The FC Dallas collapsing USL-1 pipeline problem

“Out of adversity comes opportunity”

Benjamin Franklin

A quote attributed to a founding father, but one you would also expect to hear from FC Dallas Head Coach Luchi Gonzalez.

FC Dallas has long been about making opportunities out of adversity amid a league full of teams with greater resources.

From a young Matt Hedges subbing in for his debut, replacing an injured George John, and writing his name in Sharpie on every team sheet since; to the homegrown records that tumbled with a 3-0 win in Columbus as Fabian Castillo, Tesho Akindele, and Blas Perez were away with their national teams.

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Bryan Reynolds shoots against Houston Dynamo in the 2-1 FC Dallas win, September 12, 2020. (Matt Visinsky, 3rd Degree)

With a number of recent injuries and two big departures, opportunities were presented to several young players.

Bryan Reynolds is heir-apparent to Reggie Cannon’s right back spot. Ricardo Pepi, Jesus Ferreira, and Dante Sealy all stepped up a place in the attacking ranks as Zdenek Ondrasek returned home to Czechia and Fafa Picault recuperated a hamstring injury. Tanner Tessmann, Brandon Servania, and Edwin Cerrillo have all taken advantage of Bryan Acosta’s time on the sidelines.

The glaring omission may be that FC Dallas was forced to use Ryan Hollingshead at center back as Matt Hedges went through concussion protocol. Rookie draftee Nkosi Burgess gave a great account of himself in the preseason but adversity only served to deny an opportunity to the 23-year-old.

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Nkosi Burgess, 2020. (Courtesy FC Dallas)

In 2019, North Texas SC not only built a championship season on the back of loans from its parent club but also prepared Homegrown players in the transition to professional soccer. Tessmann, Reynolds, and Pepi have been perhaps the most notable beneficiaries in adapting to the professional game via North Texas SC. This year, Burgess and fellow draftee Eddie Munjoma have found the door firmly shut on their early professional careers due to the pandemic.

Major League Soccer and USL League One each have restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, but those differing protocols have added a wrinkle in allowing FC Dallas’ younger player to gain playing time with the USL affiliate. The free movement of players between the two teams is now dependent on the presence of antibodies for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The antibodies are present in some people who have recovered from COVID-19 but not all. We do not know how long they last in the human body but the idea of immunity from catching the virus a second time stems from those antibodies. They’re detected in a blood test, a serology test.

“Unfortunately, because of the pandemic and the rules with the bubbles, we can’t mix and match guys from the first team to play games with the second team unless they have the antibodies like Edwin [Cerrillo] or Thomas [Roberts],” Luchi Gonzalez explained during a media conference call on Monday. “So that’s a big challenge, and we talked about it with Eddie [Munjoma], and talked about it with Nkosi [Burgess].

“They need games – any games – and if they’re not going to get in with the first team, there is a possibility there’s a plan for them to maybe get them with the second team and have some type of full-time role with them.”

FC Dallas can loan players to North Texas SC for the longer term, but the back-and-forth movement is desirable as FC Dallas requires a full second team in practice with no time for quarantine periods.

FC Dallas currently has Callum Montgomery (San Antonio FC), Francis Atuahene (San Diego Loyal), and Ema Twumasi (Austin Bold) out on loan. Should the club recall Montgomery and perhaps Twumasi – given his ability to play right back as a secondary position – it would free up Burgess and Munjoma to make a long-term move to North Texas SC.

The Catch-22 situation is then Montgomery who might go from a weekly starting role to likely not making the gameday roster as the fourth choice center back. Twumasi similarly would give up regular playing time for a shot at the bench.

So for Coach Gonzalez and his staff, the challenge has become finding ways to prepare players for Major League Soccer with little-to-no game time available.

Imanol Almaguer and Chuy Vera pose for a photo after a North Texas SC game (Twitter/chuyvera15)

Director of Scouting and Head Coach of last season’s U-19 academy side, Jose de Jesus “Chuy” Vera is now a permanent part of Gonzalez’s plan to prepare younger talent for Major League Soccer.

“Sometimes you can reach your potential by not having a perfect situation,” said Gonzalez. “And that’s what we’re going to try to keep doing. If we can’t give him a 11v11 we’ll keep finding other ways to challenge them. Video, small-sided, functional IDP stuff, technical, whatever it is.”

“It hasn’t been like formal but Chuy Vera is a first-team coach for us,” Coach Gonzalez explained. “He’s a development coach for our first team. He’s working with a lot of our young players and getting repetitions in their IDPs – individual development plans. So they get reps, they get confidence in gestures and decisions, situations and he’s really helped us in that area.”

Elsewhere, senior players are helping to mentor younger players. Luchi specifically highlighted Thiago Santos and Edwin Cerrillo as such a situation as the team’s two true defensive midfielders.

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