So much for “play the kids”

With the FC Dallas announcement this week that the club was bringing in Andrés Ricaurte from Deportivo Independiente Medellín, it could be argued the move signals a shift in philosophy for Los Toros.  In fact, the move actually represents the prime direction of the club since Andre Zanotta took over.

We’ve been told for quite a few years now by the leadership and ownership of FCD that they are all in on “play the kids” with the dream of an all FC Dallas Academy XI winning MLS Cup. 

But “not so fast my friend” (trademark Lee Corso).

It’s funny how quickly the pressure to win now changes a club’s staff. 

From the get-go, we were told, coach Luchi Gonzalez was hired with the Academy to MLS team pipeline in mind. He was the Academy director after all. The Hunts and Coach Gonzalez himself cited the club’s philosophy as being, in essence, why he was hired.  Luchi’s belief in the young FCD Academy players was paramount.

Yet starting last season, some things began to change.

First, then 29-year-old Zdenek Ondrasek was brought in as a 9.  To be fair, it’s unlikely then 16-year-old Ricardo Pepi could carry the load. With the jettisoning of Cristian Colmán a striker was needed. So fair enough.

Then this season things accelerated as, first, the club traded $300k (or more) in GAM to Union for one of the best high-pressing wings in MLS, 28-year-old Fafa Picault.  That’s a great move, really, as left wing has been a problem.

Then 30-year-old Thiago Santos – for roughly $1 mil – came in to take over as the starting holding mid firmly planting Edwin Cerrillo firmly on the bench. Or if you prefer the more accurate version, moving Bryan Acosta back to the linking-8 and putting Brandon Servania back on the bench. 

Again, a good move, the club needed a lock-down 6 to replace Carlos Gruezo.

Thiago Santos (left), Andre Zanotta, and Bressan in 2020. (Courtesy FC Dallas)

Next, 31-year-old Franco Jara came in to compete with Kobra. This is a Dan Hunt baby he’s been after Jara ever since the dude kicked FCD’s tail in the Concacaf Champions League a few seasons back.

But by the time he arrived on a free, Jara was 32. This is a big contract signing, unusual for FCD.

So I was beginning to wonder.

Now Ricaurte comes on loan, but DIM says half his valuation is paid upfront.  His valuation? Roughly $2 mil, so did FCD pay $1 million? 

Whatever the price, this isn’t a free deal and this is a player at 28 in the prime of his career.  Prime of his career is also kind of new for the Hunts.

Looking ahead, we know FCD homegrown Reggie Cannon has been looking for a move for some time. I and others have recently reported offers meeting the Hunt valuation.  So we are again expecting Cannon to move this summer.

But what if when Cannon departs, Coach Gonzalez looks at this team and thinks this is an all-in chase of a Cup year?  We’ve been hearing that kind of language from the coach and ownership throughout the MLSisBack phase. They think they are close.

Then, instead of using the Homegrown player waiting in the wings as Cannon’s replacement – 19-year-old Bryan Reynolds – what if Coach Gonzalez goes with the experienced choice like he did last year when Cannon was with the USMNT?  What if Gonzalez chooses 27-year-old Bressan to play right back?  It’s not an unlikely scenario, is it considering last season?

I’ll tell you the answer to the “what if” question. It will be the end of “play the kids,” that’s “what if” it will be. 

Here’s what the team will look like in this very possible scenario with the player’s age after their name.

No-Kids-XI-2020
An FC Dallas 2020 lineup with no “kids.”

You see? No kids.

It’s amazing how fast a “play the kids” philosophy dies under the pressure to win.

Do the Hunts still want to churn out kids from the Academy and sell them for money? Yes, sure, it’s part of their profit plan.  Have they given up on the kids completely? No, they are paying a couple of them a lot of money.

But Zanotta and Gonzalez have quietly made multiple moves to be able to field a quality veteran team without kids. The moves were all solid signings individually but when you add them up and you get a salty, just short of 30’ish-year-old team.

“Sit the kids,” it is.

I leave you with this last thought…

“If they are good enough, they are old enough.”

Sir Alexander Matthew Busby, CBE, KCS

5 Comments

  1. Do you think that some of this shift in philosophy might have to do with the relative logjam of homegrown talent on the senior roster combined with the inability to sign any academy kids to NTSC deals?

    At the rate the academy is producing talent, it seems like the club is having a really tough time hanging onto guys before the seek opportunities elsewhere (Carrera, Gomez) or sit the bench for a long time (Reynolds, Roberts).

    And if the “Play Your Kids” philosophy starts to fade away, what does that mean for Luchi? Considering his strongest asset is his familiarity with the academy talent, that seems a bit dicey.

    1. No, the logjam is why you need to play the kids. So they will develop and be sold for big money. This is about the pressure to win, IMO. It does put Luchi in a tough spot.

  2. Good eye! Always thought “play the kids” was more like ” advertise the kids so we can sale the kids”, throw in a couple of vets and we are a playoff team in a league that has more than 50% of the teams in its playoffs……Brilliant!!!!

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