For FC Dallas and Thomas Roberts, the future is now

Thomas Roberts of FC Dallas. (FCD Communications)

If they are good enough, they are old enough.

Sir Matt Busby

A legendary saying coined by a legendary manager. A saying that has such massive weight with the newest version of FC Dallas.

Under first-year Coach Luchi Gonzalez, FC Dallas has embraced a build from within, youth-driven policy. Leading Major League Soccer in Academy product minutes.

Playing young players is one thing, starting a just barely 18-year-old Thomas Roberts as your #10 – a position that is part quarterback, part point guard – is something else. And that’s where the Busby quote comes in.

If they are good enough, they are old enough.

Last weekend against the Seattle Sounders, Coach Gonzalez went to a player still in high school, a player who could still have another season with the Academy U19s, a player with only 96 minutes of combined play at the MLS level… and gave him the keys to the bus.

That’s like having a high school senior play quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.

Thomas Roberts
Thomas Roberts goes up for a header. (North Texas SC Communications)

Roberts, blessed with the confidence of youth, was unfazed. “I thought I did pretty well,” he said, giving himself a humble grade. “I was really focused on my defensive part of the game and I think that took away a little bit from what I can do attacking wise.”

It was clear from his performance that Roberts has taken a significant leap from his previous start on the wing, passing at an 83% rate and making two key passes in the attacking phase against the Sounders.

Roberts says playing the 10 is a natural shift for him “I felt a lot more comfortable [against Seattle] than I did on the wing when I played versus Philly.”

“I thought he was very good in terms of good decision making and keeping it simple in some tight areas,” said Coach Gonzalez, praising his young playmaker. “Keeping the ball moving and not overcomplicating in the build or in traffic.”

If they are good enough, they are old enough.

Having made two starts now, one in the middle and one on the wing, Roberts has only just begun to tap into his game at the pro level. Blessed with perhaps the best pure ball skill in the club, the ceiling is really high for the young man.

“I think it’s my more natural position,” Roberts said of playing the 10-role. “I think in this league you gotta have rapid speed like [Michael] Barrios [to play wing]. I’m not super-fast like that. I’ll go out on the wing if they want me to, more so like inverted, like a false wing to come inside. But I think 10 or 8 is my more natural position.”

Progress happens one step at a time and that next step for Roberts is in attacking end of the pitch.

“[Coach Gonzalez] wants me to be myself up in the final third with my tactical awareness, knowing when to try stuff and when not to try stuff. Knowing where I am on the field and when to do stuff,” said Roberts.

Coach Gonzalez backed up that assessment. “He’s got a lot of support from us to take more risk. Risks that pay off in terms of a shot, a cross, getting a free kick, drawing a foul, a corner, in the type of way that helps the team.”

“[We want him] to take people on, to try things that are different, because that’s his strength and we embrace that.”

The next chance for Roberts to take people on is likely to come as soon as this weekend at San Jose Earthquakes. FC Dallas is again shorthanded missing six midfielders to international call-ups. Roberts is one of only two natural central midfielders available. While Coach Gonzalez wouldn’t tip his hand midweek and name Roberts a starter it seems quite clear Roberts will be the choice again.

So there’s a lot of weight on this young man’s shoulders. Stepping into the starting spotlight as the team’s playmaker – even if it’s for a short run of games – has come sooner than expected.

If they are good enough, they are old enough.

So is he good enough? Is the young Mr. Roberts Ready?

“Yes, sir. Whatever happens, I’m ready.”

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