Potential summer 2023 FC Dallas Academy signings

The end of the 2022-23 MLS Next season is upon us so it’s time to talk Academy signings once again.

Side note: I now realize in hindsight that I didn’t make a version of this list this winter. I think the early Homegrown signings of Tarik Scott and Nolan Norris made me skip it.

The last time I made this list back in July of 2022, I talked about the demise of the in-high school homegrown signings, the 15/16-year-olds. Instead, I said, we would see the emergence of the hybrid deal for these teenagers out of the U17 team.

And that’s what happened.  Alejandro Urzua was signed at 16 to (all signs indicate) a hybrid North Texas SC deal rather than to a Homegrown FCD deal.   

Two older players, Norris and Scott, were both signed to Homegrown contracts. Both are 18 and just graduated from high school.

So that is the trend that I believe will continue. Each player is different of course, but this is the general idea. 

On with the list…

Moving off the last version of this list because they signed contracts are the aforementioned Tarik Scott (#2), Nolan Norris (#4), and Alejandro Urzua (#6).

This is my list and my list only and it’s formed from my own opinions. I make it by watching games and talking to people I respect. FC Dallas has their own list. It might well be very different than mine.

Potential Summer 2023 FC Dallas Academy Signing List

There is a large time factor at play here and the clock is ticking as some of these kids will head to college programs and camps at the end of July or early August.

1. Julian Eyestone – GK, 2006 (Previously #3)

Up to #1 is FCD’s 6’6” U17 goalkeeper, Julian Eyestone. He was named best keeper at the ’23 GA Cup. He’s made seven starts for North Texas SC with three wins and four draws.

Eyestone turned 17 in April but he’s accelerated his education and graduated a year early (after his junior year). He’s heading to Duke later this month. 

There are two moves here for FCD.

1. Sign Eyestone now.
2. Let him play one season at Duke this fall and try to sign him in January.

You see, this January, Eyestone will still be 17 but he will be old enough that European clubs can sign him to a pre-contract. In other words, FCD will have direct competition for the kid.

Eyestone has everything you want to see in a keeper and he’s being swarmed by agents and scouts from Europe. It’s going to be very difficult for FC Dallas to keep him. They better have a plan or this kid’s gonna be snapped up come January.

Julian Eyestone was named Generation adidas Cup Best Goalkeeper at the 2023 GA Cup. (Courtesy MLS Nest)
Julian Eyestone was named Generation adidas Cup Best Goalkeeper at the 2023 GA Cup. (Courtesy MLS Nest)

2. Diego Hernandez – CM, 2005 (Previously #5)

He’s back!

What a spring this my man Diego is having! It took Hernandez about a year to get his peak form back after his awful car accident and now he’s playing some sensational soccer. He’s been scoring big goals for both Los Toritos and the U19s.

For my money, DH has been the best U19 for two seasons now, even when he was playing up as a U17. He usually plays as an 8 or 6 and has the ability to be a deep playmaker.

Hernandez has a spot at Furman which is an excellent program and that’s hard to pass up. But the way he’s playing I think it would better serve him to sign here.  He’s perfect for a hybrid deal, 1 or 2 years at North Texas then on to FCD.

Of course, both he and FCD may feel differently.

FC Dallas U19 midfielder Diego Hernandez dribbles toward goal in the Dallas Cup match against Real Madrid at MoneyGram Park on Monday, April 3, 2023. (Daniel McCullough, 3rd Degree)

3. Diego Pepi – F, 2004.  (Previously on my Watch List)

Look, this is a crazy debut at #3. I know.   

The younger Pepi has never been an Academy player even though every time I watched him he was the best player in his ECNL team.  Having asked around the powers that be, the answers to why he wasn’t were all in line: “Every player is different.” “Players develop at different rates.” Etc, etc. The FCD voices that wanted him moved up – yes, there were some – apparently lost out.

So really it’s just down to coaching choices and I do think it’s quite fair to call El Trencito a late bloomer.

But now the younger Pepi has made the North Texas SC team as an amateur jumping from ECNL. After that debut, he got picked to play for the U19s in the Dallas Cup and crushed it. (Side note: the 19s coach changed in March.)

I think this kid is for real. He’s not as naturally gifted as his older brother Ricardo but Diego’s got a fierce will, intensity, and desire to compete. At Dallas Cup, he outplayed dudes on the Botafogo, Real Madrid, and Monterrey sides with big resumes.

He’s a December baby but a 2004 so he just graduated high school. Having only played ECNL he might not have big colleges calling. So sign the kid to a North Texas SC contract.

Yes, he’s a bit of a project but I don’t think he will let you down.

FC Dallas U19 forward Diego Pepi scores in the Dallas Cup match against Real Madrid at MoneyGram Park on Monday, April 3, 2023. (Daniel McCullough, 3rd Degree)

4. Anthony Ramirez – W/M, 2005 (Previously #1)

I know, it’s odd that Ramirez went from #2 to #1 and now falls to #4 right?  Remember what I said about the time factor? 

Here’s the thing. I knew Ramirez was born in December 2005 but what I (stupidly) missed – and have been corrected on since the last time I made this list – is that he’s a member of the class of 2024.  He doesn’t graduate high school till next May.

So that moves him down a peg in priority even though I still believe Ramirez has one of the highest upsides in the Academy.

The kid has bags of talent and he’s starting to show really well with North Texas SC.  He will be 18 this December, so there’s a chance you could lose him to a Mexican club if you don’t move on him before he graduates next year. Or maybe even sooner.

If FCD wants to sign him now, I would 100% support that. Yes, even straight homegrown. That’s how highly I think of Ramirez’s game.

Anthony Ramirez has his boot cleaned by his captain Andre Costa after scoring two goals against LA Galaxy II, June 4, 2023. (Courtesy North Texas SC)

5. Malachi Molina – RB/W, 2006 (Previously #7)

I think it raised an eyebrow or two when I put Molina on my list but I think this kid’s going to be an awesome pro. His showings for NTX and at the GA Cup made for a lot of believers.

If you’ve missed him playing, he’s a vertical outside back in the same vein as Bryan Reynolds.  He’s getting to be quite explosive at that right back spot and he’s Jamaica’s first choice U17 (he’s also US eligible).  Plus, he can still give you a lot as a wing if you need it. 

Molina is an October 2006 kid and my notes say he’s a class of 2025 so he’s another player with plenty of time. He’s just a U17 after all. But IMO he’s also deserving of at least the hybrid contract that Ale Urzua signed.

FC Dallas Academy’s Malachi Molina represented the club in the inaugural MLS NEXT All-Star Game, August 2022. (Courtesy FC Dallas)

The Next 5

After the Top 5, I was starting to get into the next section where I have a chunk of names that are all high in potential. So I’m stopping here where I had a good natural break point and giving you the next 5 names to mull over.

With three names in the Top 5 having just graduated, you can bet these next five names will factor heavily in the next version of this list come winter break.

6. Nayrobi Vargas – 2006, high striker. Strong GA Cup, Honduras U17, playing for North Texas SC.
7. Caleb Swann – 2007, central mid 8.
8. Jared Salazar – 2006, W/M. Strong GA Cup, recent NTX debut.
9. Michael Cortellessa – 2007, RB/LB. Ryan Hollingshead 2.0. US U16.
10. Bryce Outman – 2007, W/M. US U16.

Jared Salazar and Nayrobi Vargas tie with several other players for the Golden Boot with 3 goals at the 2023 GA Cup. (Courtesy MLS Next)


  1. For a lot of the reasons you mentioned, I wouldn’t be surprised if Pepi had a few trials lined up for this summer with clubs in Mexico or Europe. It can be nice to be Ricardo Pepi’s brother. And frankly, with younger players Scott and Vargas in the pipeline, I’m not in too much of a rush to sign him to a HG deal. If they can get him on a NTX contract for a few years as you suggest? Great, but we haven’t seen very many guys take those deals.

    Side note: MAN it feels good to have a couple handfuls of prospects on the cusp of the first team again. Missed it the last couple of years.

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