By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Jul 3, 2019) US Soccer Players - FC Dallas's commitment to developing talent through its academy system is, for the leadership at the club, a matter of philosophy. From club president Clark Hunt down to the coaches in the youth teams, FC Dallas fosters a culture built on a belief that developing good soccer players and playing them at the senior level is the right thing to do.
FC Dallas's youth focus is also a pragmatic choice. They're a suburban MLS team competing against richer clubs in stronger markets. Staying competitive in MLS means focusing on player development as a necessity. They can help you win games. They can also be sold on with the financial rewards strengthening the team. The degree of difficulty is higher than simply spending big money on the best possible players.
On the surface, Tuesday's news that FC Dallas is selling Ecuadorian midfielder Carlos Gruezo to Augsburg of the German Bundesliga isn't a direct connection to the academy-to-first team narrative. Gruezo did not come out of the FC Dallas academy. Instead, Dallas paid Stuttgart a transfer fee back in 2026. Reports at the time pegged the fee at around $1.5 million.
Gruezo is going back to Germany for a reported $4.5 million, with incentives attached that could push the total fee over $6 million. That's a very good bit of business for FC Dallas just in terms of pure profit. It's also a credit to the club that Gruezo shone brightly enough in Texas to catch the eye Augsburg. It didn't hurt that Augburg's scout likely had a book on Gruezo from his time at Stuttgart.
Utilizing existing channels to create a market for a player just coming into his prime is a sign of the league's wider maturation. It's proof that MLS players are in-demand in leagues where teams have money to spend. Gruezo is a fine player. He's been very good for periods of his stay in Dallas. He's also not one of the league's leading central midfielders by most estimations. The health of the MLS out-going player transfer market is good for FC Dallas because it makes selling Gruezo worth it.
That pragmatic decision to sale links into the overall Dallas philosophy. Reconfiguring their midfield without Gruezo isn't likely to throw the team into crisis on the field. The willingness to give young players significant minutes in meaningful matches means Gruezo's departure is less a cause for concern than it is an opportunity. It's probably fair to say that Gruezo was even on the market because coach Luchi Gonzalez already has two players emerging who can carry the load after he leaves.
18-year old Edwin Cerrillo signed a homegrown contract in February after three years in the FC Dallas system and quickly played his way into Gonzalez's plan. Cerillo has 10 starts in 2019, a number only limited by a period away from the club while playing with the USMNT U-20s at the World Cup in Poland.
Cerrillo didn't play in Poland, but his presence in Tab Ramos's team speaks to his sharp rise as a young talent in American soccer circles. A true defensive midfielder, Cerrillo is capable, even as a teenager, of the type of bite and work rate needed to man the position in Major League Soccer.
With Gruezo away on international duty at Copa America with Ecuador, Gonzalez turned to Cerrillo and US U-20 teammate Brandon Servania to hold down the midfield for FC Dallas. Following the U-20 World Cup, the pair received three straight starts in a double-pivot partnership. FC Dallas went 1-1-1.
It's probably no coincidence that the FC Dallas website published an item highlighting the number of minutes earned by homegrown players on the same day that Gruezo's sale went through. Even if it was just a coincidence, it makes a stronger point because Gruezo's replacements are certain to be players developed by FC Dallas.
Remember, Gonzalez replaced Oscar Pareja after serving as the club's academy director for three years. FC Dallas consciously avoided hiring an outside name, or even a coach with previous senior-level coaching experience, who might serve as a barrier between young, homegrown players and the first team. They chose someone they knew believed in the club's academy work because he was directly responsible for it and trusted young players.
"These guys have to earn what they get," Gonzalez told the club's website. "There's no charity here. This is not charity for the young players. This is what they're fighting for and they're earning it. Whether it's a young player, or a veteran player our locker room is competing"
With that in mind, Gonzalez's decision to rely so heavily on young players is less a proclivity than it is an age and experience-blind approach. That's not exactly the expectation in MLS where giving minutes to emerging players doesn't necessarily happen. When faced with difficult lineup decisions in meaningful matches, many MLS coaches default to the older players because they have a longer record of consistency.
Gonzalez knows that FC Dallas took a chance on him as a young coach. His position is a declaration that age shouldn't hold so much sway. Players who show well in training are good enough to get a chance at the MLS level without ever having played a senior team season.
FC Dallas has the hottest prospect in the league, Paxton Pomykal, playing in front of Cerrillo and Servania. Another talented youngster, Jesus Ferreira, has 15 appearances and five goals in 2019. FC Dallas plays a homegrown player in goal, Jesse Gonzalez, and established 20-year old Reggie Cannon as the starting right back in 2018. Cannon has been good enough to earn a call-up to the USMNT for the Gold Cup.
Dallas won't stop bringing in players from outside of the system, of course. They'll certainly try to replicate the return on Gruezo with future signings, just as the rest of MLS is doing.
What FC Dallas has going for it that so many don't is a belief that selling players, even homegrown ones, isn't capitulation. Teams love to push the "next man up" narrative to foster a sense of accountability throughout a team. No matter who plays, the team succeeds.
For FC Dallas "next man up" has a wrinkle. Carlos Gruezo is gone. The next man might be a teenager.
More From Jason Davis:
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- MLS Wednesday and playoff positions
- MLS resumes after the Gold Cup break
- The USMNT, Mexico, and Concacaf's new schedule
Logo courtesy of FC Dallas