With the season being a tumultuous amalgamation of matches, it’s been a very difficult year for players, especially the academy graduates.
With the season becoming more and more consistent, and the pandemic being less of a factor, however, players have been able to fall into the rhythm. 

Photo: MLS Soccer

I decided it would be interesting to list the academy players from both FC Dallas and North Texas SC, and see how they compare to each other based on their performances.

This week we take a look at North Texas SC.

Consistent Performer

Justin Che

For everyone who didn’t keep tabs on preseason earlier in the year, it was probably a surprise to see 16-year-old Justin Che start every match of the regular season so far. But this was certainly the expectation. As much as Jonathan Gomez was the young stud last year, Che is that and more this year.

FC Dallas has lost two of their most touted academy center backs in the last couple of years, with both Chris Richards and Nico Carrera going to Germany. Hedges and Ziegler aren’t getting any younger, and Bressan has not proved that he is a starting-caliber center back in MLS. That is why the club has Callum Montgomery, Brec Evans, and Justin Che on the backburner.

Because of Evans and Montgomery going out on loans at the start of the season, Che was set up to become the primary starter at center back, and he has proven his skillset. His passing range is already higher than kids his age, and his past as a forward has allowed him to be good with the ball at his feet, something needed in Luchiball.

That is why he was signed to the first team last week.

Che will not start for FC Dallas next year, and probably not the year after. But it would not surprise me if he entered the first team’s squad rotation as Sealy has done this year.

Carlos Avilez

It’s kind of been an up-and-down year for Carlos Avilez.

He got signed to the first team on a homegrown contract due to the suspension of Jesse Gonzalez, even traveling with the first team to Orlando for the MLS is Back Tournament. Then, the disappointing spread of COVID throughout the FC Dallas ranks in the hotel led to the team not playing matches and being stuck in a hotel for a while. Then, when he returned to Frisco with the rest of the squad, a Jimmy Maurer injury maybe created an opportunity for him to get into the starting eleven, especially with new signing Phelipe Megiolaro under quarantine. However, due to his training with North Texas SC at the time, there were protocols that did not allow him to be with the first team, leading to the emergency signing of Charlie Lyon from the MLS Goalkeeper pool.

Nonetheless, he still has performed exceptionally well with North Texas. He is considered one of the best goalkeepers in the league, which is no surprise considering he continually pulls out saves like this.

Hopefully, we see him have a breakout season one day with FC Dallas. He seems very committed to the organization. However, with three goalkeepers in front of him in the pecking order, I don’t think it will be anytime soon.

Decent Contributor

Beni Redzic

A couple of years ago, Redzic was touted as a probable homegrown that would sign instead of going to college. But for some reason, he started to underperform and went down the youth national team pecking order. Homegrowns like Dante Sealy rode above him, and he was almost definitely destined to become another college player.

Then, the 2020 preseason started. Star player Arturo Rodriguez left for the Championship, and players like David Rodriguez and Romero weren’t performing at the level of a USL League One Champion. Redzic rose up the pecking order during the preseason and became a starter as the season started during summer.

His injury against Ft Lauderdale was unfortunate, but he does seem like a shoo-in starter for Eric Quill, and his progression will be fun to track this season.

Collin Smith

Along with Beni Redzic, Collin Smith has been a surprise for most fans. He has actually appeared in more games than Redzic, appearing in every game so far this season, either as a starter or as a sub. His stats are less impressive, with a goal and an assist in those thirteen matches, but Quill has used Smith almost like Luchi uses Barrios. This season, Barrios has had very poor numbers, with only a goal and four assists in 15 matches. But Barrios’ ability to stretch defenses frees up space for the other players. That is exactly what Smith gives Quill; a player that uses his athleticism to stretch defenses, and occasionally getting behind defenders to take a shot or drag a ball across the face of goal.

He still has a long way to go. If I were a betting man, I would guess his career take the trajectory of a player like Gibran Rayo, who contributes more in the lower divisions than in MLS. However, with the wingers on the first team aging, it wouldn’t’ surprise me to see Smith make the jump, especially if he improves more over time.

Arturo Rodriguez

I feel bad for Rodriguez. He had an opportunity to strut his stuff in a better league when he was loaned out to Real Monarchs. A pandemic and a bunch of injuries later, he sees himself back with North Texas, performing well but not as well as he did last season.

There are many out there who think that Rodriguez doesn’t have the skillset to excel in MLS, and there are some worrying signs. For one, his position isn’t quite clear. He doesn’t have the speed to be a winger, but when he plays centrally he often drifts wide, leaving gaps in the middle of the field.

I am of the opinion that Rodriguez should be given a chance to succeed with FC Dallas, and there have been rumors from USL Championship and even some MLS sides that agree with me. There is little chance he is still in League One next year, so the club has an important decision on what to do with him in the future.

Ronaldo Damus

Like most of the forwards on this team, Damus didn’t come out with his 2019 form, which was expected after a pandemic rolled over the season. He hasn’t been bad, per se: 5 goals and 3 assists in 12 matches is pretty good for a striker. Nonetheless, this is definitely lower than his Golden Boot rate of last season.

His low production probably has something to do with his disappointment that he was not transferred last season. There were a lot of rumors that his departure was imminent last winter, but nothing ended up happening. There is little chance that he stays next year, but it would be interesting to see if he signs with the first team, especially with Cobra’s transfer and Pepi’s inevitable youth national team call-ups.

Gibran Rayo

Rayo has had to take big steps this season.

Romero and Engebretson left the team suddenly. Dante Sealy, who was expected to train and play with North Texas this season, was unable to due to COVID, and Smith & Redzic are both Academy players. In response to this need, Rayo has taken big steps this season and has improved so much in comparison to last season.

He still doesn’t put up great numbers (one goal in 11 matches) and he still doesn’t have the necessary skills of a winger, but his possession play and his defensive skillset relieve so much pressure on the wingbacks. He is also the most flexible player on the pitch, being able to play anywhere above the defensive line.

Will be interesting to track his progression.

Kevin Bonilla

With Munjoma stuck on the first team due to protocols, North Texas had a massive hole at right back. Cuadrado was not able to fill it, and Che, while a good defender, is not great at right-back. That is why it was so crucial that Bonilla returned to the squad.

It is unfortunate that the NCAA season was suspended for some teams, but that did lead to Bonilla’s return to the squad. Since he returned, North Texas are 4-1-1, with their one loss coming to league-leaders Greenville Triumph, in a match that NTSC definitely could have won.

Bonilla doesn’t put up the numbers, but there is a reason why he was on some fans’ shortlists of academy players that could get a homegrown contract. His low center of gravity coupled with his coverage of space makes him a great attacking wingback that can drop back at a moment’s notice.

His track to a professional contract is speeding up with his return to North Texas.

Brecc Evans

Another loan that didn’t work out.

I feel bad for Evans because he is another player on the roster with really bad luck. He was loaned to Austin Bold, then the pandemic hit. He was dropped down the pecking order, with Marcelo Serrano trusting veterans more. He returns to the squad and plays inconsistently due to his lack of playtime down at Austin. Then, he gets injured and is replaced by Nkosi Burgess, whose arrival has led to a rise in the level of performance by the squad.

I don’t think Evans will return to the starting eleven anytime soon, especially with only three matches left. Furthermore, I don’t think Evans will stay with North Texas this season. It sucks that his career with NTSC ended at a low.

Worrying Inconsistency

Grady Easton

Easton was a surprise inclusion for the first two games of the season. He played center back along with Lamar Batista and performed pretty good. It turns out that his inclusion into the squad was due to a couple of factors, and has since not seen the light of day for North Texas.

I doubt he is in the rotation anymore. Furthermore, if he trained with the Academy, I don’t think he is allowed to join North Texas at any point. He joins SMU next season, so maybe he makes a cameo next season in the spring. He is a future possible signing, and SMU allows the organization to track his improvement.

Imanol Almaguer

Almaguer hasn’t played since Matchday 9 when the squad traveled to Tuscon. Since then, he’s MIA. Literally, radio silence.

Ignoring his sudden disappearance, Almaguer hasn’t really performed as well as he did last season. In the matches he’s played, the team has five points in six games, and the team’s level increased exponentially when Nicky Hernandez was signed and Kevin Bonilla and Eddie Munjoma joined the squad.

His future with the squad definitely is uncertain.

David Rodriguez

The other Rodriguez brother has been one of the more disappointing players this season. His production last year of two goals and one assist was expected for a young player, but this was the season that he was expected to fill his older brother’s shoes, and that has not happened.

Granted, the kid is still 18 years of age, and he still has a long time to improve his game. But let the record show that since his brother took his spot in the starting eleven, the side has improved, and David’s minutes have dwindled in comparison.

Arturo will definitely leave next season, so David will have another opportunity next spring to strut his stuff and prove he is the right man for the job. However, it worth mentioning that his time in North Texas was supposed to be temporary. FCD definitely have their eyes on this kid’s career, and he will need to prove himself before he gets a Homegrown contract.

Phillip Ponder

Probably the most disappointing player this season. Ponder was signed from SMU, and was expected to contribute far more than he has so far this season. He’s played a total of 45 minutes over 6 matches and has shown no distinct qualities to make his case to start.

Maybe this is a Cesar Murrillo case, where North Texas goes with the younger kid, but it turns out that they have a quality player on the bench that ends up playing well somewhere else. Whatever the case may be, it is disappointing that Ponder has turned out to be as good as he was in college.

There are other academy players on the roster, including Diego Hernandez, who has one minute played this season, but there isn’t enough of a sample size to make a judgment for those players

What do you think of my list? Do you think one player is rated too high or is underrated?
What player do you think has the brightest future?

Featured Image: MLS Soccer
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