Category Archives: Development Academy

Why is there a shortage of US soccer referees?

2023 marks my 19th consecutive year as a certified US Soccer Federation (USSF) referee. It has been a progressive journey; I have had the pleasure of officiating anywhere from U4-U19 recreational games, competitive 3 vs 3’s, competitive club leagues/tournaments, public high school, Development Academy, to men’s college matches. Note: I have never officiated a futsal match.

As I wind down on my involvement on what appears to be my last year, I can say that most of my officiating years have served the following purposes: 1. Develop a greater respect, appreciation and empathy for refereeing profession 2. Understand yet another facet of the beautiful game. 3. Share acquired knowledge (through organic playing, refereeing, coaching and parenting education) via mentorship of young referees (ages 13-17), players (fans and coaches included) and last but not least 4. Fitness/exercising.

I officially started refereeing during my college years; I only refereed one indoor season as it was very seasonal and realistically, engineering consumed most of my college time. After graduation, I took a 6 year break before I rejoined the ranks and became one of the 100K+ registered soccer referees. However, I quickly understood that moving up the referee pathway (below) was going to take time which I didn’t have much of due to my other academic and corporate endeavors. Unfortunately for the sport in this country, soccer officiating is a profession that very few pursue as a career for many reasons; some of which we will try to root-cause below.


It is important to understand that the best part of officiating is flexibility. Soccer referees are independent contractors; as such, the duration of their work is short, and they normally have the freedom to officiate at times, places and fees of their own choosing. That said, most young referees pursue soccer officiating to generate a stream of income with flexible hours starting as early as 13 years of age. Another advantage is that referees can earn up to $600 (tax-free) in a calendar year without having to report it to the IRS. The below recreational (rec.) referee pay scale (albeit from 2020) can be very attractive to a young referee.

Thomas Moran: Update the referee pay scale in the KSA website bruh

Let’s be honest, pay scales like the one above won’t be sending any adult referees into immediate retirement either. Caveat: Recreational refereeing pay scale is at the bottom of any pay scale. As such, adult soccer referees normally do not enter the profession hoping it become the single source of income. Even for college level soccer referees, the hourly wage (once travel is factored in) is nothing to write home about. In the majority of the cases, adult referees enter the profession by being forced to be around the sport in some capacity: coaching youth, volunteering, having a child playing in the local rec. soccer association or just wanting the best seat in the house while earning some (albeit little) cash. Some use it as a hobby and in some rare cases like mine, we end up pursuing it as a permanent way to give back to the beautiful game. There is however, an in-between temporary category of soccer officials where “hobby meets income source” and that normally belongs to referees whose English is a second language. They tend to pursue the profession wholeheartedly at the beginning of their arrival to the United States but that dedication only lasts until some higher income source comes along.

A few years back, there was a small perk for referees; at the conclusion of the assigned games, a cash payment was rendered at the fields. There’s just something satisfactory about being paid immediately after a service is rendered. However, times have changed with technology. Most soccer associations have now adopted an automated payment system where referees no longer get paid cash at the fields. Instead, they have to wait up to three days to be electronically compensated for their services. Unfortunately, there are adult referees whose personal finances depend heavily on the revenue they generate refereeing over the weekend and having to wait to be paid is just another entry barrier to the profession or its progression. One time, at my local association, it took about 6 weeks for three games refereed to be deposited into my bank account due to a “glitch” in the system.

Those situations described above lead us to conclude that the best hope to have future competent referees resides in the youngsters (ages 22 – 30) whose college soccer playing days are over, still have a desire to be involved in the game, progress through the referee ranks, are financially stable and despite the constant criticism, choose pursue the career.


Mid adult Hispanic soccer coach yells at mid adult Caucasian referee and points at him over a bad call. The players in green jerseys and blue jerseys are watching and listening in the background.

Unfortunately, the brave and ambitious young referees who consider advancing in the profession face the constant criticism from the experts (ex. coaches and fans) which ultimately proves too much to endure at such low wages. The below statement comes from the yearly Grassroots training that all referees must undergo during recertification.

Officiating public high school soccer is more attractive financially due higher wages and a travel per diem. In theory, fans are more knowledgeable about the game since they have been around it longer but the sad reality is that high school soccer is the twitter of soccer; anonymous spectators hiding behind crowds (screen) easily become coaches and experts of the game. The constant disrespect towards the refereeing crew is even normalized by other adults at the stadiums as “teenage behavior”. Spectators from all walks of life become loud critics of the officiating crew showing constant dissent. It’s common to listen to criticism from students, family members, etc. whose background may not even include ever setting foot on a soccer field (other than to kick a field goal). Statistically, constant criticism is the main contributor for younger (more experienced) referees to trump their progression in their careers.

To play devil’s advocate, not all the blame can be placed on “know-it-all” spectators though. Many soccer referees may not possess the adequate soccer background/instinct to maintain the flow of the game or even establish credibility in a game. When it comes down to it, it’s a chicken and egg dilemma. How can more potential referees be recruited if the few brave ones face the constant criticism of the experts? Therefore, anybody (and I mean anybody) willing to undergo a few hours of training is often recruited (family members/friends) by assignors (ex. KSA) and thrown to the fire without the proper preparation. Unfortunately, the lack of playing/watching experience for a referee is immediately evident and the fans pick up on it and magnify its impact on the game. This aspect is exacerbated at the professional level as ex-professional referees are normally hired by tv networks to critique their former colleagues’ performances.

Referee retaliating to player in LigaMX game

Playing/watching experience

The low retention rate of referees unfortunately leads to the desperate recruiting of unqualified individuals. Most referees I officiate with did not grow up playing, coaching or even watching the beautiful game. In fact, here in Texas where American football “is life”, on a typical Saturday fall morning at the referee tent, most referees often converse about American college football games in between soccer games while a simultaneous football derbies (ex. Real Madrid vs Barcelona, Inter vs AC Milan, Man City vs ManU) are being played. Soccer has a long way to go to be mainstream in the American culture to reach the popularity levels of other American sports. As a result, most soccer referees are more knowledgeable about other sports but become soccer referees for a spectrum of reasons but none really for career advancement or even the love for the game.

The flip side sometimes is that not having played or watched the game growing up, could be an advantage as these inexperienced referees only view the game in a binary way. They then become more purists applying the laws of the game per the textbook. In my opinion, referees who played the game have a more intuitive feeling and appreciation for the game and as a result, allow a greater fluidity of the game. Unfortunately, most referees who did not grow up playing or watching the game do not pursue the profession at a higher level as they do not feel properly equipped (protected) with the tools to succeed.

Another reason that deters individuals from pursuing officiating as a career is the growing recertification requirements. Associations do not make it simpler to desire any serious involvement in it. Furthermore, it’s a profession pretty much monopolized by the referee assignors. In my local soccer association (Keller Soccer Association), if you are good friends with the assignor, he will assign you competitive games; otherwise, referees may be doomed. I get it, assignors need reliable referees and in some cases need to prioritize repaying favors to referees who were promised games during recruitment.

Annual certification

US Soccer requires each referee to undergo an annual recertification process. The online education consists of seven modules with an approximate total duration of about 5 hours if taken back to back. However, realistically speaking, nobody takes all this training in one sit-down, therefore, for a working adult, the training could easily take 3-4 days.

  • Welcome
  • Intro to Safety
  • Safesport
  • Laws of the Game Changes Review
  • Reference Cards
  • Grassroots Referee Refresher Assignment
  • Online Test

Appropriate training needs to be taken (and test passed) corresponding to the current referee level desired at the end of the calendar year. The most basic recertification level is called the “Grassroots Referee License Fee”.


There is an initial equipment cost to become a referee. Between uniforms, a reliable watch, whistle, flags, etc. a beginner young referee could easily spend $200 to get started. This startup cost is very steep for a young teenager who is trying to make some quick cash. If in addition to that, the youngster has to put up with constant criticism from the experts, it can easily be justified why so many quit within the first two years.


There’s a cost associated with the recertification of each officiating grade in the previous section (and a late fee if registered after mid December). The lowest recertification cost is for the Grassroots Level. That annual cost is about $60


Official Sports International (OSI) has a USSF approved monopoly on referee gear. US Soccer has allowed this throughout several decades. As a result, OSI has a huge market share of the referee equipment market domestically. Their merchandise is constantly being pushed/advertised by USSF. The gear is not inexpensive. For example, a short sleeve yellow pro referee shirt is about $50 (the economy version is about $30). You then add socks, shorts, tennis shoes, whistle, flags, cards, etc. and the startup costs for a young referee can easily add up to $200 – $300 in between different color referee shirts (short sleeve vs long sleeve). All that is “conveniently” provided by OSI.

Background Check

In the North Texas Association, anybody 18 years of age or older is subjected to a mandatory annual background check. Successfully completion is a requirement for eligibility to either recertify or become a referee for the first time.

The background check does not take any training time; instead, it requires the submission of some personal information so that the State Soccer Association uses that information to process the background check. If the background check is passed; the training required for recertification can begin.

Safety Certification Courses

Introduction to Safe and Healthy Playing Environments

US Soccer requires a yearly certification of the “Introduction to Safe and Healthy Playing Environments” online module with an approximate duration of 45 minutes. The training is available for coaches, referees, and staff over the age of 18 to ensure adults give some consideration to having an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). The EAP would be triggered in the unfortunate event of a medical emergency. Specific scenarios like concussions, cardiac arrests, heat strokes, and more are covered. Similarly, action items such as CPR, AED, calling 911 are described in detail.

Although the training is a great tool to have (not only for football related emergencies), it does place a good deal of responsibility on adults who may be in an emergency situation. That said, the yearly requirement, which doesn’t change from year to year, is a deterrent for some referees (especially the young ones) to recertify.

Safesport Training

In addition to the “Introduction to Safe and Healthy Playing Environments” training above, US Soccer also requires individuals 18 years of age and older to be “Safesport Trained”. The course contains information about fostering a safe and positive environment for athletes while preventing the different types of abuses/misconducts.

Fitness test

For the very few interested in advancing their officiating careers through the different refereeing grades, annual fitness tests must be paid for and passed in order to prove physical fitness proficiency. There’s an additional cost to undergo that physical assessment during the annual certification periods. Aspiring referees must undergo the fitness assessment on a Saturday morning and preparation is key. Otherwise, it could turn out to be a harsh reality check for those older/heavier set referees. Let’s be honest, it’s no ninja warrior type of course but it’s no cake walk either. Fitness proficiency helps referees’ credibility as they are trying to keep up with 18/19 year old players. Few individuals want to stay fit to advance their officiating careers though.


For those interested in advancing in their careers, there are annual referee assessments (at a cost of course) to make it to the next level. These are yearly assessments that referees must undergo in order to re-certify at their current (or higher) level. Honestly, it really helps to “know” the assessor as some referees, given their mobility on the field, knowledge of the game, etc. have no business passing their corresponding assessments.

Different laws of the game

One of the main complains that you will hear from soccer referees is that IFAB annually approves revisions to the laws of the game (ex. definition of a handball). FIFA then, in an effort to make the game more attractive and easier to understand, approve those changes. As the revisions are cascaded down to each countries’ football associations, they complicate the learning of the laws of the game which few referees care to keep up with. As a result, constant education is key to the success of the soccer referee but many fail due to the inconsistent application of the law changes from their peers. To exacerbate the inconsistent application of the laws of the game, the laws of the game also change based on age group, and competition type. Law changes are the only constant in refereeing.


The entry level for young soccer referees is recreational youth soccer. Starting with the little ones (U4, U5), it’s by far the easiest level to officiate where innocent referee mistakes can be made and they won’t impact the outcome of a match. Unfortunately, more often than not, you find the parent (not coach) who wants fouls be called because their son was tripped “on purpose” by a 4-year old when their team was already winning by 10 goals.

As older age group games are officiated, the main challenges in recreational soccer become learning the different rules (ex. no heading of the ball) AND trying to position yourself correctly on the field. A wide spectrum of playing experience often cause random and unexpected ball touches/bounces which are just unpredictable for the unprepared referee when seeking best positioning. It takes a lot of experience and focus to position (not so much to officiate) these types of games as the player and ball movement is not logical. I have always found that more competitive games are easier and more fun to referee; however, with greater fun comes more responsibility and required knowledge and certifications.

High School

High school certification has its own annual costs, assessments, and of course rules (outside of USSF) which in Texas are dictated by the University Interscholastic League (UIL). The rules are very similar to college level NCAA rules. Everything that you can imagine that shouldn’t be changed with regular FIFA football laws of the game is changed in high school soccer. For example, officiating with one, two or the regular three referees is allowed, stopping the clock is permitted and frequently used by the referees, different card colors are allowed, in case of a tie at the end of regulation, overtime is an option, etc. Those are only a small sample of rules that are different that most referees must stay current on to establish credibility.

The annual revisions in high school soccer rules (and FIFA too) justify the recertification process but it’s a deterrent. Simultaneously refereeing club soccer and high school soccer can be confusing for referees as their seasons overlap. This potential confusion could make a referee look like a novice if rules switching is not applied properly. The annual revision of rules (the system itself) makes it very challenging for referees to learn all the different sets of rules of each competition level.


Similar to high school, college NCAA soccer rules are very different than regular FIFA soccer’s. At least the referee remuneration for officiating any level of college soccer is generous but nothing to write home about. However, that doesn’t justify the different rules. I wrote the above post about that topic a few months ago so I will not rehash that discussion.


Officiating club is a level above recreational. The laws of the game are similar; however, the environment is more competitive and the fans are more involved. The american “pay to play” model puts additional pressure on parents and players to win at all costs so typically, club players, even at young ages, push the envelope on the application on the laws of the game. Despite that challenge, competitive club is my favorite level to officiate.


Let’s be honest, soccer is not the most prestigious sport in the United States; that combined with being a profession that is constantly scrutinized by the “experts” due to its constant decision making (no time outs) do not make it very appealing for pursuit. As a result, the United States has very few competent referees that represent the country at the highest level. Hats off to the trailblazers who paved the way for others to follow despite the many challenges cited above.

The future

As somber as the preceding paragraphs may have sounded, the future of US soccer is bright. As the women’s game becomes more popular in the United States and the world, the need for women referees will organically grow in parallel. Qatar marked the first time a men’s finals world cup game was refereed by 38-year old, French native, Stephanie Frappart. The December 1st, 2022 Costa Rica vs Germany match also marked the first time an all-women crew refereed a men’s world cup game. Stephanie, had already engraved her name in the soccer history books by being the first female to have refereed a male’s UEFA Champions League and Ligue 1 games respectively.

US Soccer is gradually growing and has established a well-structured referee program with mentorship programs, quarterly newsletters, continuous education, and other tools to better equip aspiring referees. I am confident that with the right support, the US will see a greater amount and more competent referees not only at the MLS level but also at the world stage level. Will this effort keep up with the rest of the world? We shall see…

My future

The sport has given our family so much that it would be unfair to not give back in some capacity. In full disclosure, I have selfishly used refereeing as a tool to grow my leadership skills in my other life endeavors. It does require a lot of patience, and more importantly thick skin thereby building character. Unfortunately, the perks are quickly offset by its challenges making it a tough profession to progress in for a great majority.

Personally, I have found these 19 years so fulfilling as they have provided me a different understanding of the game. As a result, both Johan and Jonathan pursued refereeing for many years which proved to be not only a great way to make decent money but doing so in a field they were passionate about. Unfortunately, at some point it became difficult to refereeing along with their academic and dynamic soccer schedules.

In my current home association, we have an excellent core of experienced referees who have established a young referee mentorship program. Maybe my next phase is to become a full-time mentor. Unfortunately, the current shortage of referees, is forcing recently-recruited referees to behave and officiate like experienced professionals soon after recruitment. The higher expectations played on young referees is yet another reason, that soccer associations have such high referee turnover. Just like the sport itself, refereeing requires a lot of repetitions to become competent. High expectations from the fans linked to high expectations from the Director forced upon on newly recruited referees/assignors are common deterrents. Therefore, most teenage referees normally find alternative sources of income through high school and young adults are very unlikely to start their refereeing careers especially after they have finished a college degree and are entering the “corporate world”.

As I wrap up this post, our high school aged daughter is expressing a strong interest in becoming a recreational soccer referee. Who knows? I may stick around for at least one more year (20?) to help her decide whether refereeing is for her or not. BTW, if you know anybody interested in refereeing, visit this page. Until next time…#theGomezway

In memory of Terry Vaughn…

Johan signs with FC Porto a year later

In a few days, you will officially start your second season with Porto. As you have witnessed from preseason, the intensity, the craftiness, and in general, the competition is much higher in Porto B than last year’s age-restricted league but you prepared very well during the break. In preseason, you have helped the team by playing different offensive positions, scoring goals and assisting. You tend to minimize your goal and assist contributions because it’s preseason but congratulations on your production nonetheless (as much as I disagree with you on not celebrating preseason accolades). However, one thing we do agree on is that the most important aspect of your upcoming season is that you stay physically and mentally healthy.

Honestly, one of the aspects we love most about the Portuguese league is that it’s not followed by many back home. (Un)fortunately, very few fans really know how to watch and comment on your games. Well, we think it’s a good thing as long as your family is able to. Inevitably, there will be more American fans paying attention to the Portuguese league now that Reggie plays there but for now, enjoy the calmness knowing that the “right” people are always watching your games. As for this new season, we hope it’s nothing like last year in terms of injuries and the start of the 20-21 season is looking more promising. Below are the events that led up to your signing at Porto…

It was June of 2019, the FCD U18/U19 DA team kept advancing deep in the DA playoffs and you continued being an instrumental part of the team. On the other hand, it had been obvious that any path to the FC Dallas first team needed to go through the brand new North Texas SC (NTSC) team and the club started giving you meaningful minutes with the USL-1 team and you started producing there as well. You were concurrently playing for both DA and USL team.

Picture after advancing to the DA quarterfinals

While pulling double duty, it started to be very worrisome that your load was increasing significantly. Sure, the club’s technical and medical staff had never dealt with managing players alternating between the DA and NTSC on same week games but adversity was looming. We were not comfortable how the medical aspect of your health was being managed.

While the desire to stay in the FCD organization was extremely high, there wasn’t really a viable way. A change was inevitable but we didn’t want to just abandon the excellent run that the U18/U19 team was having in the DA playoffs. Now in July and a depleted U18/U19 roster, a new coach, the natural end-of-season injury period and most importantly, players pulling double duty became all factors in delaying our decision to seek out alternative opportunities. Your college coach was always supportive. Thanks Nick.


In an effort to complete a NTSC roster for the game against Tucson, FCD requested three U18/U19 DA players to fly back to Dallas immediately following their DA playoff game in California and play a 2nd game within a 24 hour window. Needless to say, you sustained a mild injury (hamstring) that took months for full recovery. Witnessing first hand the type of medical oversight convinced us that we needed to move quicker than originally anticipated. A phone call to a family acquaintance in Germany and the first training opportunity was setup for you in the next few weeks.

DA Final

The U18/U19 DA team played the final game with Judson out with a hamstring injury and you considerably handicapped with hamstring discomfort (another interesting decision). The roster was so short and an FCD missed PK in the first minutes worsened FCD’s mood. The game ended as a 2-1 loss.

You flew back to Dallas immediately after the championship game and were on a plane three days later to Germany for some additional last minute agency-found trials. Honestly, when you left, we never thought you would not return home until the Christmas break…and off you went with just a small bag, great attitude, your huge smile and our blessings…

Johan and tear-eyed mom at the DFW airport 07.13.19

German Training Stints


The first and longest stop was Freiburg. It’s beyond our comprehension how you managed to undergo almost five weeks of demanding German trials with the hamstring pain but you left it all on the pitch. Based on feedback (yours and the club’s), this was by far the best, friendliest, club you visited in Germany. You did preseason in Switzerland with the team and scored in almost every scrimmage you played.

Unknowingly, you opened a door for Jogo #theGomezway. However, although feedback was great, we couldn’t wait to make it work and the international window was soon closing. Thank you Ralph and Vincent for your hospitality. We quickly moved on to the next trial.


This was another good trial. In fact, what we remembered most was that you really liked seeing Aidan there. Extra motivation having an American “partner in crime“. This is the club where you practiced with the U23s and did very well too. The decision point came when they asked you to play a friendly with them the last day of the trial and unfortunately you couldn’t. The dang paperwork or so were we told. Unfortunately, you didn’t have the documentation they needed from FC Dallas. Bummer. I should have read my own checklist post.

Johan Gomez and Aiden Morris after practice


We felt the first two trials had gone well and during this trial, we learned about Porto’s interest. However, we didn’t know whether it’d be the right fit for you or not. The news gave you a much needed emotional and physical boost knowing that they wanted to see you immediately. It had been a long summer of intense competition and five weeks of trials and traveling was taking its toll. This wasn’t a bad trial by any means but somehow the most memorable highlight I have of it was the video below. You attended a professional game in Nuremburg and a great farewell from a beautiful city.


You came and you conquered. They offered you a spot within a week of trialing. Your game was more apt to their needs and your development. You were supposed to return home after you signed but the U20 camp kept you in Europe. In hindsight, you made the right choice by attending the first U20 MNT camp in Slovania as you scored your first international goal.

You ended up joining Porto after the third game of the season, without much of a pre-season and with a soared hamstring. Since you never came home after you left in July. I had to take your additional personal stuff to Portugal in late September. Few will ever know the behind the scenes sacrifices, even fewer will ever care, some may just care that you score goals. C’est la vie mon ami.

Training facilities at Olival, Oporto, Portugal (08.31.20)


Mallorca opened its doors for you from just looking at your impressive stats and some DA clips right after the Porto trial. They made an offer hard to turn down but the Akil Watts situation was fresh. Honestly, Spain would have been excellent for your football profile and maybe still a future option; however, the project at Porto was more appealing at the time.

The other factor that may have influenced Porto’s selection over Mallorca was this statement by Porto’s technical staff:

Going to Mallorca is like driving a Honda, FC Porto is like a Ferrari. Which would you rather drive?”

Porto’s technical staff


I remember being at work when you called. It was the sic “bestest” news. I wanted to scream and cry at the same time. Only we knew the struggles (financial, emotional, physical, etc.) to get you to Germany. We knew how important this was to you and we also know that you couldn’t have landed at a better developmental place. Unfortunately (for your family), they signed you right away and we couldn’t make it out there. In hindsight, I should have tried harder. I promise you I’ll be there for the next one…which is the one that counts.

Your Porto B preseason went well. You have been directly impacting each scrimmage. You have become an instrumental part of Coach Rui’s lineup. As you said, scrimmages are just that. As your family, we are proud of your accomplishments no matter how small (or big) so it’s hard to not celebrate your honors. We know you have big dreams but playing for Porto is no joke. Celebrate the small victories son. That said, we care more that you are staying physically and mentally healthy and of course that your are optimizing your opportunities. #Carpediem

Estadio Joao Cardoso: Porto B vs. Tondela. Johan: Goal and assist. 08.29.20

Good luck on the next game and see you soon son. Your family loves you. Nunca olvides de donde vienes ni a donde vas pero siempre paso a paso. #buscalaforma #theGomezway

Is a switch to an MLS Academy better for my player’s development?

It’s that time of the year where families have to make decisions where they want their players to play for the 20-21 season. Unfortunately, with the recent announcement of the US soccer federation controlled Development Academy (DA) league suspending operations, there is uncertainty about where talented young players will play next season (and beyond). Some former DA amateur (non-MLS) clubs have already formed a new league called Girls Academy (GA), other former DA amateur (non-MLS) clubs migrated to the Elite Club National League (ECNL), the rest of the amateur clubs will try out the new MLS Academy league and as expected, all MLS academies will stay in the new league. That said, for the sake of this post, let’s call the next version of the MLS controlled league “DA 2.0” which is boys’/men’s centric.

ECNL Boys league

If your teenager is talented enough to play at the new DA 2.0 level (this is subjective based on who is assessing him/her) but hasn’t joined yet, this post may be for you. Let’s start by stating that as a league, the talent level in the former DA was likely higher than any other national league (at least on the boys’ side). Unfortunately, we cannot (and will not) make that same assumption with DA 2.0 since:

  1. It’s a new league, with a new organization presiding over it.
  2. MLS (the new organization presiding over it) has a ton of experience managing an adult league; however, no experience managing youth development leagues including non-MLS teams. There will be a steep learning curve.
  3. A significant number of important competitive amateur clubs parted ways with DA 2.0 and joined ECNL as soon as DA 2.0 was announced.
  4. DA 2.0 just opened the application process to recruit additional “elite level” clubs. The deadline to apply is July 17th, just over a month before the beginning of the first games.
  5. Most important of all, the pandemic has left very little time for trial and error with DA 2.0. The clock is ticking and very little information has been made public about it.
  6. Last but not least, DA already had its share of improvement areas which automatically become reasons to doubt DA 2.0 robustness in its inaugural season.

Also, it’s worth noting that historically, we have seen some unique individual talent who never set foot in the former DA league (Keaton Parks in Dallas, José Gallegos in San Antonio, etc.). Thus DA 2.0 will continue to not be an “all-best talent” league; however, the great news is that young talented players will continue to find alternate channels to rise to the top and become successful footballers.

In the end, we believe that the most important aspect of youth football development is finding a good/caring coach who fosters individual and team “growth mindset” environments where trust is the foundation of it all and one who creates a “winning” culture. If both of those are present, there’s no reason to seek greener pastures. In our opinion, seeking a more competitive (results based) league/club should be the last resort unless your player is bossing his/her current league. Whatever the reason may be, to each their own…and ’tis the season to look for greener grass.

Thus, as a decision to seek a move to the DA 2.0 (MLS or amateur club) becomes inevitable, there are several factors to take into account. Those typically involve player’s age, the player’s/family’s primary residence, gender, player/family aspirations, ancestry, etc. We will try to break down some of those factors in this post; however, there’s just too much to describe in one post.


If the player is under 14 years of age, there’s little benefit to jump on the DA 2.0 wagon. From the limited information available, DA 2.0 will have 5 age groups: U13, U14, U15, U17, and U19. The U13, U14, and U19 age groups are optional age groups for all participant clubs.

Thus, it’s possible that these are groups are non-existent in some DA 2.0 clubs (ex. Chicago Fire arbitrarily eliminated the U18/U19 team in the former DA league leaving players stranded looking for another club). Also, it’s entirely feasible that the lack of “mandatory” U13, U14 and U19 teams will force DA 2.0 club participants to inevitably play against local teams anyway to save on traveling costs as DA 2.0 level competition may be too far away. If that is the case, why make a jump to DA 2.0 to play against your former local club (ex. FC Dallas playing Texans 3-4 times a year). If there are local club alternatives at the U13, U14 age groups, we see minimal value to switch leagues/clubs. Instead, stay at your local club and use each opportunity when playing against any MLS clubs to play your best games. The notoriety gained by doing so will yield valuable exposure and MLS teams likely will come down knocking at important age windows. Both Johan and Jogo were recruited by FC Dallas doing exactly this.

If your player is about to be age eligible to any of the older age groups: U15, U17. It’s definitely worth exploring joining the DA 2.0. U15 is the age group when youth national teams are initially formed and international competition officially starts. It’s possible that membership to the DA 2.0 league continues to be the preferred path to youth national teams and thus the “recommendations/connections” by DA 2.0 (specifically MLS clubs) staff could prove invaluable.

On the other side of the spectrum, joining a different club (especially an MLS one) at the U18/U19 level presents ZERO benefits to a player/family. The new club team will usually be comprised of players who have been playing together for several years and the new player will likely feel out of place and spend most of the season playing catch up. Furthermore, if the U19 team is comprised of mostly High School (HS) seniors, they will tend to be more focused on their next life phase/agenda: 1. College football, 2. Professional football path, or 3. Neither. Club football development is typically placed in the back burner by staff as well. Player development stalls in this age group especially in the United States as not all U18/U19 players are ready to play in MLS; and this group of players is normally neglected by MLS sides. Likewise, the gap between U18/U19 players and MLS players is significant and playing opportunities -outside of college- are scarce (ex. U23 teams are not normal). As a result, unless it’s the only choice, switching teams at the U19 level could be VERY detrimental to football development and should be avoided at all costs.

To worsen the situation, at some MLS sides, their satellite campuses along with their solid reputation helps them recruit players throughout the year. Be ready for your player to be challenged when a satellite campus player arrives mid-season of the U19 year. Also, foreign-born players are more likely to arrive at the U19 age group due to FIFA regulations barring U18 and younger player international moves. Caveat: This player movement at the U19 level may be more prevalent at the FC Dallas setup given their reputation and multiple (over 10) satellite campuses

Geographic location:

Once player’s age has been thoroughly factored into the selection of a club, next comes “location”. There are many DA 2.0 clubs geographically scattered throughout the United States. If the player’s residence is near the training facilities of a DA 2.0 club, the odds of the player joining the desired club are magnified. The potential disadvantage of living within a radius from a DA 2.0 MLS club is a concept called MLS territories. Per MLS rules, a player/family who lives within 100 miles from the MLS stadium now “belongs” to that MLS club. Even if the player never plays for such MLS club, the club automatically owns his/her rights. For example, in our local market, if a Solar player, for whatever reason, wants to forego the opportunity to play for the FC Dallas academy and instead wants to play for the Columbus Crew academy, FC Dallas has to “approve” the move (there could a financial cost associated with this approval between MLS clubs depending on age) or the player’s family has to physically move to Columbus, OH for non-football related reasons.

Unfortunately (but maybe a good thing), not everyone lives in close proximity to a DA 2.0 club (see map below). However, in such cases, driving costs start to add up and bigger sacrifices need to be made by the player/family. On the other hand, a huge advantage of NOT living close to a DA 2.0 MLS club is that the player is not constrained by any MLS club rules and can join ANY (MLS or amateur) DA 2.0 club at will.

Geographic distribution of the new MLS League (aka DA 2.0)

Player’s/Family’s aspirations:

Know who you (player/family) are and have a vision based on your core values. Even while pursuing the player’s dream to a pro football career, some (probably most) parents prefer not to separate from their player at a young age. Letting him/her go live with a foster family may not be a viable option either. In some cases, a family move, albeit radical, could be a better alternative. Each family situation is unique and complex; there’s never any guarantees of success. Be realistic about your player’s talents and aspirations. There will always be a level of uncertainty with any life decision but being informed helps mitigate some of it.


With COVID-19 numbers fluctuating on a daily basis, there’s some speculation as to whether the DA 2.0 season will start in the fall or in 2021. At this point, it’s all uncertain. As of a few days ago, the MLS side Minnesota United FC announced the temporary suspension of their academy program citing impacts from the COVID-19 situation. The players in that market are being told to pursue different football paths, none of which include the MUFC academy, going forward.

Currently, what is certain is that any league in its inaugural season goes through some growing pains. Such will be the case for DA 2.0. If that adds uncertainty to your player’s/family’s situation, it may be best to sit on the sideline and let it mature for a year or two if you can afford it. Believe us, you won’t regret it and it’s possible, your player may continue to love the game in its purest form without the added stress about the uncertainty.

If you do decide to proceed with a move to an MLS club specifically, below you will find some advantages and disadvantages of joining an MLS club vs a non-MLS (amateur) club.

Advantages of joining an MLS academy:


Most MLS clubs are low to no-cost for their “academy” teams; therefore MLS clubs pose a significant financial advantage over most amateur pay-to-play clubs which normally do not have a revenue stream through a professional team. However, there are some amateur clubs whose academy is low to no-cost such as Cross-Fire and Rise but they are part of the minority. Conversely, in the former DA, there were MLS academies that were pay-to-play (DC United and Minnesota United FC).

In the Dallas Forth Worth (DFW) area, the MLS side has both: FC Dallas youth teams (Juniors, Select, Premier) which are pay-to-play and low cost FC Dallas academy teams as part of their development model (see figure below). The many (over 200) FC Dallas pay-to-play teams serve a unique purpose: to subsidize the FC Dallas academy teams. This may or may not be the model at other MLS sides.

Some local parents are drawn to the FC Dallas name for their U13 and U14 players and unfortunately find themselves paying thousands of dollars a year for no additional developmental benefit (beyond first team discounted tickets and a permanent training ground). In the figure above, the bottom three categories are pay-to-play ($3k – $3.5k+ per year) teams normally higher than their local amateur club fees. The FC Dallas Academy category has minimal costs but it’s worth noting that it’s not easy to either: 1. Make the FC Dallas Academy teams or 2. Be promoted from any of the bottom three categories to the FC Dallas Academy teams. Honestly, if your player has spent more than two consecutive seasons in any of the bottom three categories, there’s almost zero chance he/she will ever be moved up permanently to the FC Dallas Academy team.

To be fair, the FC Dallas Academy category (or similar for other MLS clubs) is almost fully funded nowadays; however, it is very prohibitive in terms of flexibility to play other sports (school or not), and requires a significant amount of traveling with NO real added benefit at the early ages. In fact, the increased travel, burned out a lot of young footballers who eventually selected other mainstream sports by high school age. Thus, it is fair to say that the densest concentration of talent is not always playing for MLS clubs (for many potential reasons).


There’s a possible misconception that the MLS clubs monopolize most of the local talent. While that may be very true in some geographic areas, it is not so much in areas like North Texas, North/South California, etc. DFW is so big and rich in football talent that one MLS team is unable to accommodate the abundance of talent in the area. Therefore, there are a multitude of very competitive DA, ECNL, classic/lake highlands league football clubs that have historically established themselves as great alternatives for development environments that are excellent (if not better) than FC Dallas. If one considers all age groups in any football academy, we agree that the MLS club should have a higher concentration of talent but a family should focus on the specific age group their player wants to join. Below, we analyze and compare a couple of age groups from local teams vs. FC Dallas:

Looking at recent statistics, in the just truncated 2019-2020 DA season, both the Solar U16/U17 boys and girls teams achieved superior results than the FC Dallas U16/U17 counterpart teams. One could argue that specific sample is an outlier, or that it supports our theory of a fairly talent distribution among clubs in our area, or whatever other pretext. We tend to discredit the outlier theory because in the previous season (2018-2019), both boys and girls Solar teams were crowned national champions in the same age group eliminating the corresponding FC Dallas U16/U17 teams in the process. This is not unique to North Texas only; California and Colorado are other markets where amateur academies are stronger than their MLS counterparts.

Training frequency:

MLS academy clubs train more frequently than amateur clubs. While FC Dallas has the resources to dedicate to daily training; other amateur clubs do not. Repetitions are essential for the more advanced players; however, the risk of burnout is always present. Normally on the boys side, MLS clubs will communicate with the player/family by the age of 15/16 as to whether they have any professional plans for the player or not. If they do have plans, the player should stick around and benefit from the more frequent practices and other perks (practice with the USL/first team, etc.) the MLS side has to offer. Otherwise, the player needs to evaluate if the “juice is worth the squeeze”. Will sticking around the MLS side with more frequent practices help him/her with other future options like college, playing abroad, etc. Would he/she rather forego sacrifices associated with playing for an MLS team and instead join an amateur club that allows him/her more flexibility to do other extra curricular activities (ex. play other sports in HS, discover other talents, etc.) and still be in a competitive team?.


Development opportunities (ex. Generation Adidas -GA- Cup, Youth National Team -YNT- recommendations) at an MLS club are going to be typically better during the 17 and younger years than for amateur clubs. At the U19 level, players tend to mostly just go through the motions as they have either already secured college placement, reached some level of professionalism with the club, or are in the process of planning trials abroad as a path to professionalism. Indifference at the U19 age group is rampant especially from MLS sides. Locally, the inception of the NTX SC affiliate, has seen a focus shift from the U19 age group to the USL-1 side. There will only be a handful of U19 players who will benefit from opportunities such as higher level training but unfortunately, the majority of players not selected for additional development opportunities are left behind with little motivation to be in the program. The FC Dallas U18/U19 saw an exodus of key academy players this past season…

Thus, it’s at 17 years of age and younger where MLS clubs normally offer more exposure to national and international tournaments; those however, will come at a high cost whether the player plays for an MLS club or not. International tournaments are normally funded by parents exclusively in both setups. However, amateur clubs very seldom offer these opportunities as families are already shelling out a lot of money to pay for the academy team. Furthermore, MLS sides also offer exposure to YNT opportunities. However, with the federation announcing that most YNT age groups are frozen for the remaining of 2020, that may factor into a “rushed” decision to join (or not) an MLS team for the 20-21 season.

Disadvantages of an MLS academy:


Historically, MLS academies have been gender biased towards boys/men. Some (ex. LA Galaxy) have gone as far as recently cancelling their girls/women academy program. Thus, if your talented player is a female and cost is not much of an issue, MLS sides may not be the best choice for a move. First, unlike the boys’/men’s side, MLS clubs do not offer a clearer pathway to professional fooball for girls/women. Also, most MLS clubs have very little experience overseeing girls’/women’s programs and see limited financial gain from supporting that program; that’s why most MLS sides de-prioritize their girls’/women’s program.

Also, your local market may offer better club alternatives than the MLS club. In the DFW market, Solar (and sometimes Texans, D’feeters, etc.) offers hands-down a more established growth environment and more competitive teams for girls/women than FC Dallas. See this past seasons’ results at the U17, U16, U15 levels. Also, see this recently published chart (you can go back many months or observe the same trend in multiple publications ex. Topdrawersoccer):

There’s also far more female players being called up from Solar, Real Colorado, Tophat and other amateur clubs to youth national teams than there are from FC Dallas and other MLS sides.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"><em>Not fully funded:</em>Not fully funded:

one common misconception about the FC Dallas academy teams is that they are fully funded and that is not the case. Depending on the age group, the FC Dallas academy teams have at least one mandatory international trip (Mexico) each year (to play friendlies) which costs over $1,500. Furthermore, each family is required to raise funds for these mandatory international trips. To be fair, these expenses do not remotely compare with the annual costs associated with joining any of the other pay-to-play local amateur academy clubs which at least cost over $3k just for coaching fees and uniforms (no international tournaments). However, if money is not as much of an issue to your family, try to stay in the pay-to-play amateur club (ex. Solar) for as long as possible if your player has any real chance of becoming a professional. Why is that? Read below…

Training compensation:

If your player has the talent to play professionally (this is very subjective), try to absorb the academy costs in a pay-to-play system for as long as possible (or seek scholarship opportunities) because once your player joins the MLS club, the club can claim the right to “very steep” training compensation. Training compensation is defined as the price tag on a player by the MLS club (on an annual basis) for having “developed” the player during the formative years. The compound amount of money piles up significantly over the years and it can become a deal breaker when a non-MLS club is interested in your player because the price tag is too high. Currently, this price tag is non-existent for most non-MLS (amateur) clubs. Read more about it here. Our recommendation is to shorten (if possible avoid) the MLS academy environment for as long as possible to minimize training compensation costs by joining academy amateur clubs (ex. Barca Academy, Solar, Cross Fire etc.).

Each decision to move to the new DA 2.0 league (MLS club or amateur club) must be carefully evaluated and thought out. There’s no one size fits-all solution and much less “perfect situation”; inexorably, sacrifices will have to be made by player and families. However, make the most informed decision by gathering factual information, talking to other parents, coaching staff, and most importantly, your own player. In the end, the decision should be made as a family with the player’s input being the most critical. Once a decision is made, don’t look back on it. Pursue it with a passion; “enjoy the ride” and something is to be gained out of ANY outcome.

Good luck and please reach out to us if you have comments/questions.

Fútbol sala: una herramienta de formación para los chavos

Cuando se habla de la formación de un futbolista, no existe una barita mágica que funcione para todos los jugadores. En términos generales, el desarrollo de cualquier aptitud en la vida require una dósis de talento natural, mucha práctica, pero lo más importante es un continuo deseo de superación personal. En el caso de nuestros chavos, el deseo de jugar fútbol nunca escaceó. En realidad, tan sólo tuvimos que encontrar formas creativas de exponenciar su pasión a través de variaciones del deporte de las masas (fútbol sala, fútbol rápido, fútbol de playa, 3 vs 3, retas callejeras, fútbol tenis, etc.). Hoy, escribiremos algo breve sobre el fútbol sala. El fútbol sala ofrece un sin número de variaciones del fútbol normal (fut regular) que lo convierten en una gran herramienta de desarrollo futbolístico y para ser sincero, también es súper divertido. Por mucho tiempo los chavos lo practicaron de forma simultánea al fut regular. No nada más les ayudó en su formación si no que también les permitió competir a un nivel muy alto desde temprana edad.

Equipo nacional de futsal de Estados Unidos. 07.22.15 (Medellin, Colombia)

Ventajas del fútbol sala


En Estados Unidos, el fútbol sala se juega en duelas bajo techo lo cual representa una gran ventaja sobre el fut regular debido a que las inclemencias del tiempo nunca son una limitante. Por esa razón, el fútbol sala se puede jugar todo el ano generando oportunidades adicionales para refinar el buen trato de balón. Además, nuestro pais es tan grande que hay muchos lugares recónditos donde escacean ligas competitivas de fut regular; en tales lugares, el fútbol sala puede que sea una alternativa ya que tan sólo se require una cancha de basketball y porterías hechas de PVC y muy pocos jugadores. El video de abajo muestra la presentación de un amistoso internacional jugado en Toronto, Canadá en Diciembre del 2015 (la temperatura ambiente al momento de ese partido era de 10 grados Fahrenheit). El partido se llevó a cabo sin inclemencia climatológica alguna.

Jogo representando a los Estdos Unidos en amistosos internacionales 12.26.15 (Toronto, Canadá)

Número limitado de jugadores

En otros países, se pueden encontrar canchas de fútbol sala adentro de escuelas y parques públicos. Estados Unidos todavía no se encuentra a ese nivel aunque nostros si hemos ubicado alguna que otra cancha libre en algunos lugares públicos. El fútbol sala se juega en canchas/duelas (bajo techo la mayoría del tiempo) con un máximo de 5 jugadores por equipo con cambios ilimitados. El número reducido de cambios inevitablemente se traduce en una mayor frequencia de toques de balón. Por eso, el desarrollo futbolístico se acrecenta durante los dos periodos de intensa acción.

Cuadro titular en primer partido internacional 07.23.15 (Medellín, Colombia)

Espacios reducidos se traduce en toma de decisiones mas rápida

El tamaño reducido de las canchas de fútbol sala requiere una toma de decisiones más rápida. Esta habilidad ayuda a los jugadores cuando juegan en las canchas del fútbol regular donde se cuenta con más tiempo. De igual forma, la precisión de los pases incrementa debido a los espacios reducidos y también por eso se usa un balón más pesado.

US Youth Futsal National Team tryouts 07.11.15 (Olathe, Kansas)

Mejor control/distribución debido al balon más pesado:

En el fútbol sala se usa un balón más pesado que inevitablemente requiere que los jugadores tengan un mejor control y distribución del mismo. Aprender a dominar un balón más pesado requiere muchas repeticiones y una aptitud única. Asi mismo, el fútbol sala fomenta toques con más partes del pie que el fútbol regular. La parte inferior y la punta del pie se usan de manera muy frecuente. También, todos los jugadores de “campo” están constantemente moviendose por toda la duela lo cual fomenta el apredizaje ofensivo y defensivo del juego además del toque de balón con las seis partes del pie. A pesar de que si existen posiciones fijas en el fútbol sala, los jugadores cubren toda la duela de manera estrategica ayudándoles a manejar ambos perfiles (izquierdo y derecho). Además, el movimiento sin balón es un gran beneficio del fútbol sala ya que es muy obvio cuando algun jugador se queda parado en una sola posición por más de tres segundos.

Jogo scoring a goal against an English team at the World Futsal Championships 12.28.14 (Blanes, Spain)

Juego puro que fomenta la creatividad:

El fútbol sala no es un juego dominado por los jugadores más fuertes, altos, ó rápidos. De hecho, la mayoría del tiempo, nuestros chavos jugaban con/contra jugadores mayores lo cual requería una habilidad mayor de toma de decisiones rápidas y técnica individual. Los partidos de fútbol sala son normalmente limpios y fáciles de arbitrear. Los equipos tratan de honrar el espíritu del juego al intentar meter la mayor cantidad de goles. A diferencia del fútbol regular, el fútbol sala fomenta la creatividad y estilo único. Los jugadores se pueden expresar libremente incorporando trucos en sus estilos de juego sin necesidad de violar ninguna regla del juego.

Las reglas del juego son sencillas:

A pesar de que el número de reglas del fútbol sala es menor a las del fútbol regular (ej: no existe el fuera de lugar, saque de banda, etc.), los jugadores de fútbol sala constantemente están pensando en ciertas reglas (ej. balón sobre la linea de banda, retraso de juego, regresársela al portero, etc.). La agilidad mental y la capacidad de reacción son aptitudes desarrolladas por el fútbol sala. En realidad, las pocas reglas, en lugar de complicar el juego, lo convierten en un juego muy entretenido.


Marcar goles es divertido; en el fútbol sala, es muy común anotar más de 5 goles por partido entre ambos contrincantes. De hecho, el tamaño de las canchas contribuye al dramatismo que acompaña los partidos ya que muchos se deciden en los últimos segundos. Los marcadores con muchos goles marcados permiten que los espectadores y jugadores gocen de una experiencia mayor. La confianza de los jugadores se eleva al marcar más que en el fútbol regular donde no se marcan tantos goles y no todos los jugadores tienen oportunidades reales de marcar.

Campeones nacionales de futbol sala U10 02.04.15 (Olathe, Kansas)


El fútbol sala es una deporte que aumenta el autoestima. Al menos aquí en los Estados Unidos, muchos jugadores empiezan sin saber mucho acerca del deporte pero pronto terminan dominándolo. Entre más temprano se empiece a jugar mejor. Desarrollar un jugador con una autoestima alta no tiene precio; la confianza después se permea a otros aspectos de sus vidas incluyendo: el campo, el aula de clases, y otras actividades extra curriculares. De igual forma, es muy común ver a las niñas jugar fútbol sala con niños que también sirve para aumentar la autoestima.

Desventajas del fútbol sala


Algunos clubs/coaches chapeados a la antigüita, no congenian con la idea del fútbol sala. De hecho, algunos profes lo ven como un obstáculo formativo al fútbol regular. En algunos casos, la ignorancia juega un papel ya que es un juego desconocido en algunos países (ej. Estados Unidos). En otros casos, el miedo es infundado ya que representa una alternativa al desarrollo futbolístico de los jugadores. La ahora defunta liga de DA apoyaba al fútbol sala. Entendían muy bien su contribución e incorporaron al menos un torneo de fútbol sala por año. Desafortunadamente, dudamos que la nueva liga de MLS continue con esa tradición.

Jonathan Gomez: USSDA U13 futsal showcase: FC Dallas vs Lonestar 01.18.17 (Houston, TX)

Malos hábitos:

Hay una corriente de pensamiento que cree que entre más tiempo se juega el fútbol de sala, más dificil será la transición al fútbol regular. No existe suficiente información que corrobore esa hipótesis. Sin embargo, es cierto que mientras se juega fútbol sala, hay ciertos aspectos del fútbol regular que no se practican: saque de banda, cabezasos, tiros libres, fueras de lugar, etc. En nuestra opinión, ambos deportes pueden (y deben de) ser combinados el mayor tiempo posible para desarrollar los aspectos de cada uno.

What DA did for the Gómez’s…

It’s with mixed feelings that we write this post after learning that the Development Academy (DA) program suspended operations indefinitely. There’s a glimpse of hope as a successor program was announced by MLS almost immediately after the news broke out; however, the lack of details disclosed on it could be uncertain for current and future families seeking a new football league/team/club. Thus, at the writing of this post, the uncertainty of the new program (let’s call it DA version 2.0) prevents us from having an objective opinion about it. Therefore, we will focus on the known and now defunct DA program (DA going forward).

As some would say, DA was not perfect but its successor won’t be either. It’s human nature to complain about many things in life as a way to try to enhance/optimize them and maybe for excellent reasons; sometimes that’s how we drive change. Like everything else though, there isn’t a solution that fits everyone’s needs and DA was definitely in that category. Since DA was costing families money (lots in some cases), parents (and players) would naturally feel entitled to more value than what perhaps they were receiving. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.

In our case, we inherited the DA setup by virtue of having joined the FC Dallas (FCD) environment prior. Therefore, the benefits or disadvantages of being a member of DA were somehow diluted by virtue of being with the club first. DA did a lot for the Gómez boys (more good than bad). In the end, it gave them a more realistic platform to “the dream” which they didn’t have before. For us parents, it provided countless memories.

San Diego 2019 playoffs

Neither one of the boys will play in DA v2.0 anymore so why do we care? Easy, we care because one of the objectives of this site is to share information for football families. We would have liked to have all this information available when we were at crossroads with some of these decisions. Ultimately, we also want the betterment of the sport in this country. Equally important, we do have a daughter who plays the sport at a competitive level. Note: We typically exclude her from most football related posts for two reasons: age and love for the game. Although she’s probably the most technically gifted of all the three siblings, her love of the game isn’t quite there (yet) AND in this particular case, she never experienced the DA setup given her age. Below, we try to break down some of the pros and cons that DA (from an FCD parent’s perspective) provided for us. First the pros:

Training frequency:

When Johan joined FCD, the club already participated in TEPAL (Texas Pre-Academy League), a US Club Soccer sanctioned league. For this league, FCD required training five times a week (as opposed to twice a week with Johan’s previous club: Solar). The increased training frequency was instrumental in Johan’s development; it soon increased to six times a week during his U14 year (when his team -01s- joined DA). Although we had to commute to Frisco for training (45 miles – 90 minutes with traffic- each way), training was worth the extra time and miles. Johan was being coached and evaluated by not only FCD staff but U.S. Soccer local scouts for inclusion to U.S. Soccer local/national training centers and camps. Jogo, two years later went through the same process except, he never played TEPAL.


Our traveling was not limited to/from practices. In TEPAL, the team traveled for games twice a month within the the state of Texas and would play against local clubs (Andromeda, Solar, Texans), Houston (Dynamo, Rush), San Antonio (Classics Elite), and Austin (Lonestar). Once the team moved to DA, most of the TEPAL teams joined DA and new ones (out of state) joined our conference. As a result, the travel now included Colorado teams (Rush, Real Colorado, Rapids) and Sporting Kansas City. In TEPAL, all the out of town trips were via bus; once the team started traveling to Colorado and Kansas, the team started flying. Similarly, DA provided the opportunity to attend two (fall/winter) and (spring/summer) showcases to play different teams from across the nation. At the time, the spring/summer showcase always took place in Frisco which was convenient. Additional showcases included futsal which both boys loved.

FCD vs Lonestar futsal showcase


The competition in TEPAL was very good. In fact, some of the best competition the FCD 01s ever faced was out of San Antonio (Classics Elite) which unfortunately never made it to DA. In the end, most of these clubs eventually joined DA but some good talent was definitely left behind. The state of Texas is loaded with talent but when DA added “neighboring” out-of-state clubs, league competition definitely improved. Also, the showcases were always packed with parents (at the younger ages), scouts/agents (at the older ages) and of course, coaches/players. A football social networking heaven. These showcases offered the opportunity to play equally talented teams from across the country. In their first year, the FCD’s 01 DA team, ranked #1 at the time, played LA Galaxy ranked #2 at the time (rankings are always subjective). In an extremely competitive game FCD defeated LA Galaxy with Johan scoring this goal:

FC Dallas (2) vs LA Galaxy (1)

The FCD 01 DA would go on to record the first (and only) undefeated DA season in the club’s history. Anyway, all this travel (at FCD) had ZERO cost for the families/players.


In TEPAL, the team traveled by bus a couple of times a month and parents paid FCD for the trips (about $60/player). In DA, that was no longer the case for either bus or airplane trips. The coaching, the uniforms, the fields, and the travel fees (associated with DA) were all covered. The only cost associated with watching Johan play was the expense incurred as a family to attend the games (and filming). Even then, when we couldn’t attend the games, all the games were recorded or streamed (or both).


When the games were not streamed, all it took to watch DA games (albeit delayed a few days) was a request to the team manager. For the Gómez’s, DA made it convenient to watch the boys’ games, we no longer had to attend games live and much less record the games ourselves. The addition of the DA games helped enrich our YouTube channel: theGomezway. Most of that content is unlisted. As a side note, we heard this season FCD realized that families were using these tapes to showcase their players and the requests for film now require academy director approval. It makes some sense; honestly, we were always given full access to video without any restrictions. We are extremely grateful for that. Either way, the exposure by streamed or recorded games provided yet a different platform for additional player publicity; some parents/families eventually realized its huge impact.

National team exposure:

Whenever the DA games (showcase mostly) were streamed, the number of viewers was significantly large. In our case, we learned of agents, scouts, remote family members who were able to view, enjoy, and assess the boys’ performance thanks to these streamed games. Similarly, the DA’s database of recorded games could easily be accessed by some of these professionals interested in youth games. In the end, it wasn’t necessary for families to build a football library as the film was easily accessible online. The DA showcases were open season in terms of talent for national team scouts who were always in attendance. It was partially at those showcases where both of the boys gained more attention with the national team staff. Thank you DA and FCD!!


As you can read from above, DA required a lot of player (and family) commitment (cons below). However, the league was setup to reward individuals and teams (with end of season awards). The boys were recipients of several accolades (team and individual) during their DA membership and those incentivized them to continue improving. The one below is probably the most significant as both were on the same award simultaneously. The effects of a pat in the back for anybody (more so for a young player) are underrated. Words and actions are very motivational.

Not everything was rosy with DA. For almost every advantage I listed above, there’s at least one counter-point. Here are some of the cons:

Training frequency:

Although it was very beneficial to train more frequently, the body (without proper care) eventually feels the wear and tear which normally leads to more injuries. Unfortunately, most of these DA clubs were not setup to provide the medical attention needed for these players who underwent a long season with a rigorous training regime. Medical care was typically left up to parents. In our case, we always tried to be very proactive regarding the boys’ health and nutrition and thankfully, neither struggled much with injuries. Ultimately, it IS a contact sport and that can’t be prevented. There were other players who were not as fortunate. Medical negligence influenced their performance and in some cases cut their football careers short. To be fair, the six times a week training wasn’t necessarily a mandate by DA but the organization didn’t frown upon it either. For an organization that emphasized player safety, training six times a week never seemed to be scrutinized and/or challenged.


At the younger ages (U15 and below), DA rosters are usually not impacted as much with injuries (equivalent playing time plays a role). Also, the game is more pure than at the older ages where street smartness and hormones comes into play. Statistically, the frequency and severity of injuries increases as players age until they become professionals. Player injuries ultimately impact the quality and sometimes the results of matches. By the end of the season, making a run for the DA championship seemed more of a battle for the survival of the fittest (deeper benches) than the team playing the better football. Johan’s team made two of the last three DA finals. Injuries, as part of the regular game as they may be, in some cases became a huge financial burden on families and unfortunately, DA (or the club) didn’t make it known to families that secondary medical insurance was available to assist with medical costs.


At FCD, cost was minimal to play DA but that wasn’t the case at other local clubs. We can’t imagine having to pay for coaching, fields, uniforms, travel, etc. If, in addition to the regular season fees, one adds preventive medical or injury costs, the expense to play “the beautiful game” skyrockets and justifiably some strongly criticized DA.

National Team Exposure:

Kuddos to national team staff that was always present at showcases. Historically, looking through youth national team player selection for the different age groups, there seems to be a higher density of selected players from MLS based academies. There could be many reasons for that depending on who you ask, some may even go as far as saying that talent is higher at MLS academies. In our opinion, non-MLS talented players do not always get as frequent assessments from youth national team staff as MLS based players. This may not necessarily be a ding against DA but a tendency indeed. We will be writing a post on this subject (Is a player better off joining an MLS side?) in the near future.

Length of season:

DA games started in early September and ended in early July of the following year (for those teams going all the way to the final four). However, training at FCD started in late July leaving only two weeks of vacation in the summer and two weeks in the winter. Also, FCD usually had two international trips (outside of the DA season) to México per year. These mandatory trips were not club-subsidized (required fundraising) and occurred in early August and another one in mid January. The trips were fun, competitive, but didn’t allow proper recovery of the young athlete’s growing body. It’s a very long season that leaves limited time for anything outside of football. DA had some participation rules but not a single rule about a mandatory rest period.

School sports:

DA had a “rule” (albeit soft) that players could not participate in school football (middle and high school). Personally, this may have been the main drawback for our boys. Both boys attended a private school prior to joining FCD. In that school, they could have very well excelled playing football (and other sports) as it’s not public-setting competitive. Early in their teenage years (more Jogo), they had to forego playing with school friends and abandon school sports due to potential saturation. In hindsight, some would say it was the correct decision. Ironically, both boys now get to see how their younger sister excels in every school sport she participates in and maybe that plants a seed of uncertainty about the “what could have happened if I….”.

I could go on listing more pros and cons but this post is already long. To summarize it, I would say that there isn’t a perfect fit for every football family. As you gauge what environment is best for yours, do your due diligence. Do what fits your family the most and without regrets go all in with the decision. We did that, and although it wasn’t perfect, we would do it again in a heartbeat. Please continue to reach out should you have any questions.

BTW, Johan and friends continue chumchatting. This week’s guest was the famous two time national champion Clemson “American” football coach: Dabo Swinney. Give them a listen.

Season 1 Episode 14: Guest: Dabo Swinney (Part 1)