Football takes you to unimaginable places locally, domestically, or internationally. This past summer, we took our first family trip to Germany. Today, I’m writing about our next football trip which happened to be to Spain (San Sebastián to be exact). We hope you enjoy it.
It was a surgically planned trip. There were many moving parts and if any went wrong, the trip could have been a bust. Thanks to the flexibility that COVID forced us into at our workplaces and being the middle of the summer vacation for Joana, the Gómez’s were able to spend the week prior to the Spain trip in Louisville with Jogo. Fortunately, Johan had already returned to Europe for pre-season with FSV Zwickau avoiding yet another moving part.
We left Louisville on a Thursday afternoon with Kansas City as our initial destination. LouCity was scheduled to play Sporting Kansas City II (SKC II) the next day and the plan was to go watch the game, pick Jogo up after the game and then drive all night back home to Texas.
Not a minor item but we also spent Thursday night in Kansas City fine tuning the last few logistical details of César’s (Jogo’s uncle) trip from Mexico City to Texas. He would be joining us in Dallas to make the trip with us to Spain on Saturday morning.
Night before Europe
It was our first time visiting Children’s Mercy Park so we took the obligatory pictures prior to the game. Ironically, a few days after our visit to Kansas, the US Men’s National Team played three games there during Gold Cup. Jonathan was supposed to be with the team but this trip prevented him from making the final roster. Tough choices sometimes have to be made…
The game went well and Jogo had another assist and after the game, he briefly caught up with his long-time friend Tyler. Meanwhile, us parents made some new parent friends too; it was there that we learned that Tyler was heading to Germany soon after.
The drive to Dallas
After the SKCII game, we waited for Jogo to shower, finish his normal dressing room ritual and embarked on an all night (8+ hours) drive back to Texas. Upon arrival at home around 5 AM, we met César, rested for a couple of hours and continued on to the next stop of our trip: Dallas Lovefield airport.
We left home riding an Uber Tesla (first time for me in one of those). The automatic pilot was nice and worth the occasion. The complete trip would consist of multiple stops. Dallas to Atlanta, Atlanta to France, France to Bilbao, and finally Bilbao to San Sebastián.
Layover in France
We left Dallas Love Field airport at 12:25 PM to Atlanta. It was a two hour flight. Once we landed in Atlanta, we literally boarded our next flight an hour later (we had to dash to the gate) to France. The duration of the flight from Atlanta to France was approximately 7.5 hours. We arrived in France at 7 AM (midnight Texas time) on Sunday morning. Our layover in France made the trip longer but anytime you are with family; it’s all worth it.
The layover in Charles De Gaulle airport allowed us time to take a quick nap, practice some French and meet up with Mike. These trips are difficult for our aging (and aching) bodies and thankfully, we don’t have to undergo many of them frequently. Note: I have spent the last month in Germany.
From France’s airport, we boarded a 90 minute flight to Bilbao (capital of the community Gipuzkoa) in the plane pictured below. Most of us were really tired by this time and could not sleep well due to the turbulence and the short duration flight.
We arrived in Bilbao and were quickly greeted by our ground transportation. He took us on a beautiful 70 minute ride to San Sebastián. By this time, we were so jaded that we were unable to truly appreciate the natural beauty of the entire ride. We did however, on the way back, have an excellent football specific conversation with the chauffeur. The Euros (UEFA European Championship) were in full swing and Spain was doing well upon our arrival.
What a paradisiac city. We were still very jet-lagged Sunday morning and slept for a couple hours. Later in the day, we found a way to make it out to dinner with team staff. They took us to a beautiful restaurant with the most astonishing views in town overlooking the Bay of Biscay.
In the next few days, we had a chance to sight-see a few things while we were there. The most impressing was the sea. San Sebastián is adjacent to the Bay of Biscay and sunsets are very picturesque.
During our stay, we had an opportunity to tour the training facilities, stadium, and of course talk with Xabi Alonso at length. Of course, at the end of our conversations, the obligatory picture had to be taken. Excellent guy who rides a Harley to Zubieta (the name of Real Sociedad’s beautiful facilities). Everything was explained to us and there was not a question that went unanswered.
After we had accomplished all our objectives in San Sebastián, we went back to the hotel and relaxed a little. Well, the Euros were taking place and what a better place to watch them. Spain was playing in the semifinal against Italy. I remember we had to cut our shopping day short as stores were closing early; the entire country was paralyzed watching the game. Unfortunately, that day, Spain was eliminated in PKs. Here is video of the last PK taken by Italy. We felt bad recording but apparently we weren’t the only ones…better times ahead for Spain.
A few days later, we were back home. Jogo was playing at Tulsa and life went on as normal as it could given the circumstances…well, almost so, except that we now had these exciting news that we couldn’t necessarily share with anyone outside the family. It’s an odd feeling but rules are rules.
Until next time San Sebastián…
In a few weeks, we’ll be back. This time, we will be better prepared than when we landed the first time in Portugal or Germany. We speak the language, not Basque of course. Jogo will be in his new home, with new teammates, living in a different time zone, etc. Some tears will be shed (points at self) but God is good. All will be well.
Our awesome present
For now, the grind continues and Jogo and team just finished their regular season and now onto playoffs tomorrow. Good luck LouCity from Zwickau, Germany. God knows how much we will miss your setup and the people associated with the club. We will always rep the purple #Vamosmorados.
Jonathan talks about his entire journey (including the trip above) from his time at FC Dallas in this interview with the Chums. Give it a listen. We always appreciate the support to our boys and the Chums. There’s a new episode coming out in a few days.
Most of us football fans (aka experts) will pride ourselves in thoroughly knowing the ‘beautiful game’; some will claim empirical knowledge: “I have been playing since I was five years old“, “saw the ‘hand of God’ live in 86“, others may brag: “I played college at the D1 level” (applicable to American “soccer” fans). Our favorite one is when the Geography card is played: “I grew up in <insert traditional football nation>…err England, Argentina> or the social media one: “I have ‘X’ soccer followers on Twitter“. Yet others, in an effort to establish ultimate football credibility, will state that they played pro football with <insert football star’s name> but an injury prevented them from going further. Whichever the case may be, the common denominator is the football “expertise” that the average fan claims to possess.
Ironically, another common trait among some of us football “experts” is often that few actually know the most fundamental piece of information: the rules (aka as the laws) of the game. In fact, even fewer actually know how many laws of the game there are. Why is it important to know the laws of the game you wonder? Well, for starters, you can’t either play or critique a game that is not understood. More importantly, it establishes football credibility and honestly, keeps controversy discussions (ex. VAR, offside, refereeing, etc.) to a minimum. Second, it aids in one’s understanding and analysis of the totality of the game (ex. What quadrants are referees less likely to issue a yellow card?). Using non-existent words/phrases like “offsides”, “hand-ball”, “high kick”, “playing on the ground”, “scoring points”, etc. quickly gives it away. Third, it elevates one’s football IQ and if the knowledge is channeled correctly, one can become a better player, coach, official, fan, etc. If not for self-advancement purposes, learn the laws of the game to further appreciate the beauty of the game including the referees.
While it’s true that there are frequent revisions to the laws of the game, the quantity (and spirit of each) hasn’t really changed in a while (that could change quickly). Thus, next time, there’s a desire to boast how much you know “soccer or football”, please take some time to at least revise the latest revision of the laws of the game. All that being said, for those of you whose knowledge goes beyond the laws of the game, there are unwritten ones (some may call them clichés or rules) that only those who have played the game (at any level) would know by heart. Here are a few:
Former player rule:
When a player faces their former club, it’s an unwritten rule that the player will either score or have an assist. Nobody really understands the underlying reasons: chip on the shoulder, stamina, prove a point, luck, revenge, etc. Any of those factors could be a contributor. A recent example close to home, Michael Barrios, ex-FC Dallas player scored against his former team in Colorado’s 3-0 rout of ‘Los Toros’ earlier this year and then again yesterday. Below are additional examples from around European clubs. BTW, sometimes a lot can be inferred by the way the player celebrates their goal against their former club if you know what I mean.
Some may say it’s a cliché but the reality is that one of the cruelest and most deceiving score lines in football is a 2-0 lead. Teams leading by this score tend to reach a relaxing comfort zone and that normally becomes a recipe for disaster. It’s always best to treat this score as a 1-0 loss; otherwise, complacency could become the precursor for an opponent’s comeback. See Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich game recently.
Goal vulnerability rule:
Teams are the most vulnerable in the ten minutes after scoring a goal; nobody really knows why: zealousness caused by over celebration, high emotion, lack of discipline, etc. There have been studies done on it but some may still say it’s a cliché. Either way, it’s of utmost importance to celebrate the goal but hastily prepare to continue playing and scoring again; otherwise, the opponent could capitalize on the goal celebration distractions/mood and a momentum reversal can occur within minutes. In a low-scoring game such as football, you want to minimize the opponent’s chances of scoring. Be ready from the time your team leaves the dressing room to the final whistle.
Dressing room goal rule:
Similar to the reasons stated above, a team could also be vulnerable shortly after taking the field after from the dressing room (at either half). The USA vs Canada game on Sunday is an example of this. Although Canada dominated the US, the solid US defense kept Canada from scoring and the score was maintained throughout the match.
To be clear, if your team is scored on in the first few minutes of the game (dressing room goal), don’t panic and regroup. If a second goal takes place in the first 20 minutes, the final score line can get out of hand and result in a high scoring rout of your team. See the recent relegation-promotion Bundesliga playoff game between Kiel vs Koln where 3 Koln goals were scored in the first 20 minutes.
Double header in the 18th rule:
Everyone knows how efficient set pieces are (over 33% of goals are scored off of set pieces). Therefore, avoid offensive headers in your penalty area (normally from corner kicks). More specifically, avoid two consecutive (double) headers in your own penalty area as most of the time those will result in a goal for the opponent.
Determining the free kick taker:
As stated above, free kicks (set pieces) account for a high percentage of goals. Learning how to defend them starts with knowing who will be the free kick taker. Thus, whenever there are multiple players standing behind the ball trying to deceive the opponent as to who will take the kick, know that whoever placed the ball on the ground and touched it last will be the shooter. Defend accordingly. The other guy is just standing there as a decoy.
New manager rule:
Managers who take over for a team mid-season usually win their first game no matter how bad the team was doing prior. At the very least, the team won’t lose. Nobody knows what it is but the influx of new ideas and the concept that all positions are “up for grabs” seems to bring out the best out of all players.
We recently experienced this close to home in a LouCity loss against new Atlanta United II boss: Jack Collison. He secured his first win in his first match as the new head coach. After that win, Atlanta United has been unable to win in the 6 matches following the coaching change.
Hand to the back pocket is always a red card. In pre-VAR times, there were no “if’s” or “but’s”. Once you saw that hand reaching out the back pocket, the player was gone. VAR has changed that a bit in that in some cases, the card could be rescinded. In general, there’s no point in arguing the red card unless it’s for game management purposes. It’s always best to minimize the walk of shame to the dressing rooms.
50/50 ball out of bounds rule:
After a 50/50 challenge and when the ball ends up out of bounds (especially in the referees quadrant), make it a habit to fetch the ball immediately. Having refereed games for over 20 years, I will tell you that referees, in the absence of a clear angle to grant the next possession will ‘often’ use the honor system and err on the side of whoever fetches the ball first. Weird but true.
Whenever a referee calls a PK in favor of team A in the first half, there a very high probability that he will try to compensate and call another one for team B in the second half provided the game is close. It’s human nature and referees are compassionate at times.
There are plenty more rules so this publication will continue to be amended forever...I should be charging for sharing this information. In summary, while it’s good to educate our kids (and ourselves) first on the 17 laws of the game; it’s just as good for us to know the unwritten ones whether you pass them on or not. No coach will ever teach you these unwritten rules. The game itself will teach them to you (and your kids) and sometimes in the cruelest of ways. One thing for sure, the sooner you learn them, the better prepared you will be and the narrower the football knowledge gap will be between us and the rest of the world. For more useful information, continue following us. #theGomezway
BTW, the next Chumchat season is around the corner, the guests have been busy making some football adjustments. For now, I’ll leave you with one of the latest episodes where one of current USMNT left-back starter talks about a multitude of things. He had a solid game against Canada. Get to know Sam Vines a little more. Hope you enjoy it.
This post is just a quick reminder about the impact that a positive mentality can have in any walk of life. We see it every day in our line of business and sports -football in this case- is no exception.
It is no coincidence. A national team call up can definitely boost the player’s self-esteem for any age group, but even more so when such invitation comes from the Senior team. A greater confidence boost occurs when the club allows the player to participate in the activity. There’s no magic transformation; technically, tactically, and physically, the player continues to be the same player pre and post call up.
However, a player’s mental aspect needs to be carefully nurtured by the people around him/her. Specifically, if the club can afford a few days without the player, let him go but no call up should ever be kept from a player (especially a youth call up). Club staff members who withhold this information, unfortunately, do not realize that driving their own agendas could be most detrimental to their own club. We are very thankful and blessed for LouCity’s transparency on the call ups so far.
When a call up is made public, sometimes it can have an outward domino effect; being in a preliminary roster is also a great accolade. Then, for various reasons, making the final roster cut isn’t possible but just knowing that national team coaches appreciate the player’s CURRENT efforts can go a long way. Word of advice for parents/prospects joining a new club, always ask the question, “if invited by a federation for a call up, will there be information transparency towards the player/family?
As always, reach out if you have specific questions. #theGomezway
Representar a tu país en cualquier ámbito de la vida es uno de los mayores logros. El fútbol no es la excepción. De hecho, la familia del jugador, amigos, compañeros, cuerpo técnico, y fanáticos deben de alegrarse por tal honor y si es posible, celebrarlo de manera pública. Después de todo, es un logro en conjunto. ¿Por qué entonces, alguien quisiera impedir tal distinción?
Un jugador bajo contrato es “propiedad” de su club y este puede y debe reservarse el derecho de prestar a su jugador juvenil a una convocatoria a selección nacional si las circunstancias no son favorables para el club en ese momento. Las convocatorias nacionales (no de Estados Unidos), usualmente ocurren durante las fechas pactadas por FIFA (irónicamente, no siempre se alinean con la temporada de MLS) que es cuando los clubs son más propensos (casi obligados) a ceder a sus jugadores. Sin embargo, y por temas contractuales, todos los jugadores (amateur ó profesional) siempre se deberán regir por los reglamentos/limitantes de su club.
En el caso de una negativa del club de prestar al jugador, pensamos que el tan solo informarle al jugador sobre la convocatoria, si no una obligación, debe ser una cortesía hacia el jugador/familia. La confianza del jugador se multiplica al tan solo de saber que la gente adecuada lo observa y que tal vez los tiempos de esta convocatoria no funcionaron pero la siguiente tal vez si. La comunicación transparente es primordial. El mensaje (explicito ó no) hacia el jugador es: “Continua echándole ganas ya que puede haber futuras convocatorias”.
Cuando empezamos la relación con Louisville City FC, lo hicimos con una gran esperanza pero con certeza de las expectativas de un club que se maneja de manera profesional. Por ejemplo, en estos momentos existen muchas lesiones en el equipo de Jogo y a pesar de ellas, no sólo se le informó de su llamado a selección sino que también se le otrogó el permiso sin ningun traba.
En términos generales, no debería de existir alguna razón por la cual una convocatoria de cualquier federación de fútbol -rival ó no- se le deba ocultar al jugador ó a su familia. Después de todo, en un mundo moderno donde las noticias viajan tan rápido, es casi imposible esconder un llamado a selección nacional. El resultado de esa perversa y fallida falta de comunicación y profesionalismo por ciertos individuos en un club puede dañar la relación entre familia y club de forma permanente.
El tener la oportunidad de representar a varios países es una bendición total pero conlleva mucha responsabilidad para todos los involucrados. Los verdaderos hinchas del jugador apoyan incondicionalmente; sin embargo, hay pocos, que tal vez de forma justificada ante sus ojos, se disgustan por que el jugador decidió representar temporalmente a una seleccion que no es de su preferencia. A final de cuentas, como familia, siempre vamos a preferir lidiar con hinchas nacionalistas decepcionados que con la ausencia de información sobre un llamado a la selección nacional de tu pais por medio de algunos trabajadores de tu propio club.
Esta es una gran ocasión para Jogo y la verdad es complicado complacer a los fanáticos de ambos países. La vida de un futbolista es efímera y con pocas oportunidades así que hay que aprovecharlas mientras existan. Jogo se ha ganado esta oportunidad y estamos muy contentos porque, al menos en este caso, el club lo dejo participar. No solamente regresará un jugador más maduro pero además con experiencias enrriquecedoras que también le ayudarán a LouCity a plazo corto. Nuestra familia y Jogo estaremos agradecidos eternamente con el club. Gracias LouCity. #theGomezway
The summer international window closed this past Monday and we continued witnessing an increased exodus of American-developed youth footballers signing with European clubs around their 18th birthday. American-developed footballers are gradually opening doors to the next generation and thus have become very attractive to European clubs as their ROI could be huge and the risk is extremely low. That said, in this post we are not analyzing the various reasons for this trend. Instead, we are going to try to contrast some of the advantages and disadvantages if player/family is ever faced with the choice of signing with a small vs big club (in Europe). Ultimately, it’s very situational but below are some aspects to consider:
Advantages of a bigger club
The name of a big football club can be very attractive to start a European career (especially for youngsters); after all, who wouldn’t like to be part of a regular Champions League participant club? It’s important to note that the club name and its reputation were not built overnight. These are clubs who have been in existence for over a century. For comparison, MLS clubs have been around for 25 years and thus are in their infancy when it comes to name and reputation. Even those MLS clubs which have established partnerships with big European clubs have been very intermittently successful placing players abroad.
Bigger clubs frequently have a larger spending budget and thus pay very generously even for a U19 player. However, it is often said that it’s the second professional contract the one that really matter$ but we also know that young players/families oftentimes seek immediate remuneration due to the immense sacrifices getting a player to Europe. It’s also important to note that some of these American footballers/families are giving up upward of 150k in college scholarship money to play in Europe so they want to maximize earnings ASAP. A higher salary is of course only one perk and there are a ton of other benefits that come with signing with a bigger club.
Thicker wallets allow bigger clubs to sign more international players at every position. A higher density of international players usually translates into more competition. To be clear: The club is ONLY going to sign an international player who surpasses the talent they can find domestically. If your player thrives with top-notch competition, they will not only love positional competition at the big club but also love the team competition faced by playing in higher profile tournaments as a team.
A lot of the bigger clubs have U19 teams who regularly participate in the UEFA Youth League. It’s a version of the Champions League but for U19 players. Johan participated with 2019 UEFA Youth League Champion FC Porto. He had the time of his life. The 2019 UEFA Youth League tournament is where Gio Reyna gained the most exposure playing with Dortmund U19’s and all of us can see where he is at now.
Playing for a big club is not for everyone; a lot of eyes are normally on the player not just during important tournaments but even during practices. Not all players can sustain this type of pressure in a foreign cut-throat environment.
Bigger clubs tend to have larger available staff: Coach, Assistant Coaches, Dietician, Doctor, Psychologist, Trainer, Translator, Team Manager, Equipment Manager, Media Team, etc. If this is important to your player, it should not be taken lightly. Having a supporting staff dedicated to the player’s needs could be a deal breaker for players who are living by themselves, thousands of miles away, in a different culture and for the first time.
Integration/assimilation of the new club/culture is extremely important. Bigger clubs tend to have resources to dedicate to foreign players. Johan was taking Portuguese classes at least once a week his first year. Although he’s not yet fluent in Portuguese, he can read, and speak Portuguese pretty well. His team and cultural integration has been a success due to this perk and obviously because Portuguese is very similar to Spanish.
Watching games remotely:
For the families back in the states, it’s of utmost importance feeling closer to their player. Bigger clubs can achieve some level of closeness via their social media platforms. Some clubs actually have dedicated English-only social media platforms (Porto does not). Others have an application that allows family and friends to watch all games: U19, B, and senior team. At Porto, we are fortunate to watch most of Johan’s games and we are very grateful to the club for that perk.
Bigger clubs have dedicated staff to do very specific tasks. They have personnel to take care of player/family trips back home, legal matters, housing, etc. This type of assistance is invaluable when going to a new country for the first time. During the start of the pandemic, FC Porto’s travel staff seamlessly worked with us to bring Johan home safely among a lot of uncertainty. Also, most bigger clubs have law firms available to answer legal issues such as visa, payroll, taxes, etc. Visa problems for players are inexcusable from the club’s and/or agent’s perspective. No player should ever have to go through what Christian Cappis recently had to endure.
Advantages of a smaller club
The name and reputation of a football club has a lot of weight on players and parents when making their first pro-contract decisions. It’s difficult to turn away an initial opportunity with a big club but statistically, smaller clubs offer immediate playing time which is extremely important to the physical and mental development of young footballers. There’s no worst feeling for a player playing abroad (or domestically) than getting NO playing time. Similarly, some clubs exist to promote players to the first team and then sell them. That would be a good player player/family strategy to seek a bigger club for the second (or later) contract.
A smaller club has a more limited spending budget; their ability to pay a “competitive” salary is limited. Some small German clubs only pay what’s indispensable and necessary to live while playing for a U19 side. For some families, this could be a big factor as they try to justify bypassing a hefty college scholarship back home with an uncertain start of a European career. For other families a smaller initial salary could be a blessing in disguise.
Less individual competition
A smaller budget limits the club’s ability to bring an abundance of players which means less competition for your player. By sheer numbers, less competition translates into potentially more playing time AND learning to play multiple positions. Ultimately, this could signify a faster path to a first team debut.
In Germany, at the U19 level, there’s a competition called Pokal which is a competition among mostly teams from the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2. It’s a national “tournament” with less competition, pressure, and exposure than a UEFA Youth League tournament but competitive nonetheless. Some American-developed players may thrive more under this type of environment with less exposure and pressure.
Having played for Bayern, Dortmund, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester City/United, Benfica, Porto, etc. is a great resume builder for a youngster. However, those are very competitive environments not apt for every player’s development. It’s very cut-throat. Most players need the security of playing week in and week out and thus signing for a smaller club can be more beneficial.
Smaller clubs have fewer staff members that “do-it-all”. Sometimes, this expedites generic transactions wherein those tasks can face delays/red tape in bigger clubs. Knowing the right staff at a smaller club can expedite a mundane task such as shipping stuff from/to home. We have recently struggled with shipping “stuff” back and forth and to be fair, most of it is due to the pandemic.
In the end, whichever club your player ends up signing with, enjoy it. It’s a HUGE deal. The first one is very memorable but statistically, very few youngsters ever stay with the team they first signed with. There will be more signing opportunities. Everyone’s path is very unique. Seek, build, and enjoy your own journey. The aspects of life learned through this journey are bigger than football. That can never be understated.
By the way, if you have 20 minutes give Chum Chat a listen. This week’s guest is another US developed prospect heading to Europe sooner than later: Dante Sealy. Get to know him a little better. Until next time #theGomezway
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.
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.
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…
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.
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 Slovaniaas 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.
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:
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
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
Celebrate the little victories…it’s of utmost importance. More so for young athletes who may need constant validation from their family, friends, and peers. In some cases, it’s what keeps them going. The mental aspect needs to be carefully nurtured.
This post is exactly about that AND will be very short and sweet. It was about a year ago that both FCD and NTSC played against Spanish giants Sevilla. It was NTSC first ever international exhibition game and Jogo had the pleasure of starting in it. Congratulations Jogo. You shared the field with the likes of Joan Jordan, Eber Banega, Luuk de Jong, Aleix Vidal, among many others…”ballers” of a club that many of us can only dream of watching live. We will be forever grateful to FC Dallas and NTSC for those opportunities.
Sevilla is relevant today mostly because they are the only Spanish club still contending for any meaningful trophies in European competitions. As we know, Europa League finals are their cup of tea and them being part of it is a tradition. What is unusual however, is that there are normally more Spanish clubs fighting for important trophies in the semis and finals.
As for you Jogo, all we can say is “what an honor it must have been to have shared the same field and have played against some of those ballers”. You have earned that right: stay humble. Keep grinding and learning and never stop dreaming like when you were 4 years old.
In other related family news, here is the latest episode of Chumchat. A day in the life of a D1 “soccer” player. Enjoy it.
Escribimos esta publicación con algunos sentimientos encontrados. Por un lado, algunos de los jugadores del FCD y miembros del cuerpo técnico, están viviendo una situación muy complicada (tanto mental como física) en sus carreras. Sepan que los tenemos en nuestras oraciones (especialmente a los ex-compañeros de Jogo -amigos-, profes, etc.) esperando su pronta y total recuperación. Dios es bueno y los verá salir de esta.
No podemos ocultar nuestra tristeza al saber que no veremos juegos del FCD pronto; sin embargo, nos alegra saber que tanto jugadores como cuerpo técnico ya han empezado a enfocar energias en materia extra-cancha. Solidarizandonos con ellos, creemos que nostotros también le daremos un giro positivo a nuestra perspectiva y hablar de otras cosas. Nota: Esta nota la tradujimos ya empezado el torneo y la verdad de las cosas es que los partidos son una lagrima; el torneo es una verdadera burla y bueno, creemos que el FCD no se esta perdiendo de mucho mas que de la actividad.
El año pasado, el mismo equipo de FCD que ahora se encuentra en su octavo día de cuarentena, fue el mismo que le otorgó la oportunidad de debutar a Jogo. Siempre estaremos agradecidos con la organización del FCD, cuerpo técnico (Mikey Varas específicamente) y los jugadores que apoyaron su debut (Thomas Roberts y Bryan Reynolds). Sepan que estamos orando por su completa y pronta recuperación. Así es como todo sucedio…
Mientras la temporada productiva de U17s (2018-2019) de DA de Jogo llegaba a su final a manos de sus archi-rivales y eventuales campeones nacionales: Solar, el equipo filial de North Texas SC (NTSC) le presentaba algunas oportunidades. El aprovecharlas gradualmente llevó a Jogo al juego en contra de Lansing donde tuvo dos asistencias (ver abajo). Al término de ese partido, su futuro futbolero empezó a cambiar…
Primeramente, Jogo fue nombrado al XI ideal semanal por primera vez y más beneficios se derivarían después de esa actuación.
De igual forma, las prácticas con NTSC continuaron más frecuentemente. La confianza de Jogo se fué por las nubes. De hecho, tal vez erroneamente, asumió que al siguiente juego (depues del partido con sus dos asistencias) en contra de Greenville, iría de titular. Sin embargo, el Jueves de esa semana, el profe Eric, en la cascarita preparatoria, dió el cuadro titular contra los substitutos y Jogo iba con la banca. Sin decir algo, Jogo jugó con los substitutos y se puso a jugar.
Seguimos en el proceso de traducción de la nota….paciencia, paciencia…por ahora practiquen su Inglés y leanse esa 🙂
It is with mixed feelings that we write this post. On one hand, we know some FCD players and staff are undergoing a challenging (physically and mentally) phase in their careers. Our thoughts and prayers are with you (Jogo’s ex-teammates -friends-, coaches, etc.) hoping for a quick and full recovery. God is good and will see you navigate through this one.
Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
While disappointed we won’t be able to watch FCD games soon, we are happy that players and staff have started to shift full focus to off-the-field matters. Likewise, we feel it’s time to give things a bit of a positive spin from our perspective as well.
Last year, the same FCD first team, currently in an eight-day quarantine, provided Jogo with the invaluable opportunity to make his first team debut. We will forever be grateful to the FCD organization, coaching staff (Mikey Varas) and the players (Thomas Roberts, Bryan Reynolds, etc.) who supported his debut (know that we are praying for your full and quick recovery). This is how it all went down…
As Jogo’s productive U17’s (2018-2019) DA season was coming to an end at the expense of local foes and eventual national champions: Solar, North Texas SC (NTSC) opportunities started opening up. Seizing those up gradually led Jogo to the game against Lansing where he had two assists (see below). At the conclusion of that match, his football landscape started changing…
First, he was named to the USL-1 team of the week for the first time and more perks would come his way right after that performance…
Second, the more frequent training with NTSC continued. Jogo’s confidence soared and was at an all-time high. In fact, he felt that in the next game (following his two assist game) against Greenville, he would be part of the starting XI once again. However, on Thursday of that week, during training, Coach Eric put the starting XI to scrimmage against the subs which was customary. To his surprise, Jogo was requested to play with the subs, but he put his head down and on he scrimmaged.
At the end of the practice, Coach Eric pulled Jogo aside and informed him that he would be rostered with the first team on Sunday, July 7th in an international friendly against Liga MX Xolos. Jogo was ecstatic. The game against Xolos would not just mark the return of former FCD Coach Oscar Pareja to Toyota Stadium but also signified Jogo’s renewed opportunity to practice with the FCD first team the following day. These friendlies are not very frequent for FCD. See here.
Friday: practice with the first team:
The chance to practice with the first team will come sooner or later for a lot of young players. It did several times for both Johan and Jogo at FCD. Whenever this takes place in your player’s journey: just have fun and enjoy the moment. Don’t overthink it. The player needs to be himself/herself and not try to do more than just KISS it. Such was the case with Jogo this time and he had an excellent practice that day…
Saturday: the day before the international friendly:
I remember walking over to Toyota Stadium (from the apartment) with Jogo Saturday evening to try to watch the Xolos “open” practice. The main objective was to say hello to Oscar Pareja and watch a few of the players Jogo could be facing the next day. Honestly, we didn’t know whether Jogo would even play or not but we were just embracing the moment. “It’s better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared” – Whitney M. Young
When we arrived at the stadium’s south gate, Jogo identified himself as an FCD academy/NTSC player who would be part of Xolos friendly the next day. Both of the security guards were incredulous (given his age probably) as they refused to let us through the gates since we didn’t have any sort of IDs. I believe they were also charging $5 to watch the Xolos practice but neither of us had our wallets as the idea was to watch practice for only a few minutes and return home to rest. When I volunteered to go get my wallet from the apartment, Jogo said: “Dad, it’s okay. one day, these guys will know who I am without the need of an ID“…so we forewent watching practice…
The day went by quickly…Jogo needed to be at the stadium by 3 PM for a 6:30 PM kickoff. Since he couldn’t drive by himself yet and it was a toasty day, mom drove Jogo. Honestly, mom had no idea where to drop Jogo off and she ended up dropping him off by the South Gate. A few fans were already waiting the arrivals of players for pictures and autographs. As expected, hardly anybody (except a young, adventurous kid) asked Jogo for an autograph; I know that was very memorable to Jogo..probably more so than the Xolos game itself. Anyway, as a family, were so out of it and just playing it by ear. A few minutes later, Jogo found out in the locker room that family members could get in for free and requested tickets for us.
With the kind heart he has, he managed to quickly find out how to get us tickets (btw, the T-mobile service in the new locker room was horrendous so he couldn’t get a hold of us). However, at last, he managed to send me a text asking me to pick up 4 tickets at will-call…and on we proceeded to the game. Johan couldn’t watch this game as he was in the middle of DA playoffs.
To Jogo’s surprise, he was in the starting XI which was the cherry on top. However, that immediately could translate into nervousness. To be honest, Jogo didn’t look nervous to us; although he later admitted to be just a tad… Thus, after knocking a few balls around during warm ups, he flushed those feelings out of his system and on he went….
The Pablo Aranguiz situation:
Pablo had been very vocal about the current coach’s system where a traditional static #10 doesn’t fit his scheme. Pablo had made his disagreement evident throughout the season and as a result, his playing time had suffered. In this game, Pablo was given an opportunity to play with mostly youngsters but he was evidently not pleased about that either. He was playing as a winger (out of his normal position).
The hot afternoon did not help calm his frustration/anxiety and he had a few border line risky plays where he either tried to do too much (w/out releasing the ball) or was a bit reckless on defense. This inevitably put Jogo (who was defending/attacking on the same side) on a bit of an uncertain situation. Pablo’s frustration (along with Kobra’s) was clear and only lasted until the 40th minute. In an super reckless challenge to a Xolos player, Pablo was deservedly shown a straight red card (yes in a friendly) which forced undesired subs playing a man down. The spirit of the friendly was a bit tainted by that play. Ultimately, Kobra who was supposed to have come in for Pablo never saw any action that day.
The game turned out to be very uneventful overall (0-0) but in the end Jogo got to play against players like Erik “El Cubo” Torres, Fernando Arce, Miller Bolaños, Ariel Nahuelpan, etc. He came off the game at the 79th minute.It had been a good game for him. Next up was the friendly against La Liga powerhouse: Sevilla.
The Sevilla friendly was another level of a game which will deserve its own future post. To conclude this post, we will reiterate our well-being wishes to the entire FCD team hoping that their next activity (on/off the field) comes soon enough and that journey is as successful as playing football. As for Jogo, he is gradually pursuing the next thing in his life. We also want to wish him good luck this weekend on the next challenge he’s embarked on…. seize the day son!!! #theGomezway
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.
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:
It’s a new league, with a new organization presiding over it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 teamsachieved 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.
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.
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…
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.