My earliest memory of Alex Dixon is probably very similar to yours. He collected a pass, cut in towards the goal with speed, and unleashed an unstoppable shot for the win. The goal was monumental. It not only meant a victory for that game itself, but turned the season into an unmitigated success. It also continued a winning tradition that had been growing for quite sometime. We all know the game:
The day Afterburners F.C. won the Texas HeatWave U-10 championhip.
Oh, were we thinking about different things? I should explain.
The final match of the U-10 championship pitted Afterburners F.C. against my club, Premier F.C. (we of the generic team name). The match was tied 1-1 heading into golden goal overtime. Late in the first half of OT, Alex collected the ball, ran past a slew of much less athletic 10 year olds, and scored the game winner.
We went on to play for the same club - Texas Heat (he in the first team and me in the second) and a few years later Dixon found himself with a particularly stylish orange jersey.
Last week I talked with Alex about the time in between that U-10 matchup and the 2013 Dynamo season. The discussion ranged from his time at the Bradenton U-17 academy to his personal take on Dynamo rivalries.
After playing for Texas Heat and the Texans, you made the jump to the U-17 Bradenton Residency Program. What was the culture of Bradenton like compared to your experience with Houston clubs?
Kind of like having a job. You go to school every day, but five to six days a week you're practicing... back of your mind is focused on soccer... getting better. [The goal is to] make U-17 team.
How did the switch from part-time soccer education to the full-time culture at Bradenton help your soccer education?
Helped me [to develop] a professional mentality... prepare for where I am now.
Hearing how important Bradenton was to developing Dixon's professional mindset, I was curious how coming back to Houston was for him. I knew it wouldn't compare in terms of time commitment and with level of skilled teammates, but would it make a difference being in the midst of professional players?
How did coming back to Houston to play for the Dynamo Academy compare to Bradenton?
I play[ed] with best players in Houston a couple times a week. It helps working, trainning with first team. [It was that] stepping stone to the first team.
You were 15 years old when Dynamo began their first season. Were you a fan? Or did you see it as more of your future club?
I kept up with them when they first came in [to Houston]. Definitely having a championship team made me a fan...watched all the games during college. Loved watching Ching, Davis... all of those guys.
You were part of the first group of Home Grown Players signed to the Dynamo. What was different between playing with the Academy and joining the first team full-time?
You see how guys take care of themsevles on and off the field. You can't take off [a single] day. You're always fighting to make the eighteen [match-day roster]. Big difference from college.
What occurred to me was that Dixon is one of two players currently on the Dynamo roster that were signed via HGP contracts. This is a relatively small fraternity of sorts, but the Academy has grown in leaps and bounds over recent years.
Do you keep up with your Academy's progress at all?
I'm interested in seeing who's up-and-coming. I get updates from [Academy Director] James Clarkson.
What are your thoughts on [new Dynamo HGP signing] Bryan Salazar?
I knew [Salazar] five to six years ago on the Junior Academy before I went to UNC. Seeing him all grown up...not surprised he's one of the top players. Knew he'd be best player coming out of [that group].
Being a HGP yourself, do you have any advice for Salazar coming into his professional career?
He should keep his head down and work hard, stay humble, and come in to work. Its a great opportunity...got to do it earlier than most.
How about the new rookies coming in via the Draft?
Same thing. Just to work hard and enjoy it. Don't beat self up too much - mistakes happen, but [you need to] learn from them.
With the news that some MLS teams are partnering with USL Pro squads to increase the amount of developmental opportunities they have, what benefit do you think this will have for younger players?
Can get consistent schedule and opportunities they wouldn't get otherwise. Get experience... can learn from that until [they are] ready to play for their first team.
Something that has stuck in my mind in terms of Dixon's career has been the dichotomy between the surprising success he built up in 2011 versus the seeming lack of playing time in 2012.
Your goal against Real Salt Lake was voted "Moment of the Year" at Dynamo Theory for the 2011 season. What did scoring a goal like that mean to you?
Meant a lot. [We were] pushing for playoffs at the time, but were on the outside looking in. Being able to help the team out... contribute... that was most important [to me].
Comparing that season to 2012, it seemed like you didn't get the same opportunities to make an impact. What can you take from a season like that?
Gotta stay mentally strong. Gotta get back into the eighteen. I had a bunch of injuries, so it was a tough year all around, but I learned from it. Trying to get in best shape possible [in preseason]. Ready to work and play.
When the franchise brings in new players to an already crowded midfield, what goes through your mind?
We're all excited for new players... [to help us win] MLS cup. [It is] fuel to the fire to come in and work harder and solidify [playing time] for yourself.
From reports around the league, your preseason is going very well. You're scoring goals, getting assists, etc. Does that get you excited about the coming year, or is preseason more about getting back into the motions of professional play?
Definitely excited. Hopefully preseason form will carry over into the season. At the same time, need to keep working hard. When my numbers called upon [I need to] be ready.
The team is coming off of two straight MLS Cup appearances. Based on this preseason, what is your expectation for the upcoming season? What should DT readers expect from the Dynamo?
[They] should expect more of the same. We fight each and every game. Would love to make it back to Cup and lift it. Right now, main goal is to get to playoffs.
Who do you consider to be your biggest rival in the MLS? FC Dallas is in state, but there have been a ton of great matches between you and SKC recently.Dallas is still biggest league rivalry. In state, trying to be best team in Texas, its important. SKC... [we] enjoy playing them, [but they're] not the only great team in east. DC, Chicago, Columbus... [we] have had great game with all of them. Enjoy playing everybody. Always want to play against the best.
With the 2013 season a week away, we should expect the same heated competition out of the East. After a quick glance over the teams, I don't think anyone got any worse, and mostly everyone improved. It should be an exciting year - and a busy one - for sure. The packed MLS, USOC, and CCL schedule will be grueling, but the additions made over the winter give us a depth that no other team in the MLS can boast.
For a player like Dixon, who is a squad regular but not a starter, the lengthy season should provide many opportunities to impress Dom and the Houston faithful. We'll need players like him if we wish to be successful on multiple fronts.
He's ready to work, and hoping to lift that Cup.
That sounds good to me.