TEB Interview – Mark Followill on FC Dallas
If you have listened to the YellowCard Podcast on Blogtalk, you will know that I have talked FC Dallas a lot recently. The television play by play guy Mark Followill is a good friend of the podcast so I sat down with him for a chat about the MLS side.
Q. For those who don’t know, can you give us a brief history of FC Dallas?
FC Dallas is an original MLS franchise, starting in 1996 as the Dallas Burn, the club played home games at the Cotton Bowl before a brief move to a high school stadium in Southlake in 2003, a suburb near Ft Worth. The club returned to the Cotton Bowl in 2004 and in 2005 was rebranded to FC Dallas and during the 2005 season began playing in their current home, a soccer specific stadium built in a suburb of Frisco in rapidly growing and affluent Collin County, just north of Dallas.
The twenty thousand seat venue opened as Pizza Hut Park and has since been renamed Toyota Stadium. Seating capacity has been reduced in 2016 and 2017 while the stadium is under construction to be the home of the new US National Soccer Hall of Fame. The club has been a frequent play off qualifier but as far as trophies, FC Dallas won the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup in 1997 and 2016. Dallas won its first MLS Supporters Shield in 2016. The Hunt Family took over operations of the club in 2003, led by American soccer pioneer and icon the late Lamar Hunt and his sons Clark and Dan since his death in 2006.
Q. FC Dallas is known for their academy, is that down to one coaching staff or has that been par for the course for the club?
The club’s focus on the development of the Academy is grounded in a number of factors. First of all, North Texas for many years has been one of the fastest growing areas in the country and throughout it’s population boom the area has been a hotbed of highly competitive youth soccer. Secondly, the club has felt rather than putting resources into big name, high dollar and aging designated players, it is best served by investing in youth development.
The hope is to establish a club culture at an early age along with developing talent for the first team. There is also a hope to create long term fans of the game rather than fans who simply come in to watch a big name player and leave when said player moves on. Dallas have signed more academy players to the first team than anyone in MLS. Success of the players was limited at first but now Kellyn Acosta, Victor Ulloa and Jesse Gonzalez are those who have carved out consistent roles in the last few seasons. Players like Paxton Pomykal and Jesus Ferriera are stars in the making. Meanwhile, the academy teams have won championships at many levels, including the US Soccer Development Academy National Championship, the Generation Adidas Cup and most recently the prestigious Dallas Cup Gordon Jago Super Group.
Q. What can you say about your Manager?
When you say someone has “the club in his blood” you could definitely say that about Oscar Pareja. Pareja is fourth in club history in appearances as a player, from 1998-2005. After time as an academy coach, first team assistant and head coach at Colorado Rapids, Oscar returned in 2014 and has led the club to its most successful stretch ever. Pareja has molded together a multi-cultural locker room, thinks the game at an extremely high tactical and motivational level and is staunchly committed to giving young players opportunities. Pareja has supported not only academy homegrown players but also SuperDraft picks, and young players like Fabian Castillo, Mauro Diaz and Oscar Gruezo. Pareja is creative, demanding and pragmatic and fits the club and its culture perfectly, much of which he is responsible for creating.
Q. Best eleven in your time at the club?
Luckily, I have a long time to choose from in addition to being the team’s television play by play announcer since 2012. I was also the in stadium public address announcer from 1998-2003.
So my best eleven;
- G – Kevin Hartman
- D – Matt Hedges
- D – Zarco Rodriguez
- D – Zach Loyd
- M – David Ferreira
- M – Mauro Diaz
- M – Fabian Castillo
- M – Bobby Rhine
- M – Oscar Pareja
- F – Jason Kreis
- F – Ariel Graziani
Q. Best game?
The 2016 US Open Cup Final at Toyota Stadium which was a 4-2 win against New England. An incredible atmosphere despite a 9pm Tuesday night kick off time. An outstanding performance, bounced back from conceding an early goal. Played like the better side all night. Never seemed under pressure even protecting a 4-2 lead in the last twenty minutes. Mauro Diaz was exquisite in the how he controlled the game as a number ten. Tremendous relief for the club and supporters to end a nineteen year trophy drought.
Q. Most underrated player?
Carlos Gruezo from Ecuador. If he isn’t in the discussion for one of if not the best defensive midfielder in MLS by the end of 2017 I just don’t get it. He just turned 22 and has nearly twenty caps for his country, including appearances in the 2014 World Cup. He is a destroyer in midfield, who excels as a number six and has also helped Kellyn Acosta grow into a role of more of a box to box midfielder who can join the attack and already has five goals in ten matches in all competitions in 2017.
Q. What does the Hunt Family mean to soccer?
There is probably no 1994 World Cup and MLS without Lamar Hunt. He fell in love with the game on trips to Ireland in the sixties and the 1966 World Cup in England. He helped start the North American Soccer League (NASL) in the late sixties and was a tireless advocate for bringing the sport to more popular heights in America. No one spent more time, money and energy to help the sport grow. To call him the “Godfather of American Soccer” would not be an understatement. His sons Clark and Dan have continued that passion with their operation of Dallas and their vision for long term growth of the sport in America by encouraging development at academy level and bringing a first class new Hall of Fame for US Soccer to open in Frisco in 2018.
Q. Style of play and formations?
Dallas has been at their best in recent years playing a counter attacking style with an emphasis on pace on the wings, opportunities generated through creative number ten play and a number ten that can provide quality service on set pieces. The club has also leaned on an organised defense with its strength at center back and goalkeeper and was among the league leaders in 2016 in fewest shots on goal faced. The club has played different formations but has more than any other over the last five years implemented in the popular 4-2-3-1 formation.
Q. Is it hard to get coverage in Dallas, with the city having the four major sports?
Somewhat, although the club’s improvement since 2014, the sport’s overall growth in the US and the platform of social media have all increased the coverage and popularity of the club in the DFW Metroplex. This is a very crowded sports marketplace. FC Dallas has a very passionate group of supporters and provides a more affordable sports entertainment experience for families. The coverage is not where at the level those of us affiliated with the club would prefer but it is getting better and is filling a niche for soccer fans here.
Q. Whats the outlook like for the rest of the year?
Dallas is the last remaining unbeaten club in MLS in 2017. The club was active in the offseason transfer market to help the depth of the squad. They already had an enjoyable albeit disappointing run in CONCACAF Champions League. They lost to Liga MX side Pachuca in a two leg semi final and showed they were every bit capable of competing at their level and just made some unfortunate mistakes that cost them in the end.
After winning a double last year with the US Open Cup and Supporters Shield (most points in regular season table) there is no reason not to anticipate a great chance at more trophies this year. As a fan of the game across the globe, I appreciate winning the season long table as many leagues crown their champion but of course in the US, play offs are very popular and there is a tremendous thirst to win the trophy that has eluded the club, MLS Cup. There is the talent, depth and a key player returning from injury later this year (Mauro Diaz). They also have a great manager and a locker room committed to the long game approach it takes to build throughout the season and be in position to win MLS Cup in December.
Q. And finally, tell us a little about yourself and what you do?
I have been play by play voice for FC Dallas television broadcasts on TXA21 in Dallas since 2012. I have also called Copa America Centenario, US Men’s and Women’s National Team matches, Under-20 World Cup and Europa League matches for Fox Sports and Olympic soccer matches for NBC in 2016.