Earlier this month, Fernando Clavijo celebrated his fifth anniversary as FC Dallas’ technical director. While five years with the club might not seem all that impressive of a feat on paper, Clavijo’s previous circumstances make reaching this point quite an achievement.
The Uruguyan national, who previously was an MLS head coach both with New England and Colorado, was hired by FCD in March 2012. However, during a preseason trip in February 2014, searing pain led him to get checked out and the diagnosis wasn’t good. Clavijo had multiple myeloma and would have to start chemotherapy as soon as possible.
Beginning chemo at MD Anderson in Houston in March, the treatments lasted three-and-a-half months. He also had a bone marrow transplant that July since his cancer was in his marrow. In August, the affable Clavijo returned to Toyota Stadium and received an emotional and warm welcome from the Dallas players and the FCD fans.
Now 61, he continues to be cancer-free and focused on what Dallas can do to top last season… capturing the MLS Supporter’s Shield with the top regular-season record in MLS and winning the US Open Cup title for the first time since 1997. Claivjo has overseen Dallas’ evolution into an organization that develops players from within. The FCD Development Academy is considered the best in the league, a successful formula which has been duplicated by countless other organizations.
As he reflects on his first five years as the FCD TD, Clavijo takes great pride in how he has helped FC Dallas become one of the model organizations in the league.
First, in the competitive part from 2012 when we arrived until today, you see the progression of the team. Not only at the pro level, but at the academy level also. It’s all positive,” Clavijo said.
In the last five years, we’ve had some good with some bad. I had an unfortunate situation in my personal life… the negative part being diagnosed with cancer. But, overall, I’m proud of our accomplishments. We’re still not where we want to be and we have a lot of room to improve. Hopefully, we can do that.”
Of course, Clavijo and FCD still feel a big sense of unfinished business. A longing to cross off the goals which have of yet gone unattained. Making a successful run through the MLS Cup Playoffs and hoisting the MLS Cup, plus capturing the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL), an international tournament featuring teams from the Caribbean, Central America and the United States.
It is a big process. We’re building teams with young players. We’re using the academy more than anybody else. When you look at all the progress that we have made, it’s been great. It’s not easy and it’s also at the same time taken a little bit of time,” Clavijo said.
(Last year), we won a trophy that the team has never won before and we are extremely proud of it, but at the same time disappointed because we were so close to some of the things like an MLS Cup and we were not able to (win it).”
During his treatment, Clavijo leaned heavily on his family for support, but he also received plenty of encouragement from the FCD coaches, players, owners, and everyone in the organization.
When he was hired over five seasons ago, he had a vision for what FCD could become. Since he and everyone in Frisco shared that vision, it has given him a strong reason to return quicker from his treatment than his doctors thought he would.
Oh yeah, without a doubt. I think if anything, that’s why I came back so quick which even the doctors thought was crazy. But, I knew we had something special,” Clavijo said.
It was a big part of what the whole five years has been for me here. The support from fans and ownership has been incredible, and the result is seeing a team doing as well as we’re doing. Oscar (Pareja) has put an incredible amount of talent on the field to play. You want to be a part of that. Without a doubt, you want to be a part of that, and I’m glad that I am.”
Veteran center back Matt Hedges was in his first season as FCD’s captain in 2014 which also was the first year under current head coach Oscar Pareja, the reigning MLS Coach of the Year. The stoic defender remembers what an inspiration Clavijo was and continues to be for the grace and tenacity which he used to fight his cancer.
Obviously, it (his tenure here) has been successful if you look at what he’s accomplished. Bringing in the players he had and just the accomplishments on the field,” Hedges said. “He did have that health scare. That was a tough time for him and everybody here because we knew that he was struggling. He’s doing much better now. He’s had a great time here and we’re happy it will continue.”