Interview by Mike Woitalla
Hassan Nazari, who played for Iran in the 1978 World Cup and 1976 Olympics, founded the Dallas Texans in 1993 after coaching youth ball in the highly competitive Metroplex for eight years. The Dallas Texans have long been ranked among the top clubs in the nation for sending players to the college, pro and national team level, and for their success at national competitions. The club, which has affiliates throughout Texas, in Oklahoma, Florida, Canada and Ghana, has its own field complex and indoor facility in North Texas, where it's launching a residency program. Nazari spoke to us for the Youth Soccer Insider's ongoing interview series with leaders of U.S. youth clubs.
SOCCER AMERICA: How does your club select players for the top teams?
HASSAN NAZARI: It is always easy for a coach to say who is good. It’s a little more challenging for a coach to say who is going to be good.
Obviously, when the players come to our club at 7 and 8 years old, we believe in our coaches, who can recognize talent.
It’s so many different things. The decision-making, intelligence, quickness, how comfortable they are with the ball. And a standout can do one or two things extremely well.
Also, do they want the ball? The good players always want the ball.
SA: What role do tryouts play?
HASSAN NAZARI: The world is so small now. We compete with so many teams, there are lots of games going on around us. So when the players come to our tryouts, they’re usually not unknown to us.
It’s extremely rare to come across players at a tryout whom you haven’t seen before.
SA: What does your club look for when it hires coaches?
HASSAN NAZARI: There are several things. Knowledge. Having a little playing background helps a lot. And accountability. For me it’s always about accountability. People in a decision-making position always have to be accountable.
We also look for specialists at age groups. Somebody who’s a great U-10 or U-11 coach might not be a great U-18 coach.
SA: What do you mean by “accountability”?
HASSAN NAZARI: We monitor the people who are in charge and watch how they make a decision for this and that.
At our club if someone is in charge of something and that thing doesn’t go well or doesn’t improve as much as we want -- we’re not going to give him another position making decisions.
SA: How do you judge the coaches at the younger ages, when results are not the best indication of how they’re developing talent?
HASSAN NAZARI: When we hire a coach, we look at the team when he takes the first step.
Throughout the year or season we watch that team. And we always compare that team, individually and as a group, to where it was from the first day that that coach took charge.
We look closely at the team on first day, then in the middle of the season, and at the end. Are the players individually improved? Are they playing better as a team? This is how we judge that coach.
Now, whatever anybody says, at the end of the day, success in the sport is about winning trophies as well developing players. It comes together.
You cannot say, this coach is not winning, so he’s developing players. Or this coach is winning, so he’s not developing players.
At one point, it comes together and we expect that at the higher age groups.
SA: Is there a specific age when you start giving more importance to the results?
HASSAN NAZARI: We are looking at two things from the older age groups. One, how many of our players break into the professional level. How many players get to college and play. How many realize their dream of getting a college scholarship. And all of that.
Two, how successful we are when we go to certain tournaments and compete with the rest of the country.
We have about 15 players playing professionally in MLS and Europe.
[Editor's note: Dallas Texans alumni Clint Dempsey and Ramon Nunez played for the USA and Honduras, respectively, at the 2010 World Cup. The Los Angeles Galaxy's Omar Gonzalez was MLS 2009 Rookie of the Year. Alejandro Moreno has won MLS titles with Los Angeles, Houston and Columbus.]
SA: The Dallas Texans waited until the U.S. Soccer Development Academy’s second year, in 2008, to join the national league run by U.S. Soccer. What’s your assessment of the Academy now?
HASSAN NAZARI: I think it’s a good start. I think the USSF has done a great job creating that league. Definitely it’s very, very competitive and very good. It’s all good.
It’s also important to recognize the Academy clubs that aren’t affiliated to MLS.
There are individual [non-MLS] clubs trying to do the right thing, trying to invest more in their players. They are building facilities. Some already have facilities. They’re hiring good coaches. They have connections with professional clubs around the world. I think they’re trying to do the right thing. You never really have enough of a good thing.
We have to recognize that as well. ... We're one of the few clubs whose players play in the Academy free of charge.
SA: Should the U.S. Soccer Federation create a Development Academy league for girls?
HASSAN NAZARI: There’s no doubt, yes. I believe everything has to come from the Federation.
Eventually probably it’s going to go that way. But it needs to be started when it can be done right and can stand on two feet.
Our girls teams will compete in U.S. Club Soccer's ECNL [Elite Clubs National League] next season and that's also very exciting for us.
SA: The Super Y-league, U.S. Club Soccer and the U.S. Development Academy have joined U.S. Youth Soccer in the youth arena over the last decade. Has the increase in options for youth clubs benefited America's young players?
HASSAN NAZARI: It all depends. In North Texas, we’re very fortunate that we play in very strong leagues in boys and girls, so there was not really too much of a need [for other options] for the North Texas teams.
But because this country is so huge, in some places the competition is not as good league-wise so probably that’s not a bad idea for certain areas. However, I think too much of it is not very good either. We cannot just keep creating league after league after league without giving up something.
One thing that makes the USSF Development Academy very good is by going to that, the kids don’t have to go to ODP. The kids don’t have to go through certain things. The Development Academy created something very unique and very competitive. At the same time they took something away that the kids don’t need to do anymore.
I think it’s a little different in ECNL because you still have to go through all the other stuff as well as playing in this league.
SA: Do you think youth soccer has improved significantly in the last couple of decades since you’ve been so heavily involved?
HASSAN NAZARI: This is a great question and a loaded question as well.
If you look at the society, every aspect has improved since 20 years ago-- science, fashion, medicine, technology, and obviously soccer.
We have to ask the question, Have we improved enough? Could we have been a little further along?
Yes. There a lot resources in this country to give our kids more advantages than everybody else.
(Hassan Nazari is the founder and director of the Dallas Texans. His career with the Iranian national team, for which he started all three games at the 1978 World Cup, ended with the 1979 Islamic revolution. He continued playing for clubs in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar before moving to Dallas, where he played for the USL’s Dallas Americans and started his youth coaching career.)
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)