We’re at the point in the offseason where the gears are turning across all clubs in American soccer, making for some long and busy days for front-office members as preparations loom for their 2023 campaigns.
Perhaps none in MLS NEXT Pro are busier than North Texas SC General Manager Matt Denny, who spoke with MLSNEXTPro.com to share some insights on the life and times of a GM looking ahead to 2023.
Denny, one of the rare second team-specific GMs in the country, is balancing several on and off-field tasks at the moment and it’s nearing time for him to begin making decisions about who will be leading and playing for his club in just a few months’ time.
Here is a closer look at some of the topics Denny spanned with MLSNEXTPro.com:
Of course, the hottest topic in the North Texas SC camp is finding its next head coach. After a fourth-place Western Conference finish and playoff berth in 2022, the club and Pa-Modou Kah mutually parted ways.
The search is obviously well underway, and Denny has received no shortage of applicants hailing from more places in the world than you might expect.
"We've been really fortunate to see the candidates we've been getting, and it's very diverse in people's backgrounds and experience as well," said Denny. "We've had applicants from all over the world with really strong professional careers, playing and coaching, and some people with some of the top development clubs in the world are looking to come here.
"So, it's really a credit to the league and the awareness of the sport in America right now,"
MLS NEXT Pro’s foray into the world’s professional soccer scene caught the eyes of many and just like the players on the field, also serves as an opportunity for coaches and staff members to hone their crafts. The essence of the league is not to be in one place for too long, and that ambition is a trait North Texas SC looking for in its next hire.
"This is what we tell our players when it comes to North Texas - 'You shouldn't be here for a long time. If you've been here for a long time, it's not the right fit,' so it's the same coaches and staff too ... just like the players, we bring someone in and we hope that they make the first team.
"I think naturally, we expect that a good coach here is going to move on to become an assistant coach for an MLS team or head coach somewhere else. That's just kind of the reality of it. If we had the right coach that would stay for a long time, it would my life a lot easier," he said with a laugh. "But we're kind of realistic in that respect."
Being a part of the FC Dallas organization is an enviable position for anyone in the sport, especially a young player.
Even on the highest stage, like the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup, you saw products like Weston McKennie and Jesus Ferreira as star examples of those among the U.S. men’s national team regulars to have started their careers from within the Dallas organization.
North Texas SC has already been successful in elevating players to FC Dallas, and there is a promising corps of youngsters primed to be the next generation to follow suit. One of the ways North Texas finds its players is by making sure they don’t escape the Dallas area before they’ve gotten a chance to see them in person.
"I think that you see now MLS is so far gone past someone being able to just show up and walk on. But there's so much talent in the area, that there is an opportunity now that someone could just not have got the chance. They could have moved from somewhere else, and we could see something in someone that nobody else has,"
That approach paid dividends in the first year of MLS NEXT Pro. 20-year-old striker Bernard Kamungo was one of the stars in the inaugural season and wound up being a Best XI selection with his 16 goals and five assists. Most importantly for the talented youngster, his 2022 campaign yielded a four-year contract with FC Dallas.
All from appearing at a North Texas SC local tryout in 2021, fresh out of high school.
"His story is certainly a Hollywood movie," said Denny.
As an aside, both Kamungo and Denny became U.S. citizens at the same time last year and share a special connection you rarely see between a player and GM.
Player Profile: Bernard Kamungo
Has North Texas identified its next star in this year's tryouts? Possibly. The ongoing sessions have produced at least three candidates,
"We've got one interested player that we bought back for a week ... And we've got two other players that we think we might bring in for a weekend preseason to get a better look at just because we saw something,"
There is one more session in January for local youngsters to impress, and several spots to fill on the 2023 North Texas roster. The club announced its roster decisions in November and will of course have some first-team players inevitably coming down to help round it out once preseason hits full swing.
And by the time preseason is in full swing, the new head coach should be intact to have some input on rounding out those remaining spots if all goes to plan.
"We're trying to build a squad right now, obviously, but you want to get some input along the way from a coach," Denny said. "We kind of function as a committee anyway. So it's kind of one more seat at a table. But we want to get the coach in time where they're able to make decisions on the preseason, on those roster spots we still need to make decisions on, also, with the first team starting so early, what we like to do is have the second team coach be part of the first team preseason for the first two or three weeks so they kind of learn how to mirror what they're doing, and again, replicate what we're doing with our own twist on it,"
Outside of the competitive and technical duties, Denny is also working on several items North Texas soccer fans will notice next year. Among them are deciding who will get the rights to sponsor the 2023 shirts, negotiating a stadium lease renewal, and settling the budget for the upcoming campaign.
"The offseason is a bit of an illusion," he said with a smile. "It's way busier than the actual season was. So it's been good, I like being busy."