Like other end-of-year lists I am publishing, this selection of various Teams, Coaches and Players is my best attempt at identifying excellence over the course of the year and not intended to be a “Best of” list. There is too much soccer activity in the State, for me at least, to make these kinds of claims. Before getting started, I would also like to highlight three Texas soccer Supporters Groups who went above and beyond this year.
Dallas Beer Guardians, Houston’s Texian Army and San Antonio’s 210 Alliance were jointly awarded the Independent Supporters Council (ISC) Philanthropic Group of the Year. These supporters groups banded together to assist in the recovery of the Houston area from 2017’s Hurricane Harvey.
Player of the Year: Weston McKennie (FC Schalke/Germany)
Dallas area native and FC Dallas Homegrown Weston McKennie (FC Schalke) broke through in 2018, making 25 appearances for his Bundesliga side in the 2017-18 season. McKennie made his full international debut (and scored his first goal) against Portugal in November of 2017. He also was a finalist for the 2018 US Soccer’s Male Player of the Year.
Others considered: Houston Dynamo forward Mauro Manotas (25 goals in all competitions in 2018). FC Dallas defenders Reggie Cannon (Homegrown who starred in a regular right back role at FCD and earned his first cap with the US Men’s National Team in 2018) and Matt Hedges (FCD Player of the Year who made his 200th appearance with the club in August).
Coach of the Year-Dana Taylor (Laredo Heat)
The Heat returned to high-level amateur soccer in 2018 after a two-year hiatus. Dana Taylor (photo above) came to Laredo for the summer from Cal State University-Stanislaus (California Central Valley), where he served as Men’s Soccer coach. He had made only one short weekend trip to Laredo before joining the team a few weeks before the season started. Taylor built a top-notch roster from all over the country and was still integrating arriving players after the regular season started. Despite the early challenges, the Heat finished the regular season undefeated and were the number one ranked team nationally in the 100+ team National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) at the end of the regular season. After winning the Lonestar Conference title, the Heat suffered a heartbreaking extra-time loss to Little Rock in the South Region semifinals. Taylor will be back with the Heat in 2019 in a consulting role.
Professional Team of the Year-Houston Dynamo
2018 was not a banner year for Texas professional soccer. FC Dallas was the only team to qualify for the MLS or USL playoffs, though their season ended on a sour note. In a space of a few weeks they went from first place in the Western Conference to a mid-week home playoff game, which they promptly lost to Portland. Houston Dynamo, despite a terrible stretch in the middle of the season which extinguished any playoff hopes, did win their first Lamar Hunt US Open Cup in late September. A few weeks ago, MLS.com’s Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle put into perspective the combination of the Dynamo’s Open Cup trophy and 2018 regular season regression, by saying “Progress isn’t linear and trophies are forever”.
High Amateur Team of the Year-Houston Aces-UWS
Only one Adult Texas team won a national league championship last year: Houston Aces of the United Women’s Soccer (UWS) League. To say the Aces dominated their conference would be a gross understatement. Houston finished an undefeated 8 game regular season with a +50 goal differential, conceding only 3 goals. The Aces went on to win the UWS National Championship.
Others considered: Laredo Heat (NPSL Lone Star Conference Champion-Midfielder Memo Diaz was named to NPSL Best XI), Brazos Valley Cavalry (Premier Development League (PDL) Mid South Division Champion) and Ft. Worth Inocentes FC (Winners of UPSL Inaugural season Spring and Fall Championships)
College Team of the Year-Baylor University Women
Baylor University Women’s Soccer team secured its first Big 12 regular season title since 1998 this year, finishing with a 12-4 record (8-1 in conference). Despite a tough loss to West Virginia in the final of the Big 12 Championship tournament, the Bears advanced to the NCAA Tournament as a Number 2 seed. Convincing wins over Abilene Christian, Vanderbilt and Virginia led to its second consecutive Elite-8 appearance. Unfortunately, the season came to an end on the road with a 3-0 loss to undefeated Number 2 ranked Georgetown. Baylor finished the season ranked Number 9 by United Soccer Coaches. Next year looks promising also as 19 players and 8 starters could return.
Others considered: Tyler JC Women (National Junior College Championship finalist/finished season 22-3-1)
High School Team of the Year-Frisco Wakeland High School
Wakeland High School in Frisco opened in 2006. In its 12 years of existence the school has established quite a soccer reputation, with its Boys and Girls programs winning a combined 5 Division 5A UIL State Championships. In May, Wakeland set a new bar, becoming only the second Texas public high school to win both the Boys and Girls State Championship in the same season. The Girls (24-1-4) defeated Grapevine on Penalties 5-4 after coming from behind three times, including a tying goal seconds before overtime ended. The Boys (19-4-6) finished in the middle of the pack in the 13-5A regular season, but caught fire in the playoffs, finishing off their championship season with a 3-1 win over Aledo.
Others considered: Houston Alief Elsik Boys (22-0-2-Texas 6A State Champions and the number one ranked national Fall Boys High School program by USA Today)
Youth Program/Team of the Year-FC Dallas Youth
It is possible that FC Dallas Youth could be awarded Texas Youth Soccer Program of the Year at the beginning of every year without much controversy….they are that good. The scope of the program is breathtaking, including Boys and Girls programs at all ages in multiple competitions with affiliate programs across Texas, other Southern states and Mexico. The Academy has delivered multiple players to the first team and U.S., Canada and Mexico Men’s and Women’s National Teams through the years. FC Dallas added a USL Division 1 professional program to begin play in 2019, further adding to growth opportunities for male players in their system.
The Women’s WPSL team went undefeated in the regular season. The U13 Girls won their bracket at the Dr. Pepper Dallas Cup and the U15 Boys reached the National Development Academy semifinals in July. 2018 was capped off when the FC Dallas Academy Director, Luchi Gonzalez, was named Head Coach of the first team, demonstrating the deep commitment to developing players from within.
Image courtesy of Laredo Heat