Player spotlight

Che's loan to Bayern highlights latest success from FC Dallas academy

Justin Che is another highly promising young American player from the 2003-birth year and the FC Dallas academy. ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke to the central defender on his path from Texas to Munich and what lies ahead. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
February 17, 2021
1:00 PM

THE FC DALLAS ACADEMY pipeline continues to produce talent and evidence can be found with its alumni currently playing integral roles in the club’s first team, earning high value transfers, and participating at the highest levels including the UEFA Champions League. For defender Justin Che, the club’s 30th homegrown signing, expectations are high as he begins a loan to Bayern Munich where he will play for the youth teams for the powerful German club.

Che, 17, is coming off a 2020 where he made impressive strides in his first professional season playing for North Texas SC he started in all 16 matches - playing 1,427 minutes. For his efforts, he was named to the USL League One Team of the Year.

Following that move, Che signed a homegrown deal with Dallas and immediately became one of the highly-rated 2003-born players that are emerging within MLS clubs.

Then in January, Che went to train at Bayern Munich as part of its partnership with FC Dallas. Che impressed during his training session and joined the club on loan where he could feature for either Bayern’s U-19 or U-23 teams. While he is a versatile defender who can also play right back, he expects to focus on central defense in Germany, as well as FC Dallas should he return after the loan.

“I thought I played well,” Che said of his training stint. “I showcased what I can do, my composure on the ball. There is the stereotype of American soccer compared to European soccer. Yes, top European soccer is better. But there's also some players in America that can compete with European soccer, if not be better. I definitely thought I showcased some of that. The style of play is quick. The players growing up here, they come up where technique and composure and precision is a big thing on the ball. That's why you kind of see the difference between the top leagues and in other leagues across the world.”

“Getting the loan was exciting,” he added. “I was excited. I am really looking forward to learning from some of the top coaches.”

While there are typically many restrictions on moving young players under the age of 18 to foreign countries, Che has a multinational background and has the benefit of a German passport which facilitated the move.

His background is also extremely unique. His mother, Angelina, was born in Russia but moved to Germany as a child. Her father was German citizen and therefore Angelina was a German citizen since birth. This allowed Justin to automatically have German citizenship at birth as well. Justin's father, Chris, was born in Cameroon and was a former professional player - also a central defender. The elder Che played professional games in Cameroon and Belarus. At the tail end of his career, he trained in Germany and Poland before suffering an injury on a tryout for the Dallas Burn in 2001. He would retire the following year and turn to coaching where he acquired a USSF A License and would coach within the FC Dallas youth levels where he still works.

Growing up, Che actually first learned to speak Russian in his house before learning English, followed by German. Growing up, he made trips to Germany to visit his materinal grandparents – who both still live in Mannheim. There, he would also play with local club teams while visiting.

As the son of a professional and one emersed in various cultures, Che was never short on inspirations within the sport but one of his other big inspirations was watching the German national team. To date, he has played for the youth national teams of the United States – although not in official competitions. In moving to Bayern Munich, he is aware that success there might lead to invitations to play for Germany at the youth levels.

“I'm thinking with me establishing some time here in Germany with Bayern, that might open some doors with the German national team,” Che said. “They'll most likely keep an eye on me. I'm not really set on one national team specifically. I'm not really set on playing for just the US or playing just for Germany. I kind of want to keep my door always open until I got to make the decision at the time.”

For the United States, his most likely next opportunity will come when the U-20 team returns to action (pending COVID) likely later this year to start the new cycle that will conclude with the 2023 U-23 World  Cup. That tournament will draw players heavily from the 2003 birth year which is shaping up to be a strong class within MLS. In addition to Che, Red Bull midfielder Caden Clark, DC United midfielders Kevin Paredes and Moses Nyeman, FC Dallas forward Ricardo Pepi, and many others set to make the transition from USL to their MLS clubs in 2021.

For Che, that transition from the USL to the MLS might be waiting for him if or when he returns from Germany this summer.

“At the start of the year, I was playing with the academy,” Che said. “I guess the coaches saw that I could play at a higher level. [North Texas head coach] Eric Quill, he took me in under his wing. He gave me opportunities, chances to grow as a player, to get some playing time and showcase what I could do. He also coached Chris Richards.. Eric also saw a path for me and a future for me.”

The FC Dallas academy currently has seen its alumni achieve extraordinary success. Weston McKennie is a Champions League starter for Juventus. Chris Richards was sold to Bayern Munich, made his debut but is on loan at Hoffenheim. Reggie Cannon was sold to Boavista. Bryan Reynolds was also sold last month to AS Roma. On the Dallas first team, Jesus Ferreira, Tanner Tessmann are starters while also likely being part of the U.S. U-23 team. Ferreira last month scored two goals and added three assists for the full national team in a 7-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago.

Each of these players has their own story on their progress through the Dallas Academy and Che is no different.

“On the academy, I came there when I was 13 but I was I was playing for their select teams and was with the club since I was age seven,” Che recalled. “I've always kind of played for Dallas…I have amazing memories, great times with some of the players there with the teams. Year by year I kept improving and learning and taking in as much as I could from the coaches. One thing led to another and I signed a homegrown deal. The homegrown deal I think really propelled this whole Bayern thing. I'm very grateful for that. Luchi [Gonzalez], Mikey [Varas] - they also had a plan for me and they saw that I could really be something in the future. Mikey was the one who actually transition me to a more defensive role because he saw something in me at a young age. I became like a center back kind of because of him. It turned out for the best.”

Che’s loan will expire at the end of June and it is unclear what will happen then. Will Bayern make a push to sign him then? Will Che return to FC Dallas and perhaps return to Bayern at a later date? Will he be ready to start for the first team at Dallas this summer?

“We'll see what the future hold,” Che said. “I don't think it's my decision. It is more of Dallas' decision and Bayern's decision. I go if I go back or if I'm if I stay here, I'll continue working hard and find myself or find a path that leads to a bright future and playing at the highest level.”

If he returns to Dallas for the 2021 season, he sees an opportunity for the young core to prove that their not just part of the future, but also part of the present and one that can deliver titles now.

“I see a lot of the younger players capable of doing a lot,” Che said of the current Dallas landscape. “In the future, if younger players get that get that opportunity and chance to show what they can provide and they play together. They all play together because we all kind of grew up in the academy mindset of 'we know how to play and how to do this,' the team would really have some chemistry together and maybe we could go farther, we could win it.”

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