Dynamo Academy players earn stripes playing with first team
It’s 7 a.m. and the alarm clock is going off. School is out for the summer and you are 18 years old. 7 a.m. should not exist in your world, but you have to be at work in 90 minutes. You have an unpaid internship for the summer, looking to gain experience in what you hope will eventually be your full-time profession. You are just like so many other students, trying to get a sense of what the real world is all about while improving your skills to compete in the workforce at some point.
The only difference is that your boss is two-time MLS Cup winner Dominic Kinnear, and your colleagues are the likes of Brian Ching and Brad Davis. You are a Dynamo Academy player, waking up to play soccer with the Houston Dynamo first team and you are training in the hopes that one day the first team will become your team.
This is the life of Bradley Bourgeois, Abe Matamoros (pictured, above) and a select number of Academy standouts. They have been given the unique opportunity to train alongside some of the best MLS has to offer. Given the opportunity that lies ahead for them, maybe a 7 a.m. wake-up call is not such a bad thing.
“I love waking up that early in the morning when I’m going to do something that I love,” said Bourgeois, a Cy-Fair High School graduate who will attend the University of Tulsa on a soccer scholarship in the fall. “It’s an opportunity that not every kid gets so it’s one that you definitely want to remember. I am trying to take in as much as possible and learn as much as I can.”
Part of that learning experience is getting through the transition from the youth game to the professional one, which is as much of a mental adjustment as it is a physical one.
“It’s a different mindset with the Academy,” said Bourgeois. “It’s not a job and it’s not something that you’re getting paid to do. When you get with the first team, you’re going against guys who are thirty years old and this is how they make their living. Having that mentality and that attitude is very different.”
In addition to training with the first team, Bourgeois has played in nine MLS Reserve League appearances in the past two years, which his coaches hope will give him a leg up when he starts his college career at Tulsa.
“If [Bradley]’s starting in the Reserve League, then he should be able to start and play every week at Tulsa and continue his growth,” said Dynamo director of youth development James Clarkson. “Playing with these professional players is a fantastic learning experience for these guys.”
Matamoros, who made the jump from the Dynamo Academy to collegiate soccer at Tulsa, last year, is back in Houston for the summer and ready to seize the chance to play with the Dynamo regulars.
“I’ve been waiting a really long time for this opportunity,” said Matamoros. “I want to show Dom what I have, learn from everybody and gain confidence in my abilities. I know that if I can play with these guys, then I can play with anyone in the country.”
Although this is the first time for Matamoros to train with the first team, he did make four appearances in last year’s Reserve League. Due to NCAA regulations, once a player begins collegiate play, he is unable to play in the MLS Reserve League without losing his collegiate eligibility.
Even with that limited exposure to the professional game, Matamoros believes his small stint with the first team made a large difference when he got to Tulsa. In his freshman campaign, Matamoros played in 17 games and was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team.
“I was more aggressive and quicker after playing with the reserves,” he said. “The effort that they give is top notch. Being able to go 110% for the whole match is definitely an advantage, because I don’t think every team does that.”
As with any internship, both players hope that it will one day lead to a full-time job. It just so happens that they need only look around the pitch to see how the work they are putting in today can pay off in a roster spot in the future.
Players such as Tyler Deric, Alex Dixon and Josue Soto parlayed their time with the Academy into professional contracts with the Dynamo, and their presence gives these young men a glimpse into what the future may hold.
“It gives me hope that I’ll be there soon,” said Matamoros. “Seeing these guys out there makes me think that I’m not too far from being there.”
Added Bourgeois: “It shows you that it’s something that can become a reality. These are guys who have come all the way from club to college and they’re living the dream right now. It makes me want to go out everyday and work harder and get better all around because I know that anything is possible.”