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MLS Oct 06, 2015

SoccerWire Q&A: FC Dallas academy boss Luchi Gonzalez on FCD’s groundbreaking youth system

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With a bevy of national championships and 13 products signed to the senior team since 2009, FC Dallas’ youth development system ranks as one of the best in the United States, and Luchi Gonzalez has been a big part of it.

A Hermann Trophy winner at SMU and first-round MLS SuperDraft pick during his own playing career, the Hialeah, Florida native was recently promoted to academy director after several years of solid leadership as an FCD coach. His expertise, combined with the youth-friendly approach taken by FCD first-team head coach Oscar Pareja, figures to keep the North Texans among the elite of the U.S. academy landscape in the years ahead.

Last month I had the opportunity to speak with Gonzalez as part of’s “24 Under 24” series, and our conversation was so packed with interesting insights that I’ve taken some excerpts from it to feature in their own right.

+READ: names “24 Under 24” list; what does it say about U.S. youth soccer?


On how his soccer career differed from the road traveled by today’s talented youth players:

LG: My pathway was quite different: I trained twice a week, I went to college, I was not in a pro academy, I never got to train with a pro team until I was in a college program where I was able to do that in the summer with the Miami Fusion. That was kind of my first taste of MLS, when I was 18 years old.


On the balance between foreign and native coaches in the U.S. youth and pro systems:

LG: If you look around the league [MLS], you don’t see many foreign coaches, most are domestic. I think at one point the league had a lot of foreign coaches and they weren’t very successful, because maybe they didn’t understand maybe the college system or the draft, and we do have quite a few rules in the league. It takes a while to adapt. It’s just the culture of the domestic player and how to integrate them with international players.

Oscar-Pareja-croppedSo I think Oscar [Pareja], because he’s lived in this country for so long, he understands the college system, he worked in the academy, so he understands what these guys are going through. The fact that the majority of them are college-bound – the majority of our academy players are not going to be professional.

He knows what it’s like in Colombia, where a kid is trying to survive and make something out of his life, coming from a broken home or poverty or a community where to be a pro player, you have to survive. There’s a mentality that came with that. But then he also understands the American system: His son was born and raised here in the U.S. His son’s currently in high school … I think he gets the best of both worlds and that’s why he’s been successful.


On what makes the FCD academy so productive and competitive:

It’s nothing that we have written in a booklet or a curriculum. It’s literally the culture that we have. Oscar was the academy director at one point … his first assistant is Marco Ferruzzi – Ferruzzi was a youth coach, he did that on the side, so that allowed him to be connected to the youth here at FC Dallas. And then Josemo Baton, the other assistant coach, he was an academy coach for three, four years for our U-16s … so you already see in terms of the staffing, these guys have academy experience. They know what it’s like to work with the youth player.

Carson, Calif. - Saturday, July 18, 2015: FC Dallas defeat New York Red Bulls to win the 2014-15 U-16 US Soccer Development Academy Championship at Glenn "Mooch" Myernick Field at StubHub Center.

On average, every day we’ve got no less than four, no more than eight to 10 academy players training with the pro team, Monday through Friday, because they train at the same time as the academy, in the mornings. Our school program allows us to train in the mornings during the pro team training – we train side by side. And this isn’t just restricted to the U-18s – yesterday we had four U-16s training with the pro team.

There’s so many ways that we’re integrated and intertwined – it happens on a daily basis. It’s hard to explain, you’ve almost got to be here and see it to know how it works, but we’re very lucky in the fact that Oscar and his staff are so open to our academy players and our staff. So there’s full integration – not just players, but staff as well.


On the value of that influence from senior players on academy kids, and the culture that it builds:

LG: We see the interaction between the pro players and the academy team – it’s more on-field guidance in how they can improve their game. But then you see, at the conclusion of a training, there’s a hallway between the first-team locker room and the academy locker room. And a lot of times you see our academy players in informal conversations with the pro guys: about lifestyle, about school, about relationships with their family, how they balance those things. They’re just sharing experiences. The culture and the environment molds these boys and teaches them how to become productive young men. Not just a pro, but someone that’s going to be valuable for our community, our society.

Kellyn AcostaYou see kids that come here immature, they don’t manage their time well, they’re maybe not the best student. And within six months, they’re getting better grades, they’re eating better, their attitudes have improved. All these intangible things because of the environment. And the ones that can’t make that adjustment, the system kind of weeds them out. They don’t end up surviving here. They don’t make it. So I think the environment and the culture develops them. It’s not one individual coach, it’s the culture that teaches them and educates them.