FOR 2019 FC DALLAS DOUBLES DOWN ON THE HUNTS
The 2019 FC Dallas season is here and while the obvious stories focus on a new coach, homegrown kids, a new USL side-jam, and “club culture” – don’t be distracted from noticing those who are pulling the strings, Clark and Dan Hunt.
Just as a reminder – the birth and meaning of the divisive nickname, “The Huntsmen” is not a reference to the Disney movie or the outdoor weekend activity but rather a nod to the fact, for better or worse, all elements of this club – the good, the meh, and the bad – are all a byproduct of the ownership.
From the successful launch and growth of the profitable youth system, the winning ways of the Academy, the lack of style in its branding, the 2016 Double, the facility and the surrounding boom of growth, and the far too regular sight of empty seats are all byproducts of the Hunt brothers.
When you think about it, consider if any other MLS club has owners who are as prevalent in its day to day existence as the Hunts are to FCD? Sure, Arthur Blank immediately comes to mind simply because he essentially has in two seasons done everything the exact opposite as the Hunts. (Now, how long term sustainable all that is, certainly is the question, isn’t it?).
You could consider the Galaxy’s Phil Anschutz, or Merritt Paulson, Robert Kraft, Anthony Precourt – but each of those differs in ownership from the Hunts in clear ways. Some because of the line of stars above the crest, the consistent willingness to engage with the fan base and build a community, being the worst kind of villain, or maybe the most apathetic. Beyond that, only the nerdiest of MLS fans could tell you much about who owns the clubs in Chicago, KC, RSL, Philly, Toronto, and the others.
The point is, the face of FC Dallas might be any coach or player of the day, but the guts, brain, and spine are 100% Hunt and they seemingly like doing things their way more now than ever.
Consider this: When faced with losing Oscar Pareja, the Hunts did something almost inconceivable on the global soccer stage. They hired someone who had not only not done the job at a top level but one who had never coached professional players. While this made sense in MLS v1.0, pulling that trigger in 2019 falls somewhere in the spectrum of stealthy genius and delusional fantasy.
It was easy to point the finger and call it the “cheap way out”, it was more difficult to give them credit for believing so much in what they’ve been working towards. They confidently made the call most any other owner would never be brave enough to do.
The media has turned pen and camera to Luchi Gonzalez because he hits so many right notes: a creature of his forebear’s culture and a critical cog in its construction and operation. He’s young, hip, and talks about modern tactics in a way that swoons the head and hearts of fans who like such things.
But, for all of his romantic talk about the “importance of the ball” how exactly will coach Gonzalez handle that famous July gauntlet of spirit-sucking heat and the locker room wedge of the evil summer transfer window?
It’s one thing to sit kids for poor form, it’s another to correct the slumping mind frame of a 28-year-old multi-hundred-thousandaire.
Gonzalez may very well go on to win so much hardware an actual cabinet will have to be built, but his hiring most undoubtedly will ultimately generate one of two things, either the feel-good story of the ages or the most “well, duh.” narrative in recent sports history. The Hunts are smart enough to understand that and self-assured enough to actually do it anyway.
It’s easy to get the sense the brothers are quite comfortable with how things are going with their modus operandi. The stadium has a new south end, they’ve launched their long desired USL team (in their own time frame, mind you) and successfully have the “we sold something to Europe” notch its belt. For the start of 2019, things are looking pretty rosy.
So rosy, even some Hunt-humor sprouted. Earlier this week, the soccer-razzi incorrectly glommed onto a talking point about Dallas being over the limit of Designated Players (DP’s) in the same way the Galaxy currently are. Then, in the least “Hunt-like” of manners, Dan tweeted the following:
Buzz calls this the “funniest tweet in FCD history” and he’s probably right. Dan’s willingness to poke back at the stereotype not just about the club, but specifically aimed at him and his brother. The Hunts most certainly see nothing about how they go about the FCD business as “cheap”, and you probably read this out of character act as a reactionary moment.
On the other hand, it might signal a doubling down on their commitment to doing this the Hunt way. Need a head coach? Hire an unproven family member. Need a stadium? Stick it in a fast-growing, but out of the way spot. Trouble selling tickets? Raise prices and minimize marketing. Need a #9? … nevermind, you get the point.
Trying to figure out where exactly the Hunts fall on the range of “quality MLS ownership” is really hard to determine, especially if you’re inclined to give extra credit for sticking to one’s guns. While conjugating on that topic, it may be interesting to note: 2019 marks 100 years of collected pro sports ownership for the Hunt family and in that span they’ve collected six champion trophies. 100 years is a noteworthy business achievement, but 3 AFL, 1 NFL and 2 MLS Cups across that span of time also tells an interesting story. (edit – it’s been pointed out this list fails to include the Dallas Tornado 1971 NASL championship, which in turn changes the 100 year reference. Hunt owned the Tornado for 14 years. Now 7 championships in 114 years)
You don’t have to accept or use the nickname “The Huntsmen”. The fact Clark and Dan have chosen not to give their own team a nickname – well they did, until they no longer did – ironically leaves this topic open to great debate. Yet there are few other naming options that properly and wholly encapsulate what really is the core of this club.
Oscar Pareja is gone, along with Kellyn Acosta, Victor Ulloa, Fernando Clavijo, and even Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz.
Clark and Dan remain. The Huntsmen, indeed.