Houston Dynamo Football Club announced today the reorganization of the club’s player pathway designed to develop more professional players from the Houston community.
“This is an exciting day for the Houston soccer community, as we improve the opportunities for local kids to play professional soccer in their hometown,” said Dynamo general manager Pat Onstad. “Nick Kowba is an experienced executive in our club with a good understanding of the Houston landscape. He will ensure these new programs effectively connect our academy to our professional teams, including our new UPSL team, our MLS NEXT Pro team and our first team.”
Nick Kowba, the assistant general manager, will oversee the entire pathway, including the Dynamo Academy, a new Houston Dynamo UPSL team and the affiliate in MLS NEXT Pro, Houston Dynamo 2.
Kowba joined the organization as part of the transition from San Jose, Calif. to Houston in 2006 as a team administrator. He managed the soccer and administrative operations for the back-to-back MLS Cup champions in 2006, 2007 and was recognized by the league as the Team Manager of the Year for three consecutive years from 2007-2009. He was promoted to director of soccer operations in 2011 and named assistant general manager three years later. In that time the club navigated a hybrid affiliation with the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros in the USL and launched the U-23 team in 2021 that transitioned to Houston Dynamo 2. The Dynamo signed 12 players from RGV FC to the first team and more recently, the newly created MLS NEXT Pro affiliate served as a platform for Homegrown players like Beto Avila, Juan Castilla, Brooklyn Raines and Xavier Valdez.
“I am privileged to witness the evolution of the Dynamo from a single team to an entire club and I am excited to see the progress continue as we redefine the pathway for the next generation of professional soccer players from Houston,” Kowba said. “We are one of the few clubs in North America where four teams can train, collaborate and push each other in the same facility on a daily basis each morning. The opportunity for our young players to move easily from our U-17 trainings to opportunities with our professional teams will accelerate their development and better prepare them for their future professional or collegiate soccer careers.”
As part of the reorganization, Tony Vigil has been promoted to the newly created position of Academy General Manager. Vigil is the first to hold this position at the club and will lead all aspects of the Dynamo Academy, including the MLS NEXT teams, online school program, homestay program, player identification programs and college placement.
“I am happy to announce the promotion of Tony Vigil to the new role of Dynamo Academy General Manager. This new position reflects the growing complexity of our Academy program and the need for additional management and soccer experience. Tony is a great fit for this new position due to his outside experiences, knowledge of the existing program, and focus on developing high potential players.” said Kowba. “The long-term health of our club will depend on our ability to develop Academy players who can impact our first team. Houston has too much talent to not see more local players on the field at Shell Energy Stadium.”
Vigil joined the Dynamo Academy in June 2021 as the High Performance Director, where he fostered a pathway for players within the Houston Dynamo Academy to join the professional ranks within the club, including the signing of Raines and Valdez. In addition to overseeing the development of high potential players at the club, the 38-year-old has assisted with youth player recruitment, preparing for the 2022 and 2023 MLS SuperDrafts, and acted as interim coach in the Dynamo Academy and for the first team in 2022.
“We have some very talented young players currently signed to the club, as well as some promising talents coming through the academy,” said Vigil. “Our club’s infrastructure has evolved rapidly since I arrived and is only getting better for our young players. I can’t help but get excited about the promising future we are building together here in Houston. The club is heading in a promising direction, and it is clear how important our academy will be to the future of soccer in this city. I am looking forward to the work we all have ahead of us here in Houston.”
Vigil brings more than a decade of experience in youth development both at the collegiate and Academy level, as well as some unique corporate experience. Vigil joined the club after five years with Los Angeles Football Club as the Academy Manager, where he supported the launch and scale of the Academy and led a majority of the business development and operations. Vigil has held leadership roles at Target and Albion SC of San Diego, where he was able to successfully combine his technical knowledge and business acumen. He also has collegiate coaching experience at San Diego State, UC Riverside and Cal State San Bernardino. Vigil earned his M.A in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga, and his B.S. in Exercise Science from Cal State San Bernardino. He holds an USSF A License.
The club also recently launched a new team to compete year-round in the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) to provide more opportunities for local players and connect the U-17 team to Dynamo 2. The team will be overseen by Roy Lassiter and train at Houston Sports Park.
“Our UPSL team accomplishes two important objectives for our player pathway. First, it allows more players to finish their pre-college soccer careers in the club. Second, it provides an avenue for us to include more players from the Houston soccer community, even if they are too old to play for our oldest Academy team,” Kowba explained. “We are excited for Roy to lead this project given his unparalleled experience as a player, nearly two decades of excellent work in the youth player space, and his commitment to player development. He will work closely with Kenny Bundy to ensure players move between our UPSL and MLS NEXT Pro teams on daily basis, which will be vital to accelerate player development.”
Lassiter is one of the most decorated goal scorers in the history of Major League Soccer, setting records for most goals scored in a single season with 27 in 1996 and finishing with 88 regular season goals. The three-time MLS All-Star retired in 2004 and transitioned to coaching. He has developed players across the country for nearly two decades at the youth and collegiate level. He joined the Dynamo in 2021 and was an assistant coach for Houston Dynamo 2 in 2022. Lassiter holds an USSF A License and USSF A-Youth License.
“I’m thrilled to work with some of the most talented players in our region and prepare them for their ultimate goal, to play professionally,” Lassiter said. “We have the talent in Houston to produce elite-level players who can compete in MLS and abroad. With the new infrastructure and resources, the club is truly making every effort to maximize the potential we have in our city. That motivates you as a coach, to have that type of support as you prepare the next generation to represent our city and club.”
The Dynamo Academy resumed league play in MLS NEXT on Jan. 21 and will compete in the Generation adidas Cup in April. The newly created UPSL team finished the Fall 2022 season with the best record in the Texas South Conference. Houston Dynamo 2 began preseason last month and will open their second campaign in MLS NEXT Pro in March. For schedules and additional information, visit HoustonDynamoFC.com.