FC Dallas president Dan Hunt in face of the current soccer crisis: 'I think we need to be investing even more in youth soccer'

Dan Hunt's involvement in professional soccer began soon after another moment of crisis for the country and at a pivotal moment for MLS in 2001.

The FC Dallas president (left in photo with Landon Donovan and brother Clark) was in New York on 9/11 and says he ran from the Twin Towers as they came down in 2001.

He soon thereafter joined his late father, Lamar Hunt, and Clark, now the FC Dallas and NFL Kansas City Chiefs chairman and CEO, in their sports endeavors that then included the Chiefs and two MLS teams, the Kansas City Wizards and Columbus Crew.

The 12-team MLS was on the verge of folding when Dan Hunt sat in on a league call.

"I was sitting in Chiefs office, me, my brother Clark, my dad and [Hunt Sports Group president] John Wagner," he recalled. "MLS folded on that phone call, the first day on the job. My brother turned to me and said, Congratulations, you have been hired and fired on the same day."

A couple of days later, the owners changed their minds.

"Our dad, Philip Anschutz and Robert Kraft banded together," Hunt added, "and put two teams out of business and kept 10 between the three of them."

MLS is in crisis again, facing the economic fall-out and an uncertain future because of the coronavirus pandemic. On another level, it is at the crossroads in terms of player development with the demise of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. MLS has announced plans to launch a new development league, but all clubs are not like FC Dallas in terms of how they prioritize their youth program.

FC Dallas has 12 Homegrown players on its 2020 first team, and other academy products are scattered at clubs in Germany, Denmark, Portugal and Mexico and in MLS and the USL (see below). In all, six FC Dallas academy products are senior internationals -- four making their debuts in the last 18 months.

"I don't think you will find a bigger believer in the youth game in the MLS ownership than me and my brother Clark," said Dan Hunt on a Zoom call with media on Thursday.

But he says owners need to step up in the area of player development like his father, Anschutz and Kraft did to save MLS in 2001.

"It's incumbent on owners to take the lead in this," he said, "and I want to be that person. I hope we have some other fellow owners who care, and I know we do, but we have people with varying interests in how they develop young players. For any ownership group to say they don't have good talent in their market is farcical for me. It's a joke because it tells me you are not working at it."

Any time he hears that from another owner he says he laughs and asks, "Is the DNA of a player in Dallas better than the DNA of a player in your market? Then people get real quiet because they know it's because of a lack of effort."

Hunt says soccer will change around the world in the aftermath of the pandemic.

"This is a moment where given what is going on and the challenges all across the globe," he said, "I think we need to be investing even more in youth soccer and our youth program here. I am sad in saying this because I think the game of soccer globally has changed. It is not a time to slow down, it is not a time to stop investing. It is a time to continue to push and innovate. There will be professional soccer, there will be amateur soccer, there will be World Cups. If you stick your head in the sand, it isn't going to work. You will be passed by."

Hunt calls youth development "a hard beast to manage," given the how expansive the United States is and the complications of travel, but he says it won't go away.

"It is our lifeblood at FC Dallas," he said. "It is who we are, who we have become known as from an organizational standpoint. We've built these great Homegrown players. We are so incredibly blessed. I think we do a very, very job we do mining players and talent here in Texas and the surrounding states. We do have a lot of scouting that goes on. We're not going to stop. We're not going to stop building FC Dallas on the youth talent we develop. That's just the core of who we are."

Six Homegrown players played for FC Dallas in its 2-0 win over Philadelphia in their 2020 opener. They included 18-year-old Tanner Tessmann, who started and had an assist in his MLS debut days after giving up a football scholarship to Clemson to sign a pro contract with FC Dallas.

Hunt says there were "highs and lows" with the games FC Dallas would get in the Development Academy. He credits the success it has had recently with the launch of second-team North Texas SC, which won the USL League One title in its first season.

"Having young players playing against grown men who are professional soccer players, albeit some of them journeymen, that is a great experience," he said. "Some of them are 26, 27 years old. They may be a lot faster, more physical, so you have to use your brain and what tools you have to beat that player, to get out of situations, help your team be successful. That catapulted our young talent ahead. The poster child for that success is Tanner Tessmann and what it did for his performances. His first two professional games were unbelievable performances for an 18-year-old. There are plenty more of those to come."

The other thing FC Dallas has done is give its young players plenty of international competition. It's not just in the Generation adidas Cup, the MLS youth tournament FC Dallas hosts at its complex in Frisco, or the Dallas Cup, in which FC Dallas won the 2017 Super Group with a team that included Reggie Cannon, Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira and Brandon Servania, all now senior U.S. internationals.



"We love traveling them to Mexico, to Central America, to South America, to Europe, hostile environments, where fans are in their faces, whether language is a challenge, the hours are different," Hunt said.
 
He said MLS youth teams must find a way to get more games against youth teams from Liga MX clubs.

"I just believe that," he said. "You look at the success of the Mexican youth national teams and what their clubs can do. We have to build a much more meaningful format with them."

Dallas youth soccer has one of the richest traditions in the United States, Hunt grew up playing on teams like the Flame, Comets and Texans. Solar, the 2019 U-16/17 champion, and the Texans played in the Development Academy, and he hopes they join the new circuit MLS is putting together.

"We're not going to get all the players here in North Texas," he said. "There are good players at other clubs. It can be said around the United States. I hope there is an involvement for the other clubs and top players in the DA. I hope all these players aspire to be a professional soccer player or play in college. There has to be an end game for them. We're not going to get them all in MLS. I hope these top clubs continue to compete in this new sort of league, new sort of organization, whatever it ends up being. One, from a travel point of view, we are not going to probably be able to fly these kids around and play an 'MLS schedule' for them. That would be incredibly complicated. Maybe one day it happens, but we are not there yet in my opinion. They need local and regional competition so I hope local clubs can be a part of this. Otherwise, I don't think you get the diversity of games."

Hunt says the current pandemic will trigger a depression on the global transfer market -- an unfortunate turn for MLS clubs, who were just entering it.

"Obviously, that is not good for MLS," he said. "We were just starting to see significant spikes in values. Obviously, the Alphonso Davies deal was a giant one, and there had been a lot of interest in other players in the league. Specific to FC Dallas, there had been interest in our players. So that is not good for the business model of any soccer team because transfers are really the lifeblood of most clubs around the entire world. That's not good, but I think it will come back over time."

Hunt believes FC Dallas will move ahead of its MLS rivals.

"We are the best suited or one of the best suited for what the new world looks like," he said. "It is something I spend every day thinking about and working on, our youth club and academy. Not a day goes by that something doesn't come across my desk that we are dealing with. If you have owners who are not committed, they will fall behind in this, whatever the new world looks like. We're a big believer in this, and maybe there are other owners in MLS that are not or have other priorities. That's our commitment. That's our focus to make the most out of this opportunity in front of us."

Hunt's greatest disappointment is for the young players in the FC Dallas program. Soccer's shutdown came just as FC Dallas was coming through with opportunities to them on the first team or at North Texas SC.

"These are critical moments for soccer players," he said, "really between the ages of 14 to 19, to get minutes to play, to develop their skills.
The thing that worries me is their [lack of] participation from a three- to six- to nine-month period for them. It's going to stunt their development."

FC Dallas academy products (2020 MLS roster)
Reggie Cannon (U.S. international)
Edwin Cerrillo
Jesus Ferreira (U.S. international)
Jesse Gonzalez
Eddie Munjoma
Ricardo Pepi
Paxton Pomykal (U.S. international)
Bryan Reynolds
Thomas Roberts
Dante Sealy
Brandon Servania (U.S. international)
Tanner Tessmann

FC Dallas products (other rosters)
Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids, U.S. international)
Christian Cappis (Hobro)
*Brecc Evans (Austin Bold)
Johan Gomez (Porto)
Jonathan Gomez (Louisville City)
Diego Letayf (Tigres)
Weston McKennie (Schalke 04, U.S. international)
Chris Richards (Bayern Munich)
*Arturo Rodriguez (Real Monarchs)
Richard Sanchez (Sporting KC)
Victor Ulloa (Inter Miami)
Alex Zendejas (Guadalajara)
*On loan from North Texas SC.
Note: Gonzalez and Cappis have attended national team camps but are not yet capped.

Photo: Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire

20 comments about "FC Dallas president Dan Hunt in face of the current soccer crisis: 'I think we need to be investing even more in youth soccer'".
  1. Robert Biondolillo, April 19, 2020 at 7:21 a.m.

    I really admire Dan Hunt and FCD.  Parts of MLS/SUM/USSF are rotten to the core, but they are not monolithic.  The more people like this who do the right kind of things for honest reasons that replace the old guard, the better all of us will be.  When successful at remolding MLS,  I hope he's one who will fundamentally reform US Soccer.  

  2. Wallace Wade, April 19, 2020 at 9:36 a.m.

    Mr. Hunt refers to playing in the Classic League in North Texas. That League was composed of many old, strong Independent Clubs. Inclusion in that League was based on Sporting Merit, you had to qualify on the pitch!!!! MLS launching a new "Closed" League is not the answer! Closed Leagues kill the sport in America. 

  3. James Breslin replied, April 19, 2020 at 11:34 a.m.

    Agreed!

  4. R2 Dad replied, April 19, 2020 at 2:36 p.m.

    Don't look now, but Hunt references upcoming changes, which means that MLS/Liga MX superleague is definitely in the works but MLS won't tell us until after it's a done deal. So the Mexican second division, the Ascenso MX, those owners got payoff money (an additional $845K/each year)to agree to dump pro/rel, paving the way for a closed superleague in north america. Great for the owners, but terrible for fans and youth development since as Hunt mentions most of clubs don't invest in it the way FC Dallas does. Before the Teflon Don signs off on this superleague, he should ask the CIA for their files on how the cartells have infiltrated Mexican soccer. MLS might be infecting itself with the same disease that is eating Mexican soccer. How is it the Ascenso dropped from 18 teams to 12 teams? Garber should publicly confirm the answer to that question before signing a big fat deal that could bring mexican problems over the border. 

  5. Paul Berry replied, April 19, 2020 at 5:31 p.m.

    You think soccer is dead in America? Where were you in 1993?

  6. frank schoon, April 19, 2020 at 10:57 a.m.

    I can say one thing for the Hunts is that they were and still probably are the backbone of the American soccer experience and thanks to them for their support. Having said that, everytime I read an article about player development it mainly centers around 'TEAMS' and playing each other. Definitely the team experience is part of the development of the player but like at Ajax the team experience is only implemented to see how much the player HAS LEARNED from their development .  
    In other words, you first develop the player, than watch him in how he plays in team competition to learn what he needs to work on further. In other words Team Competition should be used as a measuring gauge of the individual player not as a Team gauge itself.

    Again we hear, talk or read about playing more ,different , teams so the players can learn. In other words they look at Player Development in terms of TEAM COMPETITION. Go read Jay Berhalters interview and it is all about TEAMS when it comes to development...And that is really in a nutshell how we in the US see as developing the player.



    The quote about .." Coronavirus crisis...being at an crossroads in terms of player development with demise of the US Soccer Development Academy...Oh, Really??? We aren't at a crossroads as far as development goes for we have not been on the RIGHT TRACK , or road, of player development in the first place. Just look at our 50 year track record on development....And good riddance to the Developmental Academies , that I think is a joke. It's a name used to impress the naive parents to pay through the nose. What they have done is to use the same licensed coaches/ instructors who once working for a club now go under work under the heading of Soccer Academies. Talk about 'Bait and Switch".

    NEXT POST 


  7. frank schoon, April 19, 2020 at 11:32 a.m.

    Looking at some of the quotes. " Look at success the Mexican youth teams and their clubs". Yeah, You think they learned to play their soccer by going to the clubs....ever heard of PICKUP soccer which formed so much of the Mecican youth's basic techniques and savviness....

    How 'bout; " I think every day on working on our club and Academy". Well, try thinking everyday about PICKUP soccer which forms so much of the Latin talent from south of the border all the way down to Argentina that the MLS thrives on.... With all the creative talent why hasn't the SOCCER COMMUNITY come together and seriously create a Marshall Plan, like impetus in developing a SOCCER CULTURE.

    " We need to invest even more in our youth"....That's admirable but we to need seriously look in how we invest for i'm not impressed with the licensed Instructors we employ,instead bring in some real people who have played World Class, Pirlo, Valderama, Zidane, Xavi, Zlatan types who can actually talk with their feet and demonstrate and show their experience. We don't need these licensed CLASSROOM types with their JARGON, who played perhaps for Pizza Hut United......We need to get seriously and bring in the real expertise....remember how NASA got started and who we brought into introduce rocket technology...That's what I mean with investing in our players and soccer in overal terms


    I look at soccer in two stages... We have achieved the first of stage bringing consistently good crowds to the stadium  that aspect ,the fan base,was missing and contributed to the demise of the NASL. We now have  build a consistent soccer fan base and is still grown( too bad Cincinatti Univ. misses this apect) and two we have now to build, create , nourish a SOCCER PICKUP CULTURE. So many of problems and costs can be reduced, streamlined once we have a PICKUP culture...



  8. cony konstin, April 19, 2020 at 5:24 p.m.

    We need a soccer Revolution in the USA. We need 600,000 futsal courts so kids can play king of the court, 24/7/365, for free and no adult interference. We need a Rucker’s Park soccer environment. We need to create Courts of Dreams. You build them. They will come


     


     


    https://youtu.be/M7JBcu0MzvI


    - [ ] 

  9. Walter Burenin, April 19, 2020 at 11:09 p.m.

    The Ponzi scheme (also know as the ridiculously escalating expansion fees) is about to fall apart, in the face of tough economic times. Unfortunately, another consolidation of clubs will be needed for the league to survive. 


    I am a lifelong US Soccer fan, and I desperately want a successful league in our country. However, the unchecked expansion (with the aforementioned escalating expansion fees) cannot be the primary source of revenue. The owners will need to tighten their belts and only the financially strongest will survive. As long as we have owners who are willing and able to ride it out, in the end we will have a stronger league.

  10. humble 1, April 20, 2020 at 2:43 p.m.

    Don't agree with the comments above about futsal and pick-up being the key in the USA, nor do I agree that with Hunt that MLS academies are the key.  Stick to the business side.  More likely you will see in 10 years that USL was the key.  This is because for youth soccer to flourish, you need dessity of players first.  You cannot have a pickup futsal game if there are only two players in your neighborhood.  For me the three keys, are coaches, referees and youth leagues/games.  Education and certifiy the coaches, but do it in a unified platform that is inexpensive for the coaches.  Same for referees.  We also need to unify our leagues so they are not silos but unified platforms.  I have no problem with multiple leagues, but lets get interleague play, play-offs, regionals, whatever, be sure that all teams in town in age group play one-another.  If you have the top team, the are 'elite', can't get good enough games, then suck-it-up, play-em-up.  Yeah they might get banged up, but welcome to real world of soccer, we need some 'hardened' players here.  Take the 'travel' out of youth soccer.  Let MLS focus on the business of soccer.  Someone above mentioned the 'Classics' league in Dallas aka Chamber Classics Soccer Alliance (boys).  Without the 'Classic' league that list FC Dallas players above would be short.  The key for the 'Classics' league is that is the undisputed top of the boys youth pyramid from in Dallas before they are old enough for the academies that then split them up.  My 2c.  Cheers!      

  11. frank schoon replied, April 20, 2020 at 4:26 p.m.

    Humble 1, you can't have pickup soccer with only 2 players????. Many of my games were 1v1 with a tennis ball. There was only one kid in my street in Amsterdam, who likewise joined Ajax and later went to play for the Dallas Tornados in Tornados in the 60's. After school I would walk a couple of blocs to play where there were more kids.  I wish kids would spend several hours a week playing pickup 1v1... you be surprised what a difference it would make to their game.  Don't forget many of these pickup games  on the streets where there were more players are basically made up of  1v1 contests anyway. That's how you learned the game, to survive 1v1 onslaughts.....

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, April 22, 2020 at 12:34 p.m.

    Not what he said, Frank. He said you can't have a futsal game with only 2 people.

    I agree with both of you.

    I think professional training is important but not "key" in developing future international players. What happens from birth to age 12 is "key" to the difference between ordinary and extraordinary. 

    You can take the average 12 year old and turn out competant professionals, but they will be limited by their lack of earlier development. There will always be a "if only" regret.

  13. Philip Carragher, April 20, 2020 at 4:59 p.m.

    Cony and Frank, I believe both of you are correct. A friend of mine's son spent two years in the Oviedo, Spain area and came back with stories of futsal courts everywhere packed with pickup games. humble 1, as a coach I spend lots of time trying to coach less and let my players play more. In fact, one of my main goals is to never say anything from the sidelines during matches (but will if it'll help promote flow). One of the strongest positives of pickup or futsal (futsal pickup?) is that the game is the teacher, not some coach instructing players from the sidelines. I believe my best practices involve a modicum of technical training that gets incorporated into game-like situations and then let them play. And if at all possible, have my kids play older kids, with them as well as against them.

  14. frank schoon replied, April 20, 2020 at 5:29 p.m.

    Philip, wonderful story. The big boys in soccer don't understand that without pickup soccer we will never create good players. Everything with them is about teams and top down structure. The problem is without Bottom Up development like your friend's son which is the cheapest and fastest way to develop. 

    If these big boys who bring over all the South American talent to play in the MLS  should realize these Latins all have one thing in common in their overal development...PICKUP SOCCER...We have to jump start the Culture of Pickup soccer and once that's achieved it will be like Cony states, a Rucker type of environment(s) will come about....We need these guys aforementioned in this article to understand that instead of putting all their time and interest in various team structures also seriously spend on creating a Pickup culture

    How was your friend's son's development. What did he improve in, what did he learn that he wasn't before..

  15. Philip Carragher, April 21, 2020 at 1:43 p.m.

    Frank, the futsal for this 19-20 year old was between soccer practices with an Oviedo based team.  The futsal was true pickup and everyone played. He played against old women, little kids, all ages, and said it was fun. He was amazed at how good the very young (around four years old) kids ball handling skills were. Although the futsal didn't really develop his already well-developed skills, he loved it and it was probably the youngsters that benefitted the most. He learned a bunch practicing with the team, especially the demand by fellow players to play well and practice hard, a big difference from his experience with the DA team he played for here in the Chicago area (my son played on the same team). Everything in Spain is pass, pass, and even pass it into the net, whereas so much of the DA experience featured players who either wouldn't pass or could only square or back pass. The second year of this adventure, when he finally got his player's card (not an easy task for US players and the only way to legally play in regular season games; otherwise, you're relegated to only playing in tournaments). Practices were 90 minutes and intense; the weekly weekend game was easy by comparison. Quite an adventure for a very brave young man who learned how incredibly far behind we are in developing bunches of skilled, intelligent soccer players.

  16. frank schoon replied, April 21, 2020 at 2:48 p.m.

    Philip good story....You're right the mixed soccer was more beneficial for the younger ones than your son, but that's fine for at least helped out another kid. Note what is so good is having these younger kids become used to player older kids and adults.....

  17. humble 1, April 21, 2020 at 2:15 p.m.

    Guys I agree with you on pickup being important only place it in a different priority level - and I don't think we can hold the federation responsible for it.  It's culture.  I played pick-up basketball all my youth, through college and beyond.  For me 1v1 is not pickup - that's play time.  Pickup is 3 v 3 or 2 v 2 or whatever.  My son is the soccer player - he's played futsal, pickup where ever whenever we can - but - it is hard to get a bloody game here in USA.  Clubs like everything to be organized and run by coaches.  I've seen how pickup soccer works in Uruguay and Italy - it's exactly the same as basketball was for me growing up.  You need density.  

  18. frank schoon replied, April 21, 2020 at 2:43 p.m.

    Humble, don't separate 1v1 from 2v2 or 3v3. They all are important. 1v1 forms the individuality of the player and places his thinking on only one opponent at that moment. In other words you can't 1v1 from the others for it stresses or focuses on aspects that the others don't stress as much are also important. 2v2 tends bring in the emphasis of give and go's and 1v1 but not as concentrated and 3v3 brings in the 3rd man off the ball situation that the others don't. It is all intertwined and necessary for a players development, therefore to say 1v1 is not pickup is ludicrous....

  19. humble 1 replied, April 22, 2020 at 7:08 p.m.

    Mi amigo Frank you are right about 1 v 1.  It is under appreciated in it's importance for development of ball mastery.  But I don't call it pick-up.  This is a matter of semantics really.  Even at the margin, reality is that in my barrio, there is no one - not one boy or girl my sons age for him to play.  So he trains with me, the basketball player and himself.  My broader point is that I am not alone.  I have lived in 8 states for over a year each in many of the major metros in the USA - and I am in one now.  It is the same most places.  Density for pick-up is the exception.  Soccer is still in it's formation here.  This is why I would like to see the Federation lead and be a catalyst for (1) coaching formation, (2) referee formation and (3) local league integration and continued formation.  The pickup games will follow.  We have no formal pick-up program for basketball - it grew up naturally.  It is up to the local communities when they see base, basket and foot - ball pitches and tennis courts being taken over by kids and adults with soccer balls - it will be in the greater good - to give the soccer players their own place - and they will have rightfully earned it.  Until then we need to build - not empty courts - there are no shortage of those - but coaches that actually understand the game - and refs that have played and know the rules - and leagues that are unified local pyramids.  Without these fundamental building blocks soccer will be like Cross Country and Track and Field - a niche sport.

  20. Philip Carragher, April 21, 2020 at 5:33 p.m.

    humble, I believe you're correct about needing density to promote pickup, so how about outdoor futsal courts in communities where there are dads and moms who grew up playing soccer? To begin with, I'd recommend placing these outdoor futsal courts in Latino communities and other communities with similar characteristics. Pickup futsal! And I do sympathize with your frustration with the US pay-to-play-club-centric soccer culture. When I began playing in NJ back in the early 70's, the culture was anyone can play in any game at anytime unless it was a high school game. We'd even let sideline strangers wearing blue jeans play in some of our travel games (especially when we played outdoor, full-field Winter Soccer on pitches covered with snow and ice; that was crazy). For years that was the culture, but then around 1990, the organizers moved in and I remember it distinctly. I was putting on my boots, ready to enter an adult league game and play for a team I wasn't rostered on but was short of players (very common behavior at the time for soccer) and was told by one of the rostered players that the league had voted to not allow non-rostered players to do what I was doing. I was mortified and very loudly proclaimed that this violated one of the most sacred tenants of the soccer culture that I had come to love. I knew then that soccer would suffer. I just didn't know how much.

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