Houston Dynamo fans who follow the team closely have undoubtedly heard general manager Matt Jordan talk about the club’s philosophy of building the team through three “buckets” of young international stars, Americans in the prime of their careers and homegrown products of the Dynamo Academy.
Jordan has spent the better part of the last year rebuilding the Academy from the ground up and bringing in Paul Holocher to lead the reconstruction effort.
Kenny Bundy, the head coach of the Academy U19 side, has played a crucial role in the club’s developmental pipeline and has seen that role grow in recent weeks as an assistant on interim head coach Davy Arnaud’s staff.
Perhaps not surprisingly, young Academy players have been a more frequent sight at First Team training sessions over the last month. Bundy pointed out that the increased Academy participation is bigger than the individual coach, although Arnaud’s involvement has helped.
“I think that my role is that I’ve seen both sides now, and obviously I understand the kids. I know the guys, I know the teams,” Bundy said. “I don’t think anything has drastically changed, other than that Davy is really focused on making sure that we have a clear understanding, along with Matt and the rest of the First Team staff, of what the Academy is about and creating that vertical integration.”
A number of Academy players – as many as six on a given day – have been called into training with the first team since Arnaud took over in late July. On Wednesday, a lone youngster took the field with the pros as forward Beto Soto stepped in. It wasn’t Soto’s first call-in to the First Team, but each time still brings new joy.
“I get excited every single time. Every time I get a call from Kenny, I’m excited,” he said. “Even though sometimes I answer him pretty late because I’m with my family, but I’m always excited and happy that I get the opportunity to train with the first team.”
Soto, an 18-year-old who scored 22 goals over the last two seasons with the U19s, said that he’s seen his game grow as a result of working with the First Team forwards.
“I always try to learn from (Mauro) Manotas and Christian (Ramirez) and Ronaldo (Peña). I try to learn from them,” he said.” I’ve learned a lot of things from Manotas – his finishing, his movement, the way he’s always studying their defenders; and I also want to do that and copy that from him.”
Bundy believes that the benefits go far beyond just the individual player, though.
“I think it’s a benefit for the club. I don’t necessarily think that anyone gains more from it,” he said. “I think that we’re a club that’s built around wanting to promote younger players, and the big thing for us is these guys need the experience of being around not only the first team players, but the first team staff and that professional environment. When they go back, they understand that the standard has to be higher for them and they need to set the standard for the rest of the team.”
Soto agreed, pointing out that part of his responsibility is to take what he learned and bring it back to his Academy teammates.
“I feel like now, since I’ve trained with the first team, I have higher standards for myself and the level I want to get to,” he said. “Just bringing it back to my team and try to motivate them and make them bring the quality up.”
For Bundy, elevating that quality is a major part of not just the Academy’s success, but the club’s as a whole.
“Our goal as a club is to produce young players at the Academy that can be stars at the First Team, and I think that part of that is a responsibility for myself and the Academy staff to understand what the level is at the First Team, and then develop those guys individually to make sure that they can play at that level.”