rosenberry has been more productive than expected in his rookie season and Ilsinho was the right addition in midfield.

The result is a team that is challenging for the top seed in MLS, and its comeback from a two-goal deficit at home against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday night was fun to watch. We’ll see if Philadelphia is able to sustain this level of success over the back half of the season, but for now they’re just plain entertaining.

No Valeri in ASG: There are always a few snubs in All-Star games no matter the league, but one stands out this year.

Portland Timbers’ midfielder Diego Valeri is in the MLS MVP race, but somehow wasn’t selected to the All-Star game. Meanwhile, the list includes two rookie fullbacks and Kaká, who has missed more games than he’s played this season. Some of it is due to fan voting – Kaká is a name who undeniably helps grow the league – but Valeri is deserving of the all-star bonus, at the very least.

Non-soccer read of the week: This isn’t a read, but it’s a new form of storytelling from the New York Times that I found very interesting. Give it a watch here.

Soccer read of the week: Didn’t get to link this during the Euros, but this was a fantastic read from ESPN’s Wright Thompson.

Quote of the week: “I thought tonight what I really liked about the group was the fact that we stood up for each other. Almost recklessly, I almost got a second yellow card for one of them. That’s something that I’m happy we didn’t lose. It’s easy when the results aren’t going your way to just divide. And, I think we’re doing the opposite and coming together.”

– Wil Trapp on Columbus Crew SC, which continues to struggle in MLS play and sits just one point out of last place.

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Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTenorio.