East Texas’ most famous soccer player, Clint Dempsey, developed into a world-wide name through playing in the streets and developing his skills in an unorganized manner.
It’s with that philosophy in mind that Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas came to Tyler Junior College’s Pat Hartley Soccer Complex, adding Tyler Azzurri FC as its sixth affiliate on Monday.
“Our curriculum is based on that,” said Chris Clarke, director of juniors player development for FC Dallas Youth. “Our curriculum is based on less coaching and more individual problem solving to find those difference makers.”
Azzurri FC president Bryan Brady and FC Dallas Youth affiliate director Ben Waldrum signed a contract Monday to add FC Dallas East Texas to the likes of West Texas, El Paso, Emerald Coast (Florida), Tri (Tennessee) and Monterrey (Mexico).
“This is a huge event for East Texas,” said Jeremey Bernard, an Azzurri coach and FC Dallas East Texas board member who was integral to the affiliation process. “It’s going to be a great program.”
Added Waldrum: “This is Day 1 of a very, very bright future.”
The FC Dallas youth club is one of the premier organizations of its kind in the country, ranking in the top one or two over the last couple years. The club had 65 seniors sign college scholarships last month, and in the past four years 11 players have signed professional contracts, including homegrown signee Kellyn Acosta, of Plano, who started in Saturday’s match against Sporting Kansas City.
“We’re first call for the national youth teams,” Clarke said. “We’re constantly putting people into youth national teams.”
The success comes from a focus on player development through ball mastery, tactical shapes and independent player thinking, Clarke said.
Waldrum said past affiliates have grown immensely, most doubling in size. The affiliation with East Texas is two-fold.
First, the juniors (boys and girls born 2003-2007) will immediately be named FC Dallas Juniors and will have weekly skills training.
Second, the existing Azzurri FC club teams will come under the umbrella but will decide themselves whether to keep the Azzurri blue and white or trade it in for the national brand of FC Dallas’ red, white and blue. Brady said, based on his son’s predisposition, he expects players to lean toward FC Dallas.
Whether or not the jerseys change, Brady said the club will continue to operate as it always has, only with the added bonuses of the FC Dallas name and resources.
“We want to give all kids every avenue to train,” Brady said. “We want to take every kid that wants to learn.”
Clarke said many youth clubs ask to become affiliated with FC Dallas, but East Texas was chosen for the values already instilled by Azzurri FC.
“The important part for us was trying to find a group that matched the philosophies we have in terms of organic growth as opposed to artificial growth, going out and finding pre-established people,” Clarke said.
For East Texans, the affiliation gives a boost to exposure for those seeking to play at the next level, be it college or professional, by allowing players to compete in college showcases and other national tournaments. It’s also a chance to improve the soccer clubs in Tyler, with a hope that all the clubs, including Sting, Shock and Thunder, can come together.
“We want the other clubs to come in and be a part of something better than what has been done in East Texas,” Brady said. “Everything has been splintered before.”
Waldrum — son of Randy Waldrum, the head coach of the Houston Dash, the newest member of the National Women’s Soccer League — said the affiliation is about starting soccer players on the right path for success.
“The foundation, the technical skills — that foundation needs to be built here,” Waldrum said. “That’s really the investment we have.”
And of course, finding the next Clint Dempsey wouldn’t hurt.
“If we don’t canvas the areas that maybe are not getting the high level of exposure, then we’re never going to unearth those players,” Clarke said. “We came here because we think there are some diamonds.”