A Family Affair

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Navy Men’s soccer hosted their second of two summer camps over this past Independence Day weekend. The players and coaches were all business on the pitch, but there was also a family atmosphere among the entire camp that made the grueling summer temperatures a little more enjoyable.

Navy Head Coach Tim O’Donohue had his daughter and young son running around on the Naval Academy practice fields, in addition to a camp coaching staff that had more of a “brotherhood” feel than that of a bunch of co-workers counting down the hours until they could get home.

This wasn’t a coincidence. It’s obvious that Coach O’Donohue focuses on creating an enjoyable (while competitive) family-like environment by bringing in positive, quality guys into his camp who he is familiar with. Coach O’Donohue, a 4-year starter in his playing days at Muhlenberg College, played for a coach by the name of Jeff Tipping. Coach Tipping was the Director of Coaching for the NSCAA between 2002-2011, and has been on the fields at the Naval Academy for both Summer Camps.

When “Coach OD” was head coach at Stevens IT (between 2001 and 2010), the team made it to 10 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, along with 10 straight league titles. He worked with a player by the name of Paul Killian, who was rated the best Division 3 goalkeeper in the country in 2012 and voted first-team All-American. Paul, who is a DMV Local (played at Marriott’s Ridge), was an assistant at Stevens under O’Donohue. Paul is now one of Navy’s assistant coaches, and residential soccer junkie….he graduated High School in 2009, and yet could tell me all about Clint Peay’s High School soccer career, or the great DMV soccer players before his time.

Another one of Coach OD’s Former players at UConn, Mamadou Diouf, was selected in the 2014 MLS Draft and was a camp favorite. The list goes on of players and coaches who Coach OD has worked with, and loves having around.

Two of the coaches that highlight this weekend’s Navy Soccer Camp: Greg Statt, Academy Operations and Scouting Coordinator for Rangers in Scotland, and Jeff Cook, u18 Philadelphia Union Development Academy Head Coach and Assistant Coach for Bethlehem Steel FC.

In our prior piece covering the first Navy Camp, we discussed youth player development with Peter Reynders from Genk’s world-renowned youth academy in Belgium, and John Doolan from Everton. We’d like to take a second to offer a sincere congratulations to Coach Doolan, who we found out this weekend has been promoted to assistant coach for Everton’s First Team, as well as U23 coach, and head of recruitment for Northwest of England and Europe. Congrats Coach Doolan!

In this follow-up piece, we talked to Coach Statt and Coach Cook to discuss additional topics related to youth development in the modern game.

Greg Statt

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Rangers FC, Scotland

You can usually tell how passionate a coach is about youth player development just from talking to them for a few minutes, and it’s obvious after sitting down with Coach Statt that he is as passionate as they come. Coach Statt, who is head of Academy Operations and Scouting Coordinator for Scotland’s renowned Rangers FC Youth Academy, probably sounds like a pretty serious guy who walks around in a suit all day and sits behind a computer answering e-mails, right?

Wrong.

Coach Statt is extremely passionate about not only working with youth players, but also about being able to relate and understand the younger generations. His interactions with the campers are engaging and sincere, he even has an awesome Twitter profile where he poses for pictures with players, and lets everyone in on his day-to-day responsibilities. We asked Coach Statt some questions regarding Rangers’ approach to youth development in Scotland.

Me: “Coach, first off welcome to the States and to Maryland. At last Navy Camp, we talked to Genk and Everton youth coaches about additional sports or activities that your Academy implements for the youth players. Do Rangers offer the same at their Youth Academy?”

Coach Statt: “Yeah, absolutely. For the younger lads, dodgeball and volleyball are usual favorites. Then as some of the Academy players get older, we also have touch Rugby and Judo as well. We try to mix up the activities for the kids as much as possible.”

Me: “In terms of small-sided games for the younger players, what is Rangers’ philosophy?”

CS: For the u11 players, everything is 7v7. At u12, it’s 7v7 up until the end of the year or Christmas time, and then January to May they’ll go to full 11v11.

Me: We talked to some of the other coaches last week about the mental aspect of the game for youth players. Is this something that Rangers’ Academy dedicates additional resources to?

CS: “Ay, absolutely! We really focus on the mental aspect a lot when working with our youth academy players. Rangers actually employs a Mental Skills Coach, who works with the players not only in group sessions, but also in a 1-on-1 environment. We really try to focus on a “growth mindset”, versus a “fixed mindset”. A growth mindset is one where players believe that they can achieve their goals through hard work, working together with their teammates, and listening to the advice that their coaches are giving them. Those with a fixed mindset are more likely to believe that their athletic talents alone are enough for them to succeed, and are less likely to work harder on things like grades or individual training, because they think that they are already good enough, and don’t need to do the extra work.

The mindset at Rangers Academy isn’t to ‘win at all costs’. The mindset is to support each other, everyone works together.”

Here are a few different resources on growth mindset versus fixed mindsets:

Me: ”It sounds like Rangers spends a lot of time on the mental aspect for their youth players?”

CS: “It’s absolutely vital for our young players to have the correct mindset from the beginning, but it also applies to our coaching mentality. Everyone wants to win, but we focus 100% on development, versus the ‘winning at all costs’ coaching mindset. For example, if we’re up 1-0 in a big game, and we have a player on the bench who has worked hard in training all week, but hasn’t been in the game yet, we make sure to get that player on the pitch. We don’t focus on ONLY winning, we prefer to do right by the players who put the work in and are serious about becoming footballers.

If we have a majority of players who are doing the right things: working hard, helping their teammates, are coachable and buying in, we spend more time with those players during the week than with the players who think they already know everything. At the risk of being singled out, the players who we don’t spend as much time with usually come around and buy in. Sometimes the players need positive discipline, from a mental aspect, for them to realize what’s expected of them.”

Me: “We also talked to the coaches last week about futsal for the younger players, is futsal something your academy implements for the younger players?”

CS: “Absolutely. World-class players like Messi, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, they got to be as good as they are for a reason, and they all swear by it (futsal). We’re getting the hang of it (laughs). You might call it ‘medium-contact futsal’, but our lads are getting the hang of it.”

Me: “Thanks coach, one last question. For your Academy players, and their families. Do they pay for anything?”

CS: ‘No, they don’t.”

Me: Nothing? So the thought of parents having to pay for their kids to attend your youth academy, that would be pretty much unheard of then?”

CS: “Yes, it would never happen. The families don’t have to pay for a thing, everything is taken care of.”

I didn’t get a chance to ask Coach Statt more about Rangers’ facilities (as it’s something I discussed with coaches from Genk and Everton), but he definitely acknowledged that Rangers’ state-of-the-art training facilities is an integral part of the development of their youth players. The youth players train at Murray Park, also referred to as Auchenhowie. From their website:

Opened in July, 2001, the centre is divided into three distinct sections – an administration wing, a professional wing and a youth wing

The youth and professional wings have their own reception area, dining room, changing rooms, kit store and lecture room, whilst facilities such as the gym, medical suite and indoor pitch are shared between the professional and youth set ups.

Every piece of equipment in the £150,000 state-of-the-art gym is linked to the medical centre’s computer system to monitor every player. Each one has an individual code which activates a personalised fitness programme designed to meet their unique requirements.

The gym includes an isokinetic machine, which allows players to work within the constraints of an injury by testing muscle strength and reaction during a workout.

Murray Park also includes a 6 x 3 metre hydrotherapy pool with an angled, moveable floor and a series of massage jets and currents that allows a range of rehabilitation exercises to take place.

The 60 x 40 metre indoor synthetic pitch allows players to train whatever the weather and is laid on a bed of sand and tiny rubber crumbs designed to cushion the surface and prevent injuries. This revolutionary new surface closely mimics real grass and is used by other top clubs such as Ajax.

Sounds like a pretty sweet setup. A sincere thanks to Coach Statt for his time and willingness to discuss what makes Rangers FC Youth Academy so successful when it comes to developing youth players.

An American Coach’s Take

At both Navy Summer Soccer camps, we’ve talked to youth academy coaches from Belgium, England, and Scotland about what makes their youth academy programs successful when it comes to developing some of their country’s best players, but what about an American coach’s take on youth development? After all, it is Independence Day, right?

Jeff Cook

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Philadelphia Union

This past season, Jeff Cook was the head coach of the Philadelphia Union u18 US Soccer Development Academy Team. Coach Cook will bump up to the Union’s U19 team next season, in addition to his role as assistant coach for USL side Bethlehem Steel. He has been with Philly Union’s Youth Academy since 2013. Prior to working with the Union, Coach Cook was head coach at Dartmouth for 12 years (2001-2013) where he won four Ivy League Soccer Championships, and made the NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament seven times, including two Sweet 16 appearances.

Before Dartmouth, Coach Cook was Head Coach at University of Cincinnati for four seasons, where he was named Conference USA Coach of the Year, and took the BearCats to their first even NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament in 1998.

Last season, as u15/16 Head Coach for Philly Union, his team made it to the playoffs and was the 12th-ranked USSDA team in the country. Despite going undefeated in the group stage of the playoffs, they missed out on the quarterfinals on goal differential This past season, Coach Cook’s u17/18 side finished on top of a very competitive East Atlantic Division, but had a tougher time in the playoffs. But despite any of Coach Cook’s wins or losses over his successful coaching career, one thing that he is obviously passionate about is player development.

Coach Cook ran a session on combo play and build-up out of the back while I was there, and it was refreshing to watch a coach work on things that have made Philly Union teams so successful over the years. He coached the campers on things like breaking lines with their passes (versus shorter, more obvious options). He made sure the wing players were wide and up the field on every rotation, opening up space and passing lanes for his 6/8 to drop in and find the ball. He made sure the CB’s were wide when their GK collected the ball, opening it up for the 6 to drop in and distribute. He coached the players at the 6 position on different angles they can take when making their runs dropping in to find the ball, to open up space and be less predictable.

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These are all things that Union Youth teams in the past have focused on. I was lucky enough to be a volunteer assistant coach in USSDA at one point, and we played Coach Cook’s teams twice a season in 2014-15, 2015-16 seasons. His teams were always organized, always played and knocked the ball, and ALWAYS had players who could stretch you and attack out wide.

So from the outside looking in, it’s one thing to know what the Union teams are going to do when you play them. Watching their U18 coach run a session and work on the things that make their teams so successful, all while being willing to share this knowledge with the younger campers, is another.

Me: “Coach, first off great session. A lot of times, coaches will come to camps and work on some of the obvious things, while maybe playing their cards close to their chest and not wanting to give away too much from a coaching perspective. Do you owe Coach OD a favor, or is this how you always run sessions when others are observing?”

Jeff Cook: “It’s actually a full club coaching philosophy at the Union, from top to bottom. We share our coaching instructional videos publicly on our website, and we make sure we are very open in regards to sharing information that has made our coaches successful. Actually (laughs) sometimes maybe we’re a little too open about it all, but the goal is to improve how the game is played everywhere in our region, not just at our club.”

Me: “One thing we talked about last time with Everton Coach Doolan was- scouting youth players, and how players end up at the club. Could you talk about your scouting network, or how you identify potential Union Academy players?”

JC: “Scouting is important, but at the Union one thing we really focus on is the relationships with other youth clubs in our home market. The ownership is really dedicated to community outreach, so we host coaching nights and other events that benefit coaches at other clubs in the Philadelphia area. We make sure to maintain positive relationships with youth clubs in our home markets. Our philosophy is simple: if we do the right things, and do right by other youth clubs in the area….if we set up the proper environment where we are developing players, and we aren’t looked at as the MLS club constantly coming in and poaching the best players, then naturally players will want to play for us, and coaches from other clubs will want to send us their top players.”

Me: “Coach Doolan also talked about some of the financial aspects for top clubs in England. When Everton’s youth academy was awarded Category One Status, they receive around $1 million per season from the English FA. In terms of how the Development Academy continues to evolve, is this something that MLS needs to step in and start helping with?”

JC: “We are very lucky at the Union. Ownership is 100% committed to youth development, they contribute $3-$4 million per year to youth development alone. Development Academy is a pioneering effort, and the implementation of USSDA is changing the game in our country for the greater good. But yes, MLS will have to step in and contribute more to Development Academy clubs as MLS and USSDA efforts continue to evolve. Each USSDA club is independently-run and, from a financial aspect, are pretty much all on their own.”

Me: “So you believe that US Soccer and MLS can be doing more, moving forward, to improve youth development efforts?”

JC: “Not only from a financial standpoint, but also from a coaching education standpoint. Like I said earlier, we want the youth coaches at clubs in our market to possess the education and knowledge to succeed. But US Soccer can’t do it all. In a market like Philadelphia, there are 5-6 million people here. At one point, we would love it if Philly Union were looked at more as a top ‘federation’ figure on our area from a coaching education aspect. MLS and The Union want to start contributing more for coaching education. We think the next step for US Soccer, from a youth development standpoint, will be for the MLS and US Soccer to do a better job working together, in terms of offering more formalized coaching education.”

Me: “We talked about facilities, residency, and other youth development topics with the other foreign coaches. Can you talk to us about Youth Academy facilities at Philly Union?”

JC: “The YSC Academy, and the facilities at YSC, are a perfect example of Ownership’s commitment to youth development. The facilities are state-of-the-art, from the locker rooms to the strength training equipment and staff. YSC is a four-year school where kids get a quality education, and there is no charge for any of our youth development programs. We won’t offer actual residency for any kids under 16 years old, but for the kids in the YSC Academy program, their development has taken another step thanks to the program. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, players go through two sessions per day: one from 8:15am-9:30am, and another after school from 3:30-5:00pm. On Friday, we’ll have a mobility session, and days after games they usually have off. Our youth players go through 8-10 sessions per week, including games. We only had 3-5 players this past season who didn’t attend the YSC program, and it became obvious later in the season that they were not developing on the same level as the players who were YSC students.”

The Union Youth Academy players also work with Sports Psychologists, performance coaches, athletic trainers, and other youth academy staff members that Union’s ownership employs as part of their $3-$4 million investment each year in youth development. Union’s youth development model, as published on their website:

20160504.Youth Development Model

Me: “US Soccer audits every USSDA club each year on a number of factors. Can you talk to us more about what USSDA looks at during their yearly assessments?”

JC: “USSDA audits each Development Academy club on things like the clubs’ coaches and their licenses, facilities, player development, and how self-sufficient they are from a financial aspect. This past season, each USSDA club was audited by a company called DoublePass, a German company who goes through every aspect of our club. The goal is for US Soccer to eventually, hopefully, evolve USSDA into a criteria-driven league. The Das Reboot book (written by ESPN FC regular Raph Honigstein) is a great read for those interested in youth development, and how German clubs have managed to benefit from the Bundesliga becoming more criteria-driven.”

Me: “So over the next 3-5 years, what do you believe the future holds for USSDA and youth development efforts?”

JC: “Criteria-driven leagues, I believe, is the future for youth development. Hopefully USSDA can evolve to the point where MLS or US Soccer, or both, are able to reward clubs financially for doing the right things for youth development in the United States. Also, I think a professional pathway for the younger players would help. Reading United, Bethlehem Steel, and Philly Union are three options here in our home market. We would like to start working with players at the u16 age group, and getting those players on more of a professional pathway. Our goal, at the end of the day, is to produce players for the first team of Philly Union within our own academy system.”

We want to extend a sincere thanks to Coach Jeff Cook for his time and willingness to discuss youth development. An American coach at a top USSDA club is obviously a perspective that we value, so thanks to Coach Cook for his contribution.

Navy Soccer

OD

Coach OD

Throughout interviews with the coaches from Everton, Genk, Rangers, and Union, a similar topic kept coming up: mentality. It’s no secret that Navy’s men’s soccer team struggled a bit in Coach O’Donohue’s first season in charge of the program, but Coach OD is the first to admit that the transition from the last coach to his current tenure is a work in progress… in the right way, with 10 verbal commits for 2017-2018 season, two of them rated top 100 by TDS.

At UConn, as the associate head coach under legendary coach Ray Reid, he was part of a program that made it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Men’s soccer tournament for three straight seasons. How does Coach OD, who is #1 in the country among active NCAA Men’s soccer coaches for win percentage, plan on turning things around at Navy? By implementing the mentality and work ethic that he attributes to working with Coach Reid.

Me: “Coach, thanks again for having us out for your camps. How did you manage to get all of these coaches out here this summer?”

OD: “Some of the coaches had connections through Coach Reid, but most of it was managed through Coach Tipping who I played for at Muhlenburg. The camps have all gone better than expected: we’ve had great turnouts, and the coaches who came over from Europe have had nothing but great things to say about our facilities and their experience here. At Navy, we are committed to excellence. We wanted to bring the best camp available to the area, with the best coaches, which I believe we have done this summer. But also, from a learning experience, it’s been great for myself and the other coaches to be around guys like Peter Reynders, John Doolan, Greg Statt, Jeff Cooke. Their demo sessions have been very informative, and now that we’ve had these guys stay with us for a few days, we plan on visiting them at their clubs over in Europe in the future to learn more from them. We’re only as good as who we associate with, and who we spend time with. Spending time with all of these great coaches, along with guys like Jeff Tipping, the guys from Pelota training have been here helping kids put some extra work in as well, and everyone else, it’s been a great environment, and we plan on continuing our coaching education as a program moving forward.”

Me: “Your first season at Navy, talk to us about what stood out, and what you hope to build on.”

OD: “Well, going 0-6 in league play is what comes to mind. That’s unacceptable, and will not happen again. The Patriot League is one with a lot of parity, so every team will give us a match this season. Moving forward, in addition to improving league play and finishing top 4 in our conferenc, the goal is to beat Army. We lost to them 2-1 last season, but over the next 2-3 years we hope to outclass those guys. This past Spring, we’ve seen some progress. We beat Villanova 1-0, defeated GW 3-0, and tied George Mason in a match where we had the majority of possession. We just have to keep working at it, the Spring season was important for the guys who were here under the past coaching staff to understand how we plan on playing moving forward.”

Me: “You were part of a very successful UConn program before coming to Navy. What have you learned from Coach Reid, and what is different between Navy and UConn?”

OD: “Recruiting is one thing that is a main focus. Coach Reid taught myself, and the rest of the coaches he has worked with, about how hard you have to work to recruit the types of players were are looking for here at Navy. I’m working on passing this down to the rest of my staff as well, and those guys have been spending 12 days at a time on the road, recruiting. We’ve been hitting every USSDA event, we actually just got back from Development Academy playoffs where we saw some great players play for some great teams. Alex Yi is out right now actually recruiting. One thing I learned from Coach Reid that I plan on implementing here at Navy, is: nobody will work harder than us at recruiting. That being said, we’re looking for American players here at Naval Academy obviously, versus at UConn. When I was at UConn, Coach Reid might call me and say “I need you to take a trip to Senegal tomorrow morning to talk to a kid”, and I’d be on my way. I think I made that trip 7 times while at UConn? We would go to Patrick Viera’s academy, Diembers, where we found some good players. Here at Navy, we’ll just have to work even harder on finding the best guys for our program, and our AD Chet Gladchuk and the rest of the administration has been extremely supportive of what we’re trying to do.”

Me: “In terms of an identity, what do you hope your team will look like next season?”

OD: “We want to play. I learned from Coach Reid that it’s important to do these camps, and make efforts to give back to the community, which we plan on building on. But on the field, we’re not going to park the bus and hope to get lucky moving forward. We’re going to open things up, we’re going to press high up the field, we’re going to knock the ball, and we’re going to recruit guys who know how to play the game.”

Me: “During your time here at Navy, have any of the other coaches or staff helped you out at all?”

OD: “The football team, I’ve been very impressed with how their coaches go about things from a mentality standpoint. They really hammer home the ‘brotherhood’ message, which helps the players stay together and work for a common goal. That’s definitely something, as you can see, that I’m trying to implement here at Navy. We’re working together to be more than a team, we want to create a family atmosphere and brotherhood type of feel throughout the program.”

.. We hope to continue to add guys who can play, but more importantly, guys who fit the image of excellence that we’re looking for here at Navy, in terms of their character and what they’re all about.”

In Closing

Spending time at the Navy Camp these past few weeks, and watching the campers and coaching staff interact with each other, has been a fun experience. At the end of the day, everyone is passionate about the game of soccer and becoming better players and coaches, which is a great environment to be around. Hopefully this continues to help raise everyone’s game, and put their best foot forward next season. Best of luck to Navy, and a sincere thanks to all of the coaches for their time.

Starboard: Everton & Genk Youth Coaches Discuss Youth Development at Navy Soccer Camp

Peter Reynders from Genk, and John Doolan from Everton, were both at this weekend's Navy Soccer Camp

I’m going to show you a few pictures, and I want you to tell me if you recognize any of these guys.

Seriously, this is the test of your true soccer fandom right here. We’re going to show you pictures of a few players most of you have never heard of, but let’s see if you get maybe one or two.

Here we go.

baines

carrasco

Rooney

Benteke

davies

hi-res-41911fb56078d2e7faca585d41487586_crop_north

Rcourtois

osman

and last one…you had it right earlier…

How many did you get? Okay, so maybe these guys weren’t relative nobodies. They are, from top to bottom, WORLD-CLASS superstars:

  • Leighton Baines, England
  • Yannick Carrasco, Belgium
  • Wayne Rooney, England
  • Christian Benteke, Belgium
  • Tom Davies, England (maybe not world class quite yet, but Everton sound excited about him)
  • Divock Origi, Belgium
  • Ross Barkley, England
  • Thibaut Courtois, Belgium
  • Leon Osman, England
  • Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium

Okay….Cool. Why Do We Care?

You care because we’re about to blow your mind, that’s why.

All of these players have something in common…. they have all played for one of the two best youth academies in the world:

  • Everton F.C., in England
  • K.R.C. Genk, in Belgium

The Everton players are pretty obvious, because once Everton find a player they like, those players tend to stick around. We’ll tell you why a bit later.

But if you’ve never heard of Genk, or if you don’t believe us that all of those players played for them, well we can prove it if you’d like:

benteke genk

courtois genkl

de bruyne genk

Okay I lied, I could only find three photos, but that last De Bruyne pic is worth extra credit.

I was lucky enough to meet youth academy coaches from both teams: Peter Reynders, from Genk, and John Doolan, from Everton, this past weekend. Both coaches spent a few days in Annapolis, helping out with second-year Navy Men’s Soccer head coach Tim O’Donohue’s first of two summer camps.

It became pretty clear to me as soon as I stepped onto Navy’s practice fields that Coach O’Donohue, former associate head coach of a UConn program that reached the NCAA Men’s Tournament four times (three straight appearances in the NCAA Quarterfinals), had something special going on there this past weekend.

Coach O'Donohue prepares to introduce John Doolan from Everton

Coach O’Donohue, in Navy Blue, prepares to introduce John Doolan from Everton

I got there on Friday just before 2:30 and when I looked over, all of the campers (and there were a LOT of them) were just making their way back to the pitch.

Everton Youth Acadademy coach John Doolan, who is in charge of Everton’s U16 team and has a pretty decent playing resume himself, was about to conduct a combination play session, which had the players’ AND coaches’ section at full attention.

The players who were performing the demos weren’t too bad either. Recent Navy recruits Jacob Williams (Baltimore Armour u18’s) and Tyler Collins (Baltimore Celtic/Mount Saint Joe’s) put in some work, along with first-year volunteer assistant coach Zach Bowman. Tomas Potts from UMBC was among the GK’s, but coach made sure the camp GK’s (who made some pretty good saves, to be honest) were in goal for the drill.

DMV soccer legend (for those of us growing up playing soccer in the area around the same time) and Navy assistant Alex Yi walks by and looks ready to go 90 minutes without a problem. DeMatha head coach Andrew Quinn is attendance, along with Northeastern head coach Chris Gbandi, Binghampton Head Coach Paul Marco, Sean Topping from Muhlenberg, former NSCAA Director of Coaching Jeff Tipping, Brent Boone from Pelota Training, and finally, Peter Reynders from Genk in Belgium.

Coach Doolan (grey shorts) conducting his session at Naval Academy

Coach Doolan (Everton top, grey shorts) conducting his session at Naval Academy

Not a bad group, and it’s obvious that the campers are getting a quality soccer education during this week’s camp.

After camp let out for a break, Peter Reynders, from Genk, and Coach Doolan, from Everton, let me sit down with them and ask them some questions about youth development. Obviously, if we have two coaches in town from two of the most successful youth development academies in the world, it would be a pretty cool experience to talk to them, right? Below are some things we talked about.

Developing The Ginger Prince

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It’s all about mentality.

Kevin De Bruyne is the type of player that would start on any club team in the world. At Manchester City this season, Pep Guardiola has used him at the 10 (CAM), as well as on the wing in big games later in the season, and the fact that he can play either position without a drop in quality or production is nothing short of spectacular. Pep tends to make some pretty radical changes, like Jesus Navas re-inventing himself at outside back, playing Kholorav at center back, Yaya Toure going from his agent having to apologize to get back into the team to starting at the 6 over Fernandinho midway through the season.

The mental toll that it can take on a player when they feel like they’re being played out of position can be underestimated, especially for a world-class talent with, at times, a matching ego. But after learning more about the club environment that Kevin De Bruyne was brought up in during his youth days, it’s obvious why these types of transitions are easier for him to deal with, from a mental aspect, than some other players.

Before I drove to Annapolis on Friday to interview the two youth coaches, I tried to do some research on both coaches and academy programs. Not necessarily an easy task to research a Belgium club, let’s just say Google Translate was used fairly often.

I used this article as a starting point when interviewing Peter Reynders from Genk, which I’ll translate in bits and pieces below, along with his answers and responses. Note: the article was from June 2014, around the time when KDB was recalled from Wolfsburg loan (10 goals in 33 appearances, at the age of 21) to re-join Chelsea, who he had transferred to from Genk’s professional team the season prior.

Peter Reynders: “The scouting knew that Kevin had some problems there (past club Ghent), and his parents were open to a new road for Kevin, who was already someone with exceptional play and football intelligence, but in mental terms, there was still a lot of work. Enthusiasm and the will to achieve his goals were very high. At Genk, the plan for every talent in youth education is identical: making the player better at all levels, and developing his particular qualities well, both technically, tactically, physically, and at a mental level.

Belgium soccer, particularly the Belgium National Team, went through a very tough patch between 2002 and 2012. They missed out on the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, as well as the EURO’s in 2004, 2008, and 2012.

However, their youth teams had a lot of promise, with their U-21 side making it to the semifinals in the 2007 UEFA U-21 Championship, a team that featured young players such as Fellaini, Mirallas, Vermaelen, and Axel Witsel.

belgium

Why do we bring this up? To explain their meteoric rise in past years, similar to that of the Golden State Warriors in the NBA, which is almost a direct result of developing youth talent.

  • In 2014, they made it to the Quarterfinals of the World Cup, knocking out the United States, and finishing higher than ever as a country.
  • In 2016, they made it to the Quarterfinals of the Euro Championships, losing to an under-rated Wales side which saw Gareth Bale at his best.
  • For 2018 World Cup qualifying, they’ve had practically no problem thus far, finishing on top of their group and seeded in first place.
  • Currently ranked #7 in FIFA World Rankings

So what do Belgium youth academies, and Genk in particular, focus on to make their players so successful?

The mental aspect of the game.

Me: “You mentioned in this article that Kevin De Bruyne, when you worked with him….he had the passion to succeed, but maybe something was missing from a mental aspect?”

Peter: “Yes, we knew he was a great player from his time at Drongen and Gent, but he ran into some problems at his prior youth clubs. He was good from a tactical standpoint, his technical ability was superb, but from a mental standpoint, he needed a lot of work.”

Peter goes on to explain.

“He did not trust his teammates at all, and wanted to do too much. We knew he was a good player, he went on to play for our professional team and then made a move to Chelsea, but as a youth player, we really worked hard with Kevin to improve his mental approach to the game”.

In the article that I referenced earlier, this is reiterated.

“The big challenge for him was to use his technical skills in competitions. We talked to him very often and, having seen his exceptional talent, also had a lot of patience with Kevin. We tried to give him a good feeling by making him sometimes important. But that should not be constant either. We are careful in the education to place young people on stage.

We have many talents in our youth education, and it does not help them in their development as we continue to pamper them. In our training, each player must receive 70% of the playing time and therefore will not start the competition even if the larger talents do not even fall out of the competition. It is good to see how youth players deal with it mentally. Disappointments once belong to football, also in youth education. This allows you to recognize the real talent and winners.

Me: “So in this past article about De Bruyne, you mentioned that you worked harder with him on some mental aspects of the game. Do you remember any specifics in terms of what you did to help him realize his potential?”

Peter: “For Kevin, at such a young age, he needed to realize how good he actually was. Yes, we make sure not to pamper our players, or to put them on a pedestal, this is very important. But at the same time, Kevin (and other youth players who we’ve worked with) benefited from positive encouragement.

When he started not only trusting his teammates more, but also working on some mental aspects of the game- maintaining focus, not constantly putting his head down when things went wrong- and to pick and choose the times when he was able to take over a match, that’s when he started to reach his true potential, going on to play for our professional team (at only 17 years of age).”

More from the article, which I read to Peter throughout the interview:

We went on to work with Kevin specifically on his step technique, speed of execution, and timing and choosing his action and fit. In his first years, he played in a central position, in view of his exceptional trapping technique and game insight. Not yet pinned on a fixed pitch, but especially attacking and at times also at 6 and 8 to develop his game and to think about ball loss. His bias has always been a great advantage to play both left and right. Only after the promises, Kevin moved on to positions 7, 10 and 11.

Me: “So, you played De Bruyne out of position at times, to develop certain aspects of his game? Interesting.”

Peter: “Yes, but we did not play him much at the 6. When Kevin bumped back to the 8, ball retention and decision-making improved, but more importantly, the game slowed down for him tremendously. He was a lot more patient when he moved back to the 7/11 or 10, in attack.

Before, both mentally and physically, everything was moving so fast that maybe the end product was lacking. Once he moved back and saw more of the game, he made great strides in terms of his mental decision making and, like I said, the game just seemed to slow down for him”.

Landon Donovan at the 8? Pulisic at the 6? 

landy

Imagine a top youth club in the United States moving their best player, say an attacking mid or wing player, out of position for a few matches, all while risking a few results and/or the other players/parents thinking he (or she) was crazy? Very interesting to hear from a top European youth coach that he helped to develop one of the best players in the world by playing him out of position, and making sure he realizes how important it is for him to trust his teammates more in order for him to succeed.

In terms of mental preparation tools, and some other less traditional methods and exercises that Genk introduce to their younger academy players, Peter explained that it isn’t just about training 8 times a week and the actual game of soccer that they try to focus on.

Me: “In 2003, Genk built a brand new youth training facility next to Cristal Arena. Do you believe that the facilities themselves have helped when it comes to youth development”?

Peter: “Without a doubt. The brand new youth training facilities that we have at Genk have been great for the younger players to develop. In terms of football, between the ages of U7 and U12, the players only play small-sided games. First 5v5, then 8v8. Only at the age of U13 do they start actually playing 11v11.

Between U7 and U12, they typically get 3 training sessions per week. In terms of non-football activities at our facilities, we have a set training regimen for even the youngest players that we implement. At U7, we introduce them to boxing, judo, and gymnastics”.

Peter Reynders, Genk Academy Coach, during Navy Soccer Camp

Peter Reynders, Genk Academy Coach, during Navy Soccer Camp

Me: “That’s interesting, so you’re telling me that some of the best players in the world (De Bruyne, Carrasco, Courtois, etc.) were doing gymnastics and judo when they were younger”?

Peter: “Yes, absolutely. We believe that these activities help with movements and exercises that are not always used when training for, or playing football. These activities help with overall mobility, athleticism, footwork. It also adds variety, new and different ways for younger players to get fitness and exercise other than training on the pitch”.

Me: “Wow, very interesting. And from the mental aspect, which we’ve talked a lot about, are there any specific mental tools or activities that you implement?”

Peter: “Absolutely. We have started introducing virtual reality, and we also have computer-based programs at our facility that all youth players ages 13 and up must complete. These help them to understand certain game situations, and overall perpetration from a mental aspect.”

Me: “Interesting, did you develop these programs in-house or can you share the names of the programs you use?”

This is a topic which Peter wasn’t so willing to discuss, and it becomes obvious to me that Genk has developed some important non-traditional tools and methods that are used to train their younger players from a mental aspect. These tools are essential properties that they are not willing to share with competing clubs like Anderlecht, Brugge, Standard Liege, and other Belgian clubs which hope to gain an edge when it comes to mentally preparing their younger players.

One other thing worth noting: Genk opened their brand new youth training facility in 2003. It was mentioned earlier that Belgium’s National Team drought was between 2002 and 2012. While we’re not saying that that Genk’s new facility was a main reason behind the Belgium team’s meteoric rise (currently #7 in World FIFA rankings), it would be hard not to believe that it played a part in the development of the country’s best players. We bring this up because facilities are a hot topic when it comes to youth development in United States.

One last excerpt from the article, which I read to Peter:

Kevin had an exceptional step-by-step technique and game insight. Because he thought a phase further than the rest, he was always playable.

We have tightened these specific qualities by training with high intensity, and in small spaces, which means that you need to respond quickly and act.

Me: “One last question about De Bruyne. You mentioned in the article that Kevin possessed one particular quality that made him stand out from the rest: He was able to think a play ahead, and predict what would happen in certain situations in a match before they ever happened. Was this a result of Genk’s training or mental exercises, or just something you cannot teach”?

Peter: “It is a skill and characteristic which cannot be taught. As coaches, it is our job for any youth player we work with to train them for certain situations, and to help them realize what they are capable of. But for Kevin, he had one thing that cannot be taught, and not many players possess: the ability to think one play ahead, which can at times be more important than any technical, tactical, or mental exercise we work on.”

Age: More Than Just a Number

benteke

When we found out that so many top Belgium youth players have come through Genk’s Youth Academy (yes, it was a surprise to us as well), we were curious as to what their ages were when at the club.

In the United States, as the US Soccer Development Academy program continues to evolve, certain studies and surveys are published which show what ages are most important when it comes to youth development, and players taking the next steps towards College Scholarships and Regional Training Center invitations.

The ages of 14-16, from almost everywhere I read, are when youth players begin to understand and implement more of what they’re trained on, develop more from a tactical and technical standpoint, and actually implement the skills and tactical thought processes that are coached throughout their youth.

The following players were at Genk’s youth academy, during the following ages:

Kevin De Bruyne:
Genk Youth Academy: Ages 14-17
Genk Pro Team: Ages 17-21

Divock Origi:
Genk Youth Academy: Ages 6-15

Christian Benteke:
Genk Youth Academy, Ages 16-17
Genk Pro Team: Ages 17-19
Sold to Standard Liege, Went out on loan ages 19-21
Came back to Genk Pro Team: Ages 21-22
Went on to Aston Villa for 3 seasons, scoring 42 goals in 89 appearances

Yannick Carrasco:
Genk Youth Academy: Ages 12-17

Thibaut Courtois:
Genk Youth Academy, Ages 7-17
Genk Pro Team: Ages 17-19

Coach Reynders mentioned that Kevin De Bruyne came into the Genk Academy needing a lot of work from the mental aspect, but it seems like once he was at Genk he was able to come into his own.

I asked Peter about another player on this list, Christian Benteke. Currently at Crystal Palace, he came to Genk at the age of 16, which is a little later than players like Courtois, Origi, De Bruyne.

Benteke was sold to another Belgium club, loaned out for a few seasons, and then came back to Genk, which I found interesting. Following another year with Genk, after bouncing around a bit, he made a move to Aston Villa where he scored an astonishing 42 goals in 89 appearances for the English Club.

Me: “It’s obvious that Genk’s training facility and methods, along with youth coaches, are able to mold and develop younger players over time. But for a player like Benteke, who was in the club, left, came back, and then seemed to find himself again, what do you remember about him”?

Peter: “For Benteke, it is true that it was always mental. He was a big, strong, physically overpowering type of player. Unfortunately, for Benteke, he needed to find himself mentally, find his confidence. Maybe not the smartest player in the world, but when we worked with him, we spent more time trying to build him up than the other players. We worked on his mental confidence and belief in himself, his self-confidence, which he always needed help with”.

While Peter wouldn’t say specifically that, if Benteke was in Genk’s youth training program at an earlier age and for a longer period of time, he might have had more of a chance to succeed at a big club like Liverpool, it’s fairly obvious that the work, time, and effort that Genk coaches spend on mental training and preparation are playing a big part in the development of their youth players, for both club and country.

Big John

As English, and Quality, as they come

everton

We mentioned earlier that Coach O’Donohue’s summer campers at the Naval Academy were able to watch and listen to another coach from a top youth academy in the world, John Doolan from Everton, who is in charge of their U16 team.

John was just wrapping up a combination play session which was very impressive. During the session (which progressed into different advanced phases), he was able to demonstrate his technical ability and fitness level at the age of 43, showing the campers what he was looking for at full speed, while explaining from a coaching perspective, all without being short of breath once. He was a very commanding presence, and it’s obvious that this is an ex-professional player who demands commitment and dedication from his players.

We mentioned his playing career earlier. From everything that we found, there weren’t many bad things said about him, all the way up to his later days where there was obvious coaching potential:

doolan coach

John’s Everton youth academy has produced some of England’s finest players, such as Wayne Rooney, Leighton Baines, Leon Osman, Ross Barkley, Tom Davies (a prospect who Coach Doolan is obviously excited about), Jack Rodwell, Richard Dunne. Victor Anichebe….the list goes on.

Coach Doolan was sitting nearby while I was speaking to Coach Reynders, and was more than happy to chime in and discuss the Everton Youth Academy setup, along with what makes them so successful in England, a country where 5-10 different clubs could be competing for a local talent.

Me: “Everton’s Youth Academy was awarded Category One Status in 2012, which brought additional funding (a minimum of £775,000 per year) and resources. Was this a big moment for the club?”

John: “Yeah, absolutely. While it’s true that the bigger EPL clubs like Chelsea, Man United, Man City are all Category One, the additional resources that come with Category One status were a big part of what we’re currently doing with our youth system. Recently, in the U20 World Cup, which England won (John smiles ear-to-ear, proudly), we had more players represented than any other club. Five players: Jonjoe Kenny (20 years old, Everton Youth Academy), Callum Connolly (19 years old, has been at Everton since he was 9), Ademola Lookman (19, recent Evertonian), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (19, recent Evertonian), and Kieran Dowell (19, has been at Everton since he was 8).”

Young Lions Roar

england u20

Four of the five (Kenny, Lookman, Dowell, Calvert-Lewin) started in the U20 World Cup Final, a 1-0 victory over Venezuela. Calvert-Lewin scored the game’s only goal, his second of the tournament after being the first to score in England’s first match in a 3-1 victory vs Argentina.

Kieran Dowell scored the only goal in England’s third match, a 1-0 victory vs South Korea.

And Ademola Lookman, who Everton swooped up from Charlton earlier this month, scored 2 goals in their Round of 16 Matchup, a 2-1 win versus Costa Rica, and added another in England’s 3-1 semifinal win versus Italy.

Finch Farm

Finch Farm, Everton’s Training Facility

Me: “When it comes to identifying youth talent in England, you’re competing with a number of top EPL clubs- Man United, Liverpool (John cringes), and other English youth academies. Talk to us about your facilities, and what about your club or day-to-day activities that you think help younger players succeed”.

John: “We believe our facilities are top notch. 10 full-size pitches, one that’s lighted for night games and later sessions. A few small-sided pitches as well for the younger players. But one of the best parts of our facilities is that the young players have regular interaction with the professional players, since both teams train there. So a U16 player running into a player on the first team like Barkley or Lukaku on a daily basis is very special, and the first team players make an effort to interact with the youngsters”.

Me: “Speaking of small-sided, Peter mentioned earlier that their younger teams play almost exclusively small-sided games”.

John: “Ay. We are also big fans of futsal, we introduce it to the younger players almost immediately. They get more touches on the ball in futsal, and it helps a lot more from a technical standpoint when the ball isn’t flying every which way. It also brings the players back to the streets, there’s something about futsal that makes it seem authentic at times, brings out that fight and toughness”.

Me: In terms of additional training methods or exercises, similar to what Peter mentioned at Genk, does Everton implement any of those for youth training”?

John: “No, not really. Their parents send the kids there to learn how to play football, so the atmosphere at the club is almost 100% football. We obviously focus on the things which we believe are vital for young footballers to develop- proper nutrition and diet, training, we do also implement yoga so that might be one of the less traditional training methods. But the parents are sending us there kids to learn how to play football, not how to be gymnasts. They can do that stuff on their own time”.

Me: “In terms of typical training schedule, what’s that like for your U16 team?”

John: “The players train every day, and twice on Mondays. Sessions usually go from 6-8pm, but there will be times where they’re shortened to an hour and a half if we have a match coming up, or if a session the day before was more intense. So if we train twice on Monday, Tuesday would be a yoga day. Regular training sessions Wednesday to Friday, a game on Saturday, Re-gen on Sunday”.

Me: “How many hours would you say your u16 players spend, per week, playing soccer? There have been some studies here in the States that a typical u15/16 player is best if he spends 20 hours per week playing”.

John: “(counts it up) Typically, we spend only 15-16 hours per week playing. We don’t want to over-train the players, but it also depends on the players in the group. 3 years ago I had the best team I ever worked with, and they had to ask me to make the sessions harder because the players were so advanced (laughs).”

Me: “So in terms of scouting a player, there’s a page on the Everton Youth Academy website that says specifically not to send in Youtube video clips, and that you still receive thousands per week. Tell me more about how you scout and identify local talent”.

John: “We only scout players in the Liverpool area, within say a 50-mile radius. We want local players who are going to feel comfortable at the club- their families are nearby, they aren’t coming in from different parts of the country or from outside of England. That being said, we still compete with the big EPL clubs- Liverpool, United, City, the list goes on. So our scouting network is very important when it comes to identifying talent. In addition to our training facility, we also have Everton Soccer Schools setup, where young players can come play and be coached by our youth academy coaches. All of these are practically free. While we do have some talented players coming through the Soccer Schools, most of our talent is identified early on by our scouting network throughout the country”.

USA?

When interviewing both coaches, I asked them about what they knew about US soccer. Neither have spent much time here in the States, in fact I believe it was both of the coaches’ first trip to USA. Their responses are similar:

Coach Peter Reynders from Genk: “I have heard that soccer is developing in the United States. I have been very impressed with Navy and Coach O’Donohue’s camp setup, it’s a beautiful facility and the players are all eager to learn.

But it becomes very confusing to me when you start talking about things like ‘Universities and Colleges and Drafts'”.

Coach John Doolan from Everton: “I’ve been really impressed with everything I’ve seen here at the Naval Academy. The young camp coaches are eager to learn as well. One thing I would say to anyone reading this is- get your coaching badges as soon as possible. For our younger players, starting at U18, the players are actually required by the FA Category One clubs to start working on their coaching licenses and badges. It’s something you cannot start doing too early, to learn more about the game.

Aside from that, you have to realize that, from a soccer standpoint, USA is catching up. We have youth academy programs that have been in place for years, so I would say trust the process, but also realize that you’re catching up to other countries who have had Development Academy processes and facilities in place for a long time”.

Takeaways

One thing that will always come up when it comes to Youth Development in the United States is: money, which is responsible for a number of things, including facilities.

Back in 2012, when Everton was awarded Category One Status, they were awarded a MINIMUM of “£775,000 per year in funding from the Premier League’s youth development pot”.

As of 2015, the list of Category One youth academies in England:

Category One

So if there are smaller clubs on this list (at least when compared to Everton)- Reading, Derby, Norwich, Brighton & Hove Albion F.C., etc.

If the minimum allotment from the EPL development lot was £775,000 per year in funding, it’s more than likely that Everton’s youth academy is receiving over $1 million/ year JUST for being Category One.

Genk and Everton can afford to build and maintain top training facilities for their youth players.

Meanwhile, here in the States, US Soccer Development Academy clubs are responsible for providing and maintaining training fields (expensive) and game fields (expensive). The clubs who already have multiple fields at their disposal, like SAC (where Baltimore Armour trains), also have to schedule field times for all of their other youth teams to train on. So then they have to utilize additional local training options, such as Loyola University and Poly High.

For DC United’s Youth Academy teams, training on the RFK Auxiliary Fields and having different home fields (throughout VA and MD) every other game would probably be unheard of in England or Belgium.

The clubs have to pay the coaches and trainers as well.

In addition to the money and resources that USSDA Clubs are required to provide (with each USSDA club being graded among accordingly), the parents of youth players who are good enough to play at the Academy level are also required to come up with what can be looked at as EXTREMELY large amounts of money each season, depending on the club.

This can be upwards to $2,000-$3,000 per season depending on the club (or at least this was the number in the season before last when coaching in USSDA, we welcome feedback from others involved is USSDA), which doesn’t even include travel arrangements (flights, hotel rooms, meals, etc.) for the players or parents for Showcase events, and away games (DMV teams travel to Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania for regular season games, Florida and Indiana for Showcases and playoffs).

While most USSDA clubs will offer scholarship opportunities to the better players, a lot of the time the fees are covered by the players who are on the roster because they can afford to play.

Without getting into more specifics, the reality is this- USSDA is expensive. The Baltimore Bays lost USSDA status after Celtic was formed and they couldn’t keep the best players around. There were also financial reasons, and it took 4 clubs merging (Bays, Thunder, Pipeline, and SAC) in order to keep Development Academy soccer in Baltimore. The US Soccer Development Academy grades local clubs based on their facilities, coaching, and other factors such as player start percentages, but at one time one of the grading criteria were how self-sufficient the USSDA clubs were from a financial aspect.

That being said- like Coach Doolan said, we are catching up, but we are still WAY BEHIND. Yes, the Development Academy is producing top players.

Yes, the Development Academy is great for US Soccer.

But don’t even start to compare our youth development to those of Belgium or England, because we still have a long way to go. For youth development to continue to flourish and be compared to development efforts in other parts of the world, US Soccer or MLS need to figure out ways to assist Youth Development clubs in improving training facilities. The question is, how do we change this? We’d love to hear from you, leave a comment below.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to both coaches Peter Reynders of Genk, and John Doolan of Everton, for their time.

Also, a special thanks to Navy Head Coach Tim O’Donohue. The Navy camp staff and setup were all VERY impressive. For anyone interested in checking out their second camp session (June 30th-July 4th) you can find out more on this page, we have heard that one of the higher-up Rangers FC (Scottland) coaches will be there, among others.

navy coach

 

Christos FC: Underdogs? Maybe to everyone else

christos

Christos FC: Underdogs, at least to everyone else.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the Cinderella story of Christos FC, and their outstanding run in the 2017 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup which came to an end last night after an outstanding effort by the team in a 4-1 defeat to DC United.

If you haven’t heard about Christos or last night’s match by now, here are a couple of the typical headlines:

This amateur soccer team, headquartered in a liquor store, never practices and rarely loses

Liquor Store Soccer Team Scores First Against D.C. United

A team based in a liquor store that never practices scored a stunning goal on DC United

Fear The Beer: The Christos FC Story  

No Practice, No Problem For Christos FC Ahead Of Match Against D.C. United

How a Maryland amateur soccer team sponsored by a liquor store got its shot at DC United

And so on.

The stories that we’ve read all talk about the amateur trophies, the liquor store sponsorship, and the GoFundMe page that Christos had to setup in order to raise funds for travel arrangements. And while someone over at Adidas, who recently provided Christos with brand new lime green kits, and others who closely follow soccer in the DMV area understand that Christos is more than just a “pub team” or “a group of guys who will be back at their full time jobs on Wednesday”, there’s no doubt that the story lines write themselves.

What has seemed to fall through the cracks during the past couple of months of Christosmania is the actual quality of the players on this Christos team, who held their own against DC United for the first 70 minutes on Tuesday night in Germantown, before falling victim to the brutal heat and MLS-quality subs that DC United were able to bring off of the bench in Lloyd Sam and Ian Harkes.

Pete Craingi III, Christos’ captain and main danger man throughout the season, has a profile on the MLS website. Why? Because he was invited to the 2014 MLS Combine after a successful career at UMBC. These days Pete is usually spotted at the major youth soccer tourneys and matches, recruiting for UMBC. They have a pretty solid freshman class coming in next season made up of a few guys who can play a little.

If you see what we did there, “a few guys who can play a little”, hopefully you’re picking up on a theme.

This team has thrived on everyone else’s perception, some of it self-inflicted, as the humble underdogs, or in the words of Washington Post’s well-respected local sports journalist Dan Steinberg….”the beer league guys”.

The stories absolutely write themselves, there’s no doubt about that. And just as a note, Steinberg embraced the story and wrote a really cool piece on Washington Post about how “sometimes sports are good”.

Christos “the beer league team” was even featured on two different versions of ESPN Sportscenter last night, once by soccer buff and regular Sportscenter host Max Bretos (who else remembers the days of Max Bretos on Fox Soccer Channel?):

And once again by DMV’er and University of Maryland alumni member Scott Van Pelt:


The story was even on the front page of ESPN at one point!

Others who have gotten in on the story/clicks/views of the little pub team that could include:

Chicago Tribune: Christos FC continues storybook run in U.S. Open Cup, beats FC United

Sports Illustrated: Watch: Amateur team named after a liquor store scores on D.C. United

Denver Post: This amateur soccer team, headquartered in a liquor store, will take on D.C. United in U.S. Open Cup

and so on, you get the point.

Local Pub Team Does Good. We Get It. But Why Does Christos Embrace It?

We mentioned earlier that some, if not a lot, of the “beer league guys” persona is self-inflicted, liquor store sponsorship excluded. When your team is warming up against an MLS team in US Open Cup wearing #alldaysoff shirts:


It’s both hilarious, and genius. Find me someone who doesn’t love free publicity, and I’ll raise with someone who hates the sound of Morgan Freeman’s voice. Christos loves adding fuel to the media fire, but we don’t get the impression that the primary main objective is creating publicity.

While it may be true that the Christos don’t train together on a regular basis, and have full-time jobs that they had to be back at this morning at 7:30 am:


Everyone in that Christos camp, and everyone in the DMV area who is aware of their quality, knows that these guys are more than just your average “pub team”. This is a group of guys who, I believe, add fuel to the media fire for one main reason: the internal “let’s go show them” mentality which every great team possesses.

Write your stories. Do your interviews. Tweet your thoughts. We’ll happily answer your questions, ride the wave, and we’ll do something good with it…. like help donate 300 tee shirts to the crowd at Maryland Soccerplex last night, or look into starting youth soccer programs next season for kids who can’t afford higher-level club programs….and then we’ll go show you we can play.

And yes, this a group of guys who know how to play the game, both on and off the field.

Cody Albrecht, University of Maryland and DeMatha, does some private and group training on the side.

Phil Saunders, former UMBC GK, coaches in the area and very involved in the game.

Mamadou Kansaye, former UMBC captain, coaches at Ellicott City Soccer Club and scored a great free kick against DC United last night.

We know Christos is more than an average pub league team, we’ve seen the trophies and some of us have had to play against their teams in Over-30 ball. But what gets you more fired up and motivated on the field than when EVERYONE, opponents included, is under-estimating you before the game even starts?

Beer league bros to you, underrated to us. Speaking of underrated, aka the title of this piece…

The 6.

The position of CDM, aka the 6. Most of the time, the guy who makes everything look simple and does the dirty work which almost always goes unnoticed. Many will say that defensive midfielders, as a position, are no longer underrated with the emergence of guys like N’Golo Kante, Ander Herrera, or Naby Keita at Red Bulls Leipzig.

When you have a good 6 who can protect the back line, who can read the game quickly enough to be in position to cut off passing lanes, and who doesn’t give away possession, whatever you get offensively can sometimes be the cherry on the top.

Chrstos went 4-2-3-1 last night:

starting xi

With 2 guys, Kaoru Forbess and Mamadou Kansaye, in front of the back line.

20 minutes in, watching via DC United live feed, it seemed like Forbess had a license to get forward more offensively, with Kansaye dropping deeper whenever DCU were in possession. There were 3 or 4 times when Kansaye was able to read the build-up and break up DC United attacks, yet the announcer didn’t really mention his name much.

Pete Carringi, Cody Albrecht, Phil Saunders, seemingly every other Christos player is mentioned by now at least once. And to the DC United announcer, if you’re reading this, no shade thrown your way, great job last night. We’re just trying to set some context here.

Then comes a foul at the top of the box, free kick Christos. Announcer mentions DCU goalkeeper’s name, and then, after previously referring to him as “Christos FC”, Mamadou Kansaye, who actually called his shot (see interview below) scores a free kick goal, somehow managing to get the ball up and over the wall from such a short distance.

It’s what everyone wanted to see, after reading all of the stories. The beer guys scored.

The neon green shirts flocking to the corner flag to celebrate.

People running from the bench area in full sprint to join them.

Want to see the “Beer league guys THAT!” face?

this guy

You’ve probably seen at least 3 different live videos from the goal by now, and that’s because almost everyone in attendance last night was holding up their phones, hoping to capture that one brilliant moment of passion that every soccer player, coach, and fan lives for.

Did they lose 4-1? Sure. But that one moment, the moment when the “beer league guys” scored against DC United, that’s what was on full National display last night in Germantown at Maryland Soccerplex, during a time when many in our country are looking for a feel-good story.

You Said Something About the 6 Guy?

He Can “Play a Little”

Once again, just setting some more context here. I’m in the process of completing my ‘D’ Coaching License, and met Mamadou (below, in Chelsea jacket) for the first time during the course.

mamadou

Some really quality guys who love the game and are fun to be around, including a great instructor in Rob Ryerson, and an up-and-coming DC United Academy youth coach in Jason Boxx.

I’d never seen Mamadou play at UMBC. Heard he was a good player, but when we started playing during field demos that weekend and he told me he was a 6, I didn’t actually believe him at first. Shorter guy, skinnier frame, quick…he looks like a winger at first.

Then he steals the ball from you, smiles, and goes about his business and you’re like…”oh, okay, he’s a 6″.

Since becoming friends with Mamadou, a few things that I’ve learned about him: A very good coach with a great understanding of the game. Very generous with his time when it comes to teaching others, with a sincere desire to see others succeed.

But I’ve only known the guy for a few months. What do some others have to say about him?

Long-time UMBC assistant Anthony Adams, who coached Mamadou at UMBC, gave us a detailed description of what it was like working with Mamadou that left me with the impression that not many have asked him about such an integral part of the “beer league guys'” success:

Mamadou is one of the smartest soccer players I have ever had the privilege of coaching. He is also a general on the field that holds every player accountable. Along with his high character and integrity as a person, I can’t say enough positive things about him.”

Adams, who has coached at UMBC for 21 years and is as respected of a soccer coach as you will find, goes on about a player that he obviously holds in such high regard:

“After Levi created the free kick and Mamadou scored, it was a huge rush of emotions for me in all aspects. As a former coach of Mamadou, at the club and college level, and in my 18-year history with Christos FC…to be up against D.C. United in that setting, on that stage, it was just incredible. I couldn’t be happier for those players and the Christos FC organization.” –Anthony Adams

Someone else who knows a little bit about Mamadou’s quality: former Borrusia Dortmund player and DMV’er abroad Joe Gyau. Through his time playing overseas, and at Youth National Team camps, Joe is a guy who has been around hundreds of players, but was more than happy to talk about his close friend and former teammate:

(laughs) Yeah me and Mamadou go way back! We played together and won State Cup and Regionals together during our youth days with Potomac. Great player, very intelligent on the field. One of the smoothest natural lefties I know. –Joe Gyau

The Day After, How Does it Feel to Score Against DC United and Get on SportScenter?

Hear it from the man himself.

mamadou1

I spoke to Mamadou earlier today, asked him a few questions and it’s obvious from his responses that the moment itself hasn’t really phased him.

Me: “Hey man, congrats on the performance last night. Your goal was on SportsCenter, your phone has probably been blowing up all day, and you can probably barely walk. What’s the craziest thing to happen to you since last night’s goal?”

Mamadou: (laughs) You’re right, I can barely walk. My legs are killing me! It was a great game, and I thought we played really well as a team up until late in the second half. DC United, bringing on subs like Sam and Harkes….who was great by the way, I really like his passing range and a very smart player….but they were just too much for us there at the end.

I was really happy to score the goal, but we were all hoping for a better result so I haven’t really been paying too much attention to Twitter or Facebook.

The craziest thing that happened was, after the game I said hello to a lot of the Christos fans, looked around but couldn’t find my mom anywhere! I called her, and said ‘mom where are you’?

She told me she left early to beat traffic! She was like ‘well you guys weren’t going to win, so why would I stick around?!’ (starts laughing)”

Me: “Haha she sounds like a tough mom to impress! What do you remember about the goal, and the celebration afterward? Christos players supposedly don’t practice, did you used to practice free kicks a ton?”

Mamadou: “I’ve been working on free kicks from that position for the past few weeks, actually. I’ve taken a ton of them. I told the guys before the game, ‘if we get a free kick from the left side of 18-yard box, nobody touch the ball. It’s all mine’, and (laughs) this might sound a little arrogant or whatever, but I told the guys before the game I would score from there!

Levi did great to win the free kick, and before I set it up he actually said to me “don’t forget, you said you’d score from here” so he added some extra pressure. I remember the ball going into the back of the net, and from that moment on I basically blacked out. It’s all still a blur!”

Me: “Great stuff man, and a great story! So in terms of memorable moments in your soccer career, this has to be up there, right? I mean, dude, you were on SportsCenter!”

Mamadou:  “I’ve been really fortunate to have some great soccer memories. This is up there, but isn’t number one”.

Me: “I gotta ask, what’s number one then?!”

Mamadou: (laughs) Meeting Zizou! I met Zinadene Zidane in 2009 at an Adidias Youth event in Denver, that guy was the best player ever! I’ll never forget meeting him”.

Me: “Okay, that’s really cool. But in terms of playing moments, what would trump scoring vs DC United in front of all of those people?!”

Mamadou: “My senior year at UMBC, we beat Maryland at Maryland. That’s number one for me. Yes, I’m happy about the goal, and being on SportsCenter is cool. But like my mom said, we lost, which is all I care about. Beating Maryland, at Maryland? That was special.”

Underdogs

It’s obvious after speaking with my buddy Mamadou that Momma Kansaye did a pretty good job, and that he is a great example of what made this Christos story so memorable, both on and off the field.

The mainstream media coverage and feel-good story about the “beer league team” that scored against DC United is one that everyone enjoys. But at the end of the day, this wasn’t a bunch of average guys who got lucky, “drank regularly”, never trained and rolled out of bed one morning to beat professional teams. This was a group of guys who have played all of their lives, believed in themselves, stayed together as a team, did what they had to do, and made the DMV proud.

Underdogs?

Maybe to you.

What it was like to win U20 CONCACAF Championship – Guest post by Jeremy Ebobisse

USA vs Panama

The early part of the season was quite hectic. From numerous flights and bouncing around between the US Under-20 National Team and Timbers, I had little time to settle into my new home. I spent about a week with the Timbers before jetting off to Florida to prepare for World Cup Qualifying.

Unlike every other draftee, I would not have the benefit of an entire preseason to fully assimilate myself into my new team’s culture, both on and off the pitch, so I had to maximize the little time I had there. Like anyone else stepping to a new environment, I was quite nervous.

How was I going to make friends?

What was the right balance between not saying enough and saying too much?

How would I react to being the least experienced player on the field for a change?

Those questions would resolve themselves shortly thereafter.

Preseason: Welcome to MLS

The word preseason can sometimes come off with a sort of negative connotation, but I absolutely loved it. Maybe its my youth, maybe it’s the fact that it was my first (although limited) preseason, but regardless, it was the perfect introduction to my new environment. I felt right at home and vindicated for my decision to leave college early. The other Timbers players challenged me, but also guided me along the way. The two-a-days flew by and, before I knew it, we were playing our first games against New York Red Bulls and NK Istra.

It was my first taste of professional action and, though it was limited, I would remember those minutes as I went on with the US team, knowing that there was a lot waiting ahead of me when I got back.

CONCACAF U-20 Championship

Off to Costa Rica

Though we had only been apart for about a week, it definitely felt good to be back with the US U-20 team as we prepared for our journey to become the first American team to bring home a CONCACAF U-20 title.

3 games in 11 days, along with two-a-days and meetings to prepare, meant that there were no breaks. We would be ready for our opening match against Panama, and to succeed in such a major tournament.

Since January 2016, I remember the team setting the goal of winning the CONCACAF U-20 tournament. If I’m being honest with myself, I had been waiting for this opportunity since I realized I wouldn’t be a part of the U-17 cycle several years earlier. It doesn’t matter how/what path we took to make the team, what was important was that we were together, shared a common goal, and knew how to achieve it.

 

USA vs Panama

A 1-0 loss to Panama early on, after a couple of successful tune-up matches, had us all fearing the worst, even if we didn’t necessarily admit it to ourselves. But we all knew, deep down, that one loss was never going to be the end of our CONCACAF hopes, as we proved. It definitely wasn’t the way we wanted to start the campaign, but maybe it’s what we needed in the long run.

Despite all of the anxiety from supporters back home, and increasing media criticism, the team never gave up hope.

USA u20 vs haiti

After a slow start against Haiti (tied 1-1 at halftime), we recuperated and bounced back, defeating Haiti 4-1. The vibe around our locker room was back…. we were ready to face anyone, and as a team, we could still improve and build on the result.

A final group game against St. Kitts was rather routine and professional (USA won 4-1), and we now had one focus: beating Mexico.

usa vs mexico 2017

There was quite a bit of build-up heading into such an important match against our bitter rivals, but we felt prepared and ready. We were able to score the first goal that Mexico conceded all tournament early on from a corner, held on for the rest of the match and won the match 1-0.

Next up was El-Salvador, who Mexico made short work of a few days prior, beating them 6-1. We knew that our dream of making it to the Final was ever so close, and we were focused on making that dream a reality.


We won the El Salvador game 2-1, with the winner coming from (fellow DMV’er) Eryk Williamson, who could forget that goal?!

It’s a Celebration

In the Final, we were able to beat Honduras in penalties and claim the U-20 CONCACAF U-20 Championship!

USA vs Honduras u20

The rush of emotions, the sheer joy from winning CONCACAF and making history would be something I’ll never forget. The streamers falling out of control, the victory lap with our fans, the unrelenting excitement, it was all so special. A month away from our family, friends, and clubs ended in the most spectacular of fashions.

We had done something that many great players attempted. We would go back to our clubs, carrying this piece of history with us, and taking valuable experiences to improve our game at the club level.

With one eye already on the World Cup, we knew that the next three months would be crucial, so it was straight back to work.

The Beginning of A New Chapter

jeremy ebobisse timbers

Note: this is a guest post by Jeremy Ebobisse of the Portland Timbers, edited by the staff of DMVSoccer.com

It was all finally coming to an end. One chapter of my life was closing, and my dream of becoming an MLS player was FINALLY starting to come to fruition.

After six months of limbo looking for a professional club, followed by six months of bouncing around, training, and playing with different teams, I was finally going to find a permanent home.

I had been at camp with the US U20s when it finally settled that I would be settling down and really focusing on my professional career. Amid preparing for World Cup Qualifying, the MLS Draft was always in the back of my mind. The big question: where would I end up?

Leading Up to the MLS Draft

Fast forward to the 2017 MLS Combine

jeremy ebobisse MLS combine

Jan 12, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Team Copa forward Jeremy Ebobisse (left) moves the ball defended by Team Control defender Jordan Wilson (right) during the second half at StubHub Center. Team Copa won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

I showed up a couple days late due to my national team commitments, and then had a further delay in playing because of paperwork issues. Though I wasn’t as involved in the combine as guys who were there all week, I enjoyed every minute of it. From meeting with different teams, to hanging around with such a diverse group of young players who share my passion to succeed, my short spell at the Combine went by ever so quick.

Having had the privilege of being a pre-signed player for the draft, the question I was being asked when I was walking around the hotel was basically always the same: Where do you want to go?

In the end, my responses were similar, but always revolved around the politically correct “I’m open to every team” answer.

The more I thought about it or read into my situation after meetings, the more of an idea I had about my future that was well unsolved. In the end, I just decided to stop looking into things, focus on my game, and just let the future take care of itself.

Towards the end of the combine, I played in one game filled with ups and downs, but I was satisfied with the way the week had gone on and off the field. Then came draft day. The day I had been waiting for since the day I signed in August. A day that I would look back on for the rest of my life.

2017 MLS Draft

I still remember everything I did that day

jeremy ebobisse MLS draft

It started with laying out my clothes to make sure I had everything in order, although what could I have done if I was missing something three hours before the draft?

This was followed by frantically rehearsing the talking points for my speech in front of a mirror.

I remember imagining the room filled up with just the players, the teams, and a few families, which already got my heart rate as high as it has been for nonathletic reasons in a long time. From that point forward, it was all smiles as I went downstairs to see the other players.

A lot of us had been playing with and against each other for several years, so it was really special to see the culmination of years of work. As MLS Social Media crew started a Facebook Live feed of the bus ride, we quickly realized that, from then on, every step we made would likely be on camera somewhere. For those of us not sure how many people to expect at the actual event, we found out pretty quickly as we stepped off of the bus to crowds of people outside of the convention center.

If that was the attendance a couple of hours before the draft, then we all knew we were in for a packed house, which is exactly what we got.

First steps into the room and I couldn’t hear a single thing anyone was trying to say to me. All I could hear was the LAFC and LA Galaxy fan groups going back and forth. I was expecting fans, but I definitely didn’t expect that kind of noise level an hour before the draft. I remember thinking to myself “wow, maybe I should have spent more time preparing my speech”.

The room kept filling up the closer we got to Draft time. Our families met us front and center, where we were seated, as we all took in the sights and sounds. As players, we all had our sights on the podium as we imagined what we would look like up there. Having our families there was definitely something incredibly special.

I remember the room getting really silent as introductions occurred, and then it came time for the picks. I tried to stay calm as the teams were on the clock, but I knew that everything was out of my hands and I did everything I cold do to leave a lasting impression with whoever was evaluating me on and off of the field.

I couldn’t really stop my heart rate from soaring! I was starting to get used to that response coming from my body, there really was a lot going on at once.

After several minutes of hearing the first few picks of the Draft:

With the number one pick of the 2017 MLS Superfraft, Minnesota United select Abu Danladi from UCLA

With the number two pick, Atlanta United select Miles Robinson from Syracuse

And watching teams scramble across the floor looking to make trades (NYCFC made a trade with Chicago to select Jonathan Lewis from Akron), I heard my name! A year of limbo was finally over – I was going to be a Timber!

For a moment that I had visualized so much, I had completely forgotten what came next. The moment I heard my name, it’s as if I was floating on top of my body, watching the whole thing unfold. I didn’t feel in control of my body – I was too busy trying to process what just happened.

Finally, I regained control of the situation and proceeded to the stage. After shaking the commissioners hand and stepping up the podium, that feeling came back as I spoke my first words into the microphone. I blanked on my speech and needed to improvise, all while shaking uncontrollably beneath my suit. At that moment, I lost sight of the crowd (aside from my mother and my agents), as I began thanking everyone who had gotten me to this point.

Shaking the Commissioners Hand

Shaking the Commissioners Hand

The speech was over, the part I feared most was behind me, and I had everything to look forward to. From meeting the Timbers coach and GM to shuffling through backstage press, my heart rate finally came down. After 30 minutes or so of press interviews, I was able to find my mother, my agents, and my friends as we shared our stories and emotions from the day. Everything was starting to wind down at the convention center as the players began to imagine our integration within our first professional setting.

It was a beautiful day, filled with all of our special ones, and it really made us all feel as if the sacrifices that we had endured were not in vain. The missed parties, the early nights, the academic sacrifices were all finally vindicated. As we went on to our respective dinners and reflected on the day, we knew that there would be new goals and challenges but we were ready to work and trust the process.

Check Out Jeremy’s Interview With The Timbers Post Draft!: https://youtu.be/yhdGaNepF5M

Next: Preseason and the U20s

DMV Alumni Take On The MLS SuperDraft

5 DMV Alumni Took On This Years’ Edition Of The MLS Combine & SuperDraft 

2017 MLS DRAFT

DMV locals Mike DeGraffenreidt (Loyola Blakefield/Baltimore Bays), Chris Odoi-Atsem (DeMatha Catholic/AC Bethesda), Jacori Hayes (DeMatha Catholic/Baltimore Bays), Suli Dainkeh (South Lakes HS/DC United Academy), and Jeremy Ebobisse (Walter Johnson HS/Bethesda-Olney) were 5 of 68 players invited to this past week’s MLS Combine which took place in Manhattan Beach, California.

With the impending MLS SuperDraft, all 5 players spent the week trying to improve their draft stock in hopes of being picked in the first 2 rounds that would take place on Friday, with a further 2 rounds of the draft to come the following Tuesday.

Here we take a closer look at how each of our 5 local representatives faired against some of the best competition in the country.

Michael DeGraffenreidt

michael DeGraffenreidt

A product of Baltimore Bays Chelsea academy and Loyola Blakefield, Mike started off at Louisville exactly how he finished off his youth career: as a starter. The 52nd ranked recruit on the ESPN 150 and Maryland Soccer Player of the Year was a 4-year starter at the ACC school. He played 77 games in his time there, starting 76 of them.

Combine Recap

Mike had a solid MLS Draft combine, playing a half in each of the 3 games and looking fairly comfortable despite not being tested often. After recording his stats in game 1 and 2, he went a combined 48/51 on passes completed (94%), 6/7 on aerial challenges, completed 5 tackles and while on the field Team Chaos only let in 2 of their 6 total goals conceded, with nothing Mike could do about either one.

I thought DeGraffenreidt showed off an excellent range of passing, but really wasn’t tested too much throughout his 3 games at the Stubhub Center, but an excellent college career and a pretty good combine should help Mike get picked up next Tuesday during the 3rd and 4th rounds of the draft.

Chris Odoi-Atsem

Chris Odoi-Atsem

The former WCAC and All-County player of the year left DeMatha Catholic with a glittering list of accolades, including several WCAC titles and a 2011 National Championship to boot. After a very impressive youth career at AC Bethesda and powerhouse DeMatha, Chris joined the Maryland Terrapins with high expectations, and delivered from Day 1. He played 88 games in his career, starting 83 of them, delivering 3 goals, 8 assists and contributing towards 33 shutouts as well.

Combine Recap

Day 1 of the combine was Chris’s day for sure, as he was 1 of only 2 players to place in the top 5 of all 3 athletic tests performed. Chris finished 4th in the 30 meter dash with a time of 3.89 seconds, 3rd in the 5-10-5 shuttle with a time of 4.22 seconds and 1st in the Vertical jump test with a leap of 36.5 inches.

Chris only went on to impress coaches more as the combine went on, completing 47/54 passes (87%), making 11 tackles and a number of great attacking runs as well. Coaches definitely noticed his strong athletic upside, and knew his technical skills would need some fine tuning, but DC United took their first pick and used it wisely on a local guy. Ironically enough, the former Terp grew up so close to their own academy that they could’ve saved the first round pick had they scouted him several years earlier and claimed him as a homegrown player. Either way, it shows how much faith the club have in his abilities, and DC has picked up a very strong outside back option in Chris as he will look to head into preseason learning as much as he can from the likes of Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin and the other veteran defenders in their squad.

Jacori Hayes

Jacori Hayes

One of the most talented players in the country, Hayes had an exceptional year at Wake Forest that took them all the way to the College Cup, only to lose out in PK’s to the now back-to-back national champions, Stanford.

Jacori had a standout youth career, captaining his Baltimore Bays academy side, being a part of the U18 USYNT, and being named a high school All-American as a part of the DeMatha national championship side in 2011.

Pre-combine, he was a lock to go top 10 after a college career in which he played in 81 games, starting 74 and collecting 15 goals and assists a piece while doing so. Not only did he have a great record at Wake but he won award after award being named to the All ACC teams 3/4 years, NSCAA All American team, TDS Men’s Best XI and many more. Jacori had an up and down draft showing off his skills and excellent soccer mind but failing to have much end product resulting in many critics saying his stock dropped over the course of the week going into the draft.

Combine Recap

Across the 3 games, Jacori mixed his time between CDM and CAM, as scouts questioned where he would play in MLS. He maintained an 83% pass completion rate (82/99) while making 13 tackles. However, Jacori wasn’t able to show off his best attributes at the combine. Regardless, his standout college and youth resume saw him drafted 18th overall to an FC Dallas side not afraid to play their youth. We fully expect Jacori to go into preseason ready to prove all those people wrong who didn’t take him in the picks prior.

Suli Dainkeh

Suli Dainkeh

Suli headed into the University of Maryland as a member of the U18 USYNT. The 2012 Gatorade State Player of the Year (VA) was also a member of the DC United Academy. Dainkeh was a heralded prospect out of Reston, Virginia and was ranked #16 midfielder in the country by Top Drawer Soccer.

Suli completed one of the most accomplished 4 years of any player in the combine, as his UMD side went 4 years in a row winning the conference tournament, with he himself picking up a Second team All-Big Ten selection. Dainkeh finished his Maryland career with 33 shutouts, while playing in 71 games, starting 60 of those and also throwing in a goal and 2 assists.

Combine Recap

The VA native had a tough time at the combine through games 1 and 2 as he gave away a PK and received a yellow card. On game day 2 he also had a hard time as he faced off against a strong pair in Chris Nanco and Colton Storm with not much help in front of him. Stat-wise through the first 2 games, Dainkeh showed well as he maintained a 90% pass completion rate (65/72), made several key clearances, completed 13 tackles and won 5/6 aerial duels with opposition players. Dainkeh had a very good day 3 though as he showed the side of him that earned so much praise at UMD and he was much better which definitely will help him get picked up somewhere soon in these next 2 rounds of the draft and we fully expect Dainkeh to earn a contract come preseason as he looks to kick off his professional career in the MLS.

Jeremy Ebobisse

Jeremy Ebobisse

Last and certainly not least, Jeremy Ebobisse, who looked to be the #1 Draft pick in nearly every single mock draft I looked through over the past few weeks.

Jeremy has been one of the DMV’s top talents since a young age, as he starred on the locally infamous OBGC Rangers and Bethesda-Olney sides that were oozing with technically sound and exciting players, including Arsenal’s Gedion Zelalem. Jeremy and others can thank head coach Matt Pilkington for their success, as he was able to train and develop some of the best players to ever come out of the DMV up until NYCFC was able to prize him away from the area.

Jeremy’s OBGC sides won multiple state and regional titles, but never won that elusive national title that they missed out on after several trips to National Championships, including that final agonizing one to PDA in the USSDA Championship.

His final youth soccer season was his junior year of high school, as he was able to graduate in 3 years and head to Duke a year early, but not before shattering the USSDA goal scoring record with a mind-boggling 38 goals in 24 games, with 9 of those coming in the team’s 3 playoff games (despite the fact he was playing with guys 1-2 years older than him his entire youth career). Jeremy had a tough freshman season at Duke, he played well but wasn’t able to replicate his youth career goal scoring numbers with only 2 goals and 3 assists.

His Sophomore campaign was a complete different story, as he headed into the season as a team captain and put away 7 goals as well as 4 assists. Jeremy had a stellar 2nd college season and had attracted the US U20’s attention, as he was called up to his first official YNT camp since the introductory camp in the U14 age group and took his chance with aplomb scoring 9 goals in his 11 games to date. Jeremy started to attract offers from Europe and decided it was in his best interest to forgo his final 2 years of eligibility and test the waters over in Europe.

After a couple of trials Ebobisse decided it was best for his own development to sign with the MLS, which he did as the college season rolled around in August. Since he has signed with the MLS, he has split time with the US U20’s, the Charleston Battery (1 Goal/5 Appearances), and had several training stints with MLS Clubs looking to get a closer peek at Ebobisse pre-draft.

Combine Recap

Jeremy missed Game Day 1 of the combine, as he was still in camp with the US U20’s, and then missed Day 2 as well before making his only combine appearance in Game 3. He showed well, taking on several players successfully, playing a couple of good through balls, missing a sitter and then eventually putting one away to end the combine with a beauty of a left footed strike.

Come draft day, there was much anticipation as Jeremy was expected to go early, and in came the Portland Timbers who traded the Houston Dynamo $100K TAM (Total Allocation Money), 1 International Spot AND their #10 pick in the draft to acquire Ebobisse’s services at the 4th pick.

Jeremy will head to Portland with much buzz and excitement around his arrival with an amazing fanbase out there and high expectations from us, everyone else and definitely himself heading into the 2017 MLS Season.

 

Congratulations to all of these DMV alumni players on a successful 2017 MLS Draft, we sincerely look forward to watching your careers over the next few years and wish you all the best!

 

 

Local Boy Makes Good-son

clarence goodson

It’s story time, ladies and gents!

Rewind way, way back to the end of summer, August, 2002. I’m home from college, looking for something to do on a beautiful August Wednesday night in the DMV. My younger brother asked me earlier in the day if I wanted to head to College Park, MD that night to check out a scrimmage between DC United and University of Maryland men’s soccer team. So I call a few friends (this was way before the days of text messaging), pick them up after work, and we all head to Ludwig Field.

This is far from our first Terps or DC United soccer match. My brother, Mark Murphy, and I both grew up as huge soccer fanatics in PG County, and our dad took us to a ton of DC United games in the early days of the club. We both attended and played soccer at DeMatha Catholic High School, which was only a few minutes up Route 1 from University of Maryland, so we attended our fair share of matches at Ludwig Field.

But this evening was different.

DC United, enjoying early success after winning the MLS Cup in 1996, 1997, and 1999, was going through a tough time in 2000 and 2001, but they still had plenty of quality on the roster. They had just signed a new center back from New Zealand who everyone was buzzing about, and the overall quality of players on the pitch this evening made it a match, despite being a friendly/preseason scrimmage, that I’ll never forget.

Me: “I remember being at Ludwig Field on a Wednesday night for a friendly, DC United vs MD Terps. Maybe your sophomore year?

Anyway, with as much quality that was on the field that night- Jaime Moreno, Marco Etcheverry, Roy Lassiter, Santino Quaranta, Richie Williams, Eddie Pope I believe was there, Ben Olsen, the list goes on…. I remember coming away with 2 things from that game:

1) Ryan Nelsen is really freaking good! and
2) That big tall center back from Maryland is a beast!

I told my buddies who I was at the game with…and obviously this is no offense… but you looked like a big ol T-rex out there tackling and heading away everything that came your way!”

Clarence Goodson: (laughs) “That’s funny.

Thank you.

I agree, Ryan Nelson was really good. Excellent pro too.

Funny enough, that was my first college game at center back. I was recruited as a forward/midfielder, but we were in desperate need of a center back for that game and I just wanted to play anywhere I could get on the field. Full credit to Brian Pensky- an assistant at UMD at that time (currently head soccer coach at University of Tennessee)- to bring the idea to Sasho Cirovski, and for Sasho to agree to it. That decision helped me become a professional.”

Time at University of Maryland

A Transition for the Best

Clarence Goodson Maryland 2002Goodson, listed on the University of Maryland website as 6’4 his sophomore year, played as an attacking player throughout his youth career with Braddock Road and at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, VA. But his rather late transition to center back during his sophomore year at Maryland would see the Northern Virginia native launch a successful college and professional career, going on to earn 46 caps for the United States Men’s National team. Goodson would stand out for professional clubs, both domestically in MLS for Dallas Burn/FC Dallas, and overseas, playing for IK Start in Norway and Brøndby IF in Demark, respectively. He has since returned to MLS with his current club San Jose Earthquakes.

Only a month after being converted to center back (imagine transitioning from striker to center back and, for your first match, as only a sophomore in college, you have line up against Jaime Moreno and that DC United squad), he was named to Soccer America’s team of the week in September, 2002. Goodson would continue to develop as a defender, helping the 2002 Maryland Men’s soccer team, under head coach Sasho Cirovski, to go on to win the 2002 ACC Soccer Championship in a 3-0 win over Virginia.

Maryland soccer 2002

It would be Cirovski’s second of six ACC titles, also leading the team to the semifinals of the 2002 NCCA Men’s Soccer Tournament before losing to eventual National Champions UCLA.

Goodson, as a junior, would continue to flourish as a center back at Maryland in 2003-2004 before deciding to forego his senior season to turn pro and enter the MLS Draft. He would go on to be selected number 7 overall in the 2004 MLS Draft, one spot ahead of fellow USMNT player Clint Dempsey.

Me: “What do you remember from your time at Maryland? Memorable goals, teammates who your usually hung out with or still speak to….”

Clarence: “My time at Maryland as a soccer player overall was fun. However, it was not without some difficulties. It took time to get used to the expectations of a higher level of soccer, a different coaching staff and different players. Sasho is a great coach and I am very appreciative for all he has done for me. We have a good relationship to this day but he’s intense and demands excellence. It took me a bit to get used to that. Once I understood the expectations, I flourished.

I had so many wonderful teammates at UMD. We were a very close team, and everyone truly enjoyed being with each other away from the field. My two best friends to this day, Abe Thompson (who is still involved in the game and currently serves as a head coach of Braddock Road u16 girl’s team), and Jason Arnold (who is currently the General Manager at the Wilmington Hammerheads), both of whom I played with on Braddock Road, joined me at UMD. We speak almost daily. We won the ACC tournament, regular season championship and went to two final fours while I was there. However, what I remember most is the camaraderie we had. Each one of us didn’t want to let the other down. We cared about each other too much not to give everything we had. It was a special time.”

Me: “When you say that it took you some time to get used to the expectations as a student athlete…for the younger guys who are going into college, or currently playing soccer at that level, what advice can you share with them?”

Clarence: “As student athletes we have two duties- our studies, and then our sport. I think it is important for younger players to understand it can be a difficult balancing act, but that universities have many teachers willing to help, you just need to ask for the help.

Early DMV Memories

Braddock Road Youth Club, 1999 National Champions

Before talking about Clarence’s successful professional career which saw him on the 2010 World Cup roster, it’s important to take a look at where it all started.

Goodson grew up in the DMV, hailing from Alexandria, Virginia. He attended Annandale High School for his freshman and sophomore years, before transferring to WT Woodson where he and Abe Thompson would lead the Cavaliers to a Virginia State title in 2000.

For his club ball, Clarence played for Braddock Road Youth Club, helping to lead the Warhawks to a National championship in 1999.

Me: “So you grew up in Northern Virginia, and you played your youth ball for Braddock Road. What can you tell me about any memories you have growing up as a player in the Northern VA area?”

Clarence: “Youth soccer has always been highly competitive in the DMV area. I felt blessed to be able to compete against so many wonderful players without having to travel very far. The DMV area has produced many successful pros over the year and numerous from my age group. National team players at the youth or senior team include myself, Kyle Beckerman, Oguchi Onyewu, Abe Thomson, David Stokes, Kelvin Jones and Shawn Kuykendall just to name a few. I was fortunate to play with all of them at one time or another. Those experiences only make you a better player.

In NOVA specifically, we would often train at Pine Ridge Park in Annandale, WT Woodson High School, and I have many memories of playing games at Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville.

For indoor we would play in Manassas. Not sure if those fields are still heavily used the way they were in my youth, but they were top notch facilities in the 90’s and 2000’s.”

Me: “You’ve obviously played for a number of coaches throughout your career. A lot of times, players say that coaches who worked with them in the early years are the ones who influenced them the most. Do you remember any of your old youth, high school, or any other coaches who you’d like to recognize?”

Clarence: “The two most influential coaches from my youth were Joe Dougherty (who currently coaches for Arlington Soccer)  & (longtime VA youth soccer coach) Gene Mishalow. Both coached me at different times for the Braddock Road Warhawks, and both helped me grow at different periods in my development. I am very grateful for both of them. I’m 34, and still keep in touch with both to this day. I honestly feel indebted to those men for the time and the grace they gave me as a youth. Top men.”

Life as a Professional

A “Tall” Order

Clarence was drafted seventh overall in the 2004 MLS Draft, but in his rookie season he only registered 247 minutes over 5 regular season MLS games. While he did see extended time in Cup matches, the Burn failed to make the MLS playoffs for the second straight year in manager Colin Clarke‘s first full season.

The following season, iclarence goodson fc dallasn 2005, club owner Lamar Hunt announced that the club would be re-branded as “FC Dallas”, a decision which was coordinated with the opening of their new soccer-specific stadium in Frisco, TX.

That same season, FC Dallas signed Carlos Ruiz as part of a trade that sent Landon Donovan to the LA Galaxy. The team made it to the Western Conference Semifinals, losing to the Colorado Rapids 3-2 after a penalty shootout, a game in which Goodson recorded an assist.

FC Dallas also made it to the final of the US Open Cup, losing to the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 in what was basically a home game for the Galaxy in Carson, California.

It would appear as if the new FC Dallas name, jerseys, logo, and stadium all serve as a breath of fresh air for the Dallas MLS club, but the 2005 season was also a breakthrough season for Goodson. He led the team in minutes (2,488), games played (29), and games started (28) despite being used primarily as a substitute the prior season.

Settling in during his rookie season obviously played a role in his standout sophomore campaign.

Me: “So then you’re drafted 7th overall in 2004 by the Dallas Burn. You had some familiar faces with you there…Abe Thompson was a former Terp, Michael DelloRusso, and I’m sure you knew Alex Yi from VA.

Then you have some quality established players like Denilson, Shaka Hislop, Kenny Cooper was hot around that time.

How did you feel about making the jump from college to the pros, what was different in terms of how you prepared yourself as a professional that maybe rubbed off on you from some of those veteran guys?”

Ronnie O'Brien

MLS Standout Ronnie O’Brien helped Clarence settle in when he came to Dallas

Clarence: “Each level I have stepped up to has created new challenges. The game is faster, the margin for error is much smaller, and of course the players are bigger, stronger and faster. We had great players in Dallas.

From day one, Ronnie O’brien took me under his wing. We happened to live in the same apartment complex and I am forever indebted to him for his friendship and mentorship at that time. It makes a huge difference for a young player to have an older professional care about your development. I was also able to watch Ronnie and other guys train like Bobby Rhine, Steve Jolley, Greg Vanney, Jason Kreis, and Richard Mulrooney to name just a few. I listened as much as I could to try to learn something new. You look at those names, and not only were they fantastic players, they’re great men. Those experiences and conversations have helped me in my professional life and my personal life.”

A few years later, in 2007, Clarence would be selected second overall by the San Jose Earthquakes in the 2007 MLS Expansion Draft, but the Northern Virginia DMV native had bigger plans.

Yank Abroad

Looking for a fresh “Start”

Instead of returning to MLS, Goodson decided to take his talents to Scandanavia, signing for IK Start in Norway in what could be looked at as a bit of a “trailblazer” move (see: “Who is Clarence Goodson and why MLS should care“). Between 2008 and 2010, Goodson would make 69 appearances for the club, scoring 10 goals and starting to pop up on Bob Bradley’s USMNT radar.

Clarence after signing for Brøndby IF in 2011

Clarence after signing for Brøndby IF in 2011

Me: “You get a move to Europe, to Scandinavia of all places. IK Start in Norway for 3 years, followed by a move to Danish club Brondby. What do you remember going from MLS, where you were a standout at FC Dallas by the time you left, to Europe?”

Clarence: “At the time, San Jose Earthquakes had just come back to San Jose as an expansion team after previous moving to Houston. They became the Houston Dynamo, and now MLS was having an expansion draft to help fill out the new Earthquakes roster. I was out of contract, and FC Dallas knew of my desire to move abroad. So FC Dallas decided to leave me unprotected (teams could protect 11 of 23 players), and thus able to be picked by San Jose. I was of course picked. I thought it was a really stupid decision by Dallas, but it is what it is. After I was drafted, I felt the contract offer from MLS was poor, and I left to play in Norway. It was one of the best decisions of my career. I also believe coming back to MLS when I did in 2013 was one of the best decisions I have made. Each player is different and each players path is different but I’m happy the route mine has gone.”

Representing his country

Stars and Stripes

Clarence GoodsonGoodson made his first US Men’s National Team appearance against Sweden in a friendly on January 19, 2008. He would go on to earn a total of 46 full caps for the US Men’s National Team, and was selected as a member of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The Americans were in the same group as England, Algeria, and Slovenia.

Come on, you remember.

easy

They were favored to come out of their group along with England, but Algeria made it very difficult in a landmark game versus Bob Bradley’s Yanks.

Me: “Bob Bradley calls you into National Team camp in 2008. You’re involved in World Cup qualifying in 2008-2009, and you play in the 2009 Gold Cup. Later on, in 2010, you get to live the dream. You’re going to the World Cup!

Is being involved in a World Cup squad the most memorable experience of your soccer career?

wcClarence: “Representing my country has been the ultimate achievement. Its an amazing feeling that is the culmination of countless hours of training and lifestyle choices off the field. Especially in a country that is so large, and with such a massive player pool. To be considered one of the best players we have and have a chance to represent our national team is amazing. It is something I wanted to be able to do just once. I was blessed enough to do it close to 50 times.

Then of course the World Cup is another level all together. That is the really something special. At one moment in time, I was one of the 23 best players in America. The entire process of pre-World Cup training, and a World Cup tournament is extremely draining. Mentally and physically, you cannot afford to take any breaks. If you do, you could lose your spot, or let your team down.

Training sessions were extremely intense, in all the right ways. We encouraged each other, and gave everything we had to make it a successful World Cup. The group stage went very well, and we finished in first place. It wasn’t without stress though. As many may remember, we were tied late vs Algeria and needed to win to advance or we would be out of the WC.”

Me: “Of course I’m going to ask you about that! Landon Donovan’s late goal against Algeria, which sealed the win and sent shock waves throughout the world, especially back home in the States. What do you remember about that amazing moment in US Soccer history?”

world cup goal

Clarence on the left, Jozy coming in strong

Clarence: “Tim Howard caught the ball, threw a quick outlet to midfield and we went end to end with Landon Donovan scoring the winner in extra time. Before I knew it, I was at the corner flag hugging and kissing Landon! It was a massive dog pile I’ll never forget. Amazing time with amazing teammates!”

2014 World Cup

Disappointment

Landon Donovan wasn’t the only name that was omitted from Jurgen Klinnsman’s 2014 World Cup roster. Despite being used in World Cup qualifying and playing in almost every United States win during the qualifying campaign, head coach Jurgen Klinnsman decided to go a different route and select younger, less experienced center backs for his World Cup roster.

Clarence, on missing out on being selected for the 2014 World Cup:

Soccer is the beautiful game, but it isn’t always a fair game. Missing out on the 2014 WC was very disappointing, but things don’t always go the way you envision them. I think its very important for players not to put too much stock in how good or bad one coach thinks you are.

 

 

Coaches are very important, but they are not always right. Jurgen was wrong to leave me off of the team, but it was his decision to make. Just because I didn’t make the team didn’t mean I was suddenly a bad soccer player. For me, it was important to get back out and play again, and not allow someone else’s thoughts of me to define me. I’m proud to say I believe 2015 was the highest level I’ve played at in my career. I honestly believe I was the best defender in MLS in 2015.

San Jose Earthquakes

“Heading” off into the sunset

Goodson returned to MLS in 2013, after 5 successful years abroad, to play for the San Jose Earthquakes. He’s made 49 appearances for the San Jose side, and recently, has embraced a veteran role in which he’s able to provide guidance and tutelage for some of the younger players on the team.

goodson vs rooney

Me: “You mentioned earlier that some of the veteran guys in Dallas were able to help you settle in when you first arrived. Do you see yourself in a similar role now in San Jose at all, maybe showing the younger guys a few things? If so, what do you try to teach/show them what they need to do to be a quality professional player?”

Clarence: “Absolutely. I try to teach others like I have been taught. Just like the older pros I played with at a young age, I’ve always given 100% in training. I have absolutely no time for players who train at 50% effort. That comes down to the individual’s mentality and character, though.

I’ve never been able to give less than 100%. I don’t have it in me. I believe that my 100% effort rubs off on others, and in every club it’s up to the older pros and coaches to set that standard. But the on field stuff is only part of it. A massive part of being a professional soccer player is the choices you make off of the field. Proper nutrition, weight training and sleeping habits are just as big. If a player doesn’t understand that, then they can never truly reach their full potential. Those are just some of the things I try to share with the next generation.”

Life as a Professional

How Clarence has played professional soccer for 13+ years

Me: “You’re now 34, still a professional athlete. To be able to do this, you obviously have to look after yourself.

Give us an idea of what you’ve done to be able to have such a prolonged career (diet, training regimen, anything you can share).

Clarence: “Being a pro athlete is a 24/7 thing. Especially at 34, if I eat the wrong thing or don’t get the rest my body demands, I suffer for it.

I try to eat well-balanced meals, organic if possible, little to no sugar, defiantly no soda or fast foods. We start training at 10am everyday, and I arrive between 8 and 8:20am. I eat, and then prepare for training. I get in the hot tub to warm the muscles, do PRI exercises to help my back and hips. I stretch in the gym, and get taped up to be ready to train. Depending on the day, I might lift weights.

This routine has drastically increased over the years. But at 34, it’s what I need to be able to continue to compete at this level.”

Me: “Okay, one last question. Do you ever return to the DMV area to visit family, etc.?”

HTTR!

“My family and many friends still live in the DMV area. I love being in the DMV area. I have countless memories in the DMV area. I try to get back every winter to see family, and It’s always a very special time.”

Clarence Goodson, truly one of DMV’s finest.

 

DMV’S Finest: Joe Gyau

Not Your Average Joe

Borussia Dortmund, US Men’s National Team, and DMV’S Finest Joe Gyau shares some fond memories of playing in the DMV, and sheds some light on his rehab progress

Joe Gyauby George Murphy

While current US Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinnsman may, for some, be on the hot seat following his team’s failure to reach the Gold Cup Final on home turf this past summer, one thing is for sure: he has no problem giving younger guys a chance to shine.

The German-born head coach and all-time great striker has no problem giving younger players the chance to prove themselves at the International level, which has resulted in a deeper pool of players to select from. Want some examples? Just take a look at guys like DeAndre Yedlin, who is poised to feature for Tottenham this season, Gyasi Zardes, and a host of others.

DMV native Joe Gyau is no exception. The Borussia Dortmund II standout received his first full USMNT cap on September 3, 2014 against Czech Republic, 13 days before his 22nd birthday. He was able to showcase his speed, willingness to run at defenders, and all-around game which excited USMNT fans everywhere.

Gyau, who is from Silver Spring and grew up playing for the Bethesda Roadrunners, came through the US Youth National Team system, representing the Stars and Stripes at the u17, u20, and u23 age groups. He’s been playing in Europe since 2011, enjoying success at the youth level at German clubs 1899 Hoffenheim and FC St. Pauli, before making his move to Dortmund in 2014.

Not many young American players draw interest from a club like Dortmund. But for those who are familiar with the Gyau name in the DMV area, it’s not much of a surprise.

Joe’s Father, Philip

More Than Just a Soccer Dad

philip gyau

Philip Gyau during his time with the Maryland Bays

 

Joe’s father, Philip, is the current head coach of the Howard University Men’s Soccer Team. As a player, he made 6 caps for the United States Men’s National Team, between 1989 and 1991. Philip had stints playing for the Baltimore Blast, Washington Warthogs (for those fellow Warthog fans who can remember going to games at USAir Arena, or the Capitol Centre, whatever it was called back then), and a number of other clubs in between.

He transitioned into coaching in 1998, managing the US Men’s National Beach Soccer Team, Bullis High School Girls’ team, St John’s High School, and a number of other club teams. His successful coaching career has helped him develop 20 players who have represented the United States at the Youth National Team Level, and he was inducted into the Maryland Soccer Hall of Fame in 2007.

That all being said, it is obvious that Joe was exposed to higher-level soccer at an early age. He recalls memories from when his dad was coaching, which helped shape his career and work ethic at a young age.

“I would do soccer camps with my dad for 10 weeks in the summer, every day, from 9 to 5” says the Silver Spring native. “My dad was working camps all summer, so I was there all day. Then he would have clinics after camp, where I would train after. Some days, we would be out from 7 in the morning, and not come home until around 9-10pm. So we were touching the ball literally all day, every single day.”

At the youth level, while still playing in the DMV, Joe played for the Bethesda Roadrunners club team which challenged for National titles. He has some very fond memories of playing soccer in the the DMV area, and says that he still stays in contact with a number of his teammates and friends.

“We played against all of the Maryland teams. The guys I remember playing against the most are from MSC United, guys like Julio Arjona and Peabo Doue. I still stay in contact with my old Varsity teammate Rodney Wallace from the Timbers, Bill Hamid from DC United, Jalen Robinson. Paul Torres, who is currently playing in Norway, Dallas Sikes, who is in Luxembourg. And of course Lester Dewee, my best friend, who is currently playing in Sweden. All the guys.”

Joe also has fond memories of watching Maryland Terps and DC United games live, and of course, of watching his father on the pitch.

“When I was still living in MD, I always watched University of Maryland play, and we would also go to a lot of DC United games. My father was also playing in a Caribbean Mens’ League. Those games were the most fun to go to, just because I got to see my dad play! There were a lot of old Jamaican Internationals playing, old friends, and I remember the food was always good. The one guy I remember watching play when I was younger, though, was Isreal Sesay, we called him Issy. Man, that dude was a beast back in the day, he played for our older Bethesda team. And Chris Agorsor (who went on to University of Virginia), who was playing in the Baltimore area. He was definitely a force to be reckoned with as well.”

Joe’s DMV memories also extend off of the pitch, but he says that there is one thing in the DMV that he doesn’t miss that ALL of us can relate to.

“The main thing I miss when thinking about the DMV is my family and friends…just hangin’ at home, and being around my loved ones all the time. That’s what I miss the most. I come back to Silver Spring around twice a year, winter and summer. I miss the Chinese Food carry outs there, my Barber Shop, Sunday dinner at my grandmother’s house, pickup basketball, neighborhood football, and pickup soccer games of course, haha. I miss a lot of things. I don’t miss the traffic though, at all!”

Hard Work

How It’s Helping Joe Through Adversity

Joe Gyau rehab progress

Joe while in action for Dortmund, doing what he does best…terrorizing defenders.

There’s no doubt that Joe’s constant early exposure to the beautiful game, along with the strong work ethic and passion instilled in him by his father at a young age, has helped him to become one of the most promising young prospects in Klinnsman’s USMNT selection pool.

 

But having to look adversity square in the eye is something that every great athlete has to go through, and Joe is no different.
Joe Gyau vs Ecuador

Joe in his second USMNT cap vs Ecudor

Joe was able to impress Jurgen Klinnsman and the USMNT coaching staff enough during his first full cap that he started his second match, just over a month later. On October 10th, 2014, Joe started a friendly against Ecuador. After just 15 minutes, he had to be subbed off with what was initially thought to be a sprained knee.

However, it was later announced that Joe had torn his lateral meniscus, and was likely out for the 2014-2015 season for his club, Borussia Dortmund.

Recently, reports have been surfacing that Joe has been suffering setbacks during his rehabilitation. He was hoping to be ready for the 2015-2016 season, but rumors continue to surface that there is a chance that he could miss a big chunk, or possibly all, of this next campaign.

Joe was kind enough to let us in on how his rehab is going.

“Rehab has been going really well, I’ve actually recently arrived in Munich and I’m doing some work down here. Things are going well, and I’m always improving. Yes, it is true that I had some cartilage damage, so the surgeon had to do a transplant procedure. They extracted some of my existing cartilage, grew it in the lab, and then 3 weeks later put it back in the damaged spot. I’ve been doing work each and every day, which is tough sometimes, but it’s what has to be done for me to come back stronger. The facilities, physios, and doctors at Dortmund have been with me every step of the way. As for me being out for the whole season, that’s not true. I’m definitely going to be back much sooner than that. But I have to be patient, and keep working hard.”
Joe has confidence that, in the end, his work ethic and love for the game will prevail, and that this small bump in the road will make him a stronger player, and person.
“Personally, I’m not trying to rush back into anything and hurt myself again. I’m still young, and my main goal is to fully recover because I know that, once I do, I’m going to pick right back up where I left off.
Before this injury, I never really had to do the rehab components of life, I was just a pure athlete. Being given the chance to work with so many trained experts, I’m definitely going to come back stronger and faster.
This time away from being on the pitch has also given me a chance to study the game a bit more as well, and to train my mental state of mind. Believe it or not, the professional game is much more mental than a lot of people think, you have to be mentally strong and prepared if you want to play consistently at a high level, and very confident of your abilities. So I have definitely grown during this period, and can’t wait to see how it all translates on the pitch.”
Joe is able to lean on his family, club doctors and physios, coaches, and teammates when he’s in need of motivation. But when we asked him which players he watches and tries to model his game after, it’s obvious that he also looks to a couple of legendary forwards when seeking inspiration.
“I wouldn’t say that I try to model my game after anybody in particular, but I do have players that I’ve always looked up to. First, obviously, I’ve always looked up to my father, because he was a really direct forward.
I admire Maradona, he has so much passion for the game and he never gave up. Also, Ronaldo Lima. Those two guys are my all-time favorites, but Ronaldo has become more of my favorite lately, because he had 2 or 3 potentially career-ending injuries that could have seen him never player again. But he was never deterred by all of the outside talk and speculation whether he would ever be the same or not. He came back from each injury through hard work, and performed on a World Class level, so I admire his resilience. I also admire both players because they both had that one-on-one ability, and could leave players behind with speed, which is one of my main qualities.”
If you’re a fan of DMV soccer, it’s hard not to know the Gyau name. Joe and his father, up to this point, have been a model of what can happen if you work hard, and are passionate about soccer.

 

Yes, it helps to have world-class speed, and quality coaching at a young age. But there are examples of players, not just in soccer, but every sport, who give up and fold after an injury or other setback.

 

To be hearing things from such a young player like “I’m working on becoming stronger mentally”, and “I’m continuing to study and use this time to make myself a better all-around player”, in addition to Joe’s obvious knowledge of the game and respect for those who have come before him, should make all of us hopeful that he will return to the field a better all-around player, and get back to his old ways. A player who will return to the field at the International level, continue to make defenders worry about his next move, and make all of us in the DMV proud to call him one of our own.

 

Good luck Joe, and keep working hard!

 

A few notable photos from Joe’s Instagram account:

Amazing coach … Sad day. #ThanksKlopp #BVB

A post shared by Joe Gyau (@joegyau36) on


Being embraced by former BVB manager Jurgen Klopp

2009… Life changes quick.. Stay humble and don't forget who your fam is… #301 #240 #Rack

A post shared by Joe Gyau (@joegyau36) on


On the playground is where he spent most of his days


His father, Philip, in action for the USMNT

Late night gym session #Work 💪

A post shared by Joe Gyau (@joegyau36) on


Taking a selfie break<

#Throwback #TheBeginning #BVB

A post shared by Joe Gyau (@joegyau36) on


Coming on as a sub, alongside captain Mats Hummels

#Preach

A post shared by Joe Gyau (@joegyau36) on


A quote that gives him inspiration during his rehab process

DMV’s Finest: Maki Tall

A Tall Order

DC Native Maki Tall hopes to rehab from injury and suit up for USA in 2016 Olympics

Maki Tallby Tim Sitar

Not many soccer players in the history of the DMV are compared to Premier League legends, but there is a striker with a DMV connection making a name for himself in Europe who has drawn such comparisons.

That player is DC-born Maki Tall, a young and exciting 19 year-old forward who is already making a name for himself in Europe.

Tall left the region when he was just seven years old, but if he can have a big impact with his new Swiss Super League club- FC Sion- and go on to achieve his goal of representing the United States in next summer’s Olympic Games, there is no doubt that the soccer community in the DMV will proudly proclaim him as one of our own.

“Since I left DC when I was very young, I did not get many chances to play for local youth teams there.” says Tall, when asked if he has any DMV soccer memories worth sharing. “However, during my summer holidays, I did go play a few times with my dad at the Mall, around Constitution Avenue.”

Drawing comparisons to a legend

Tall is very well-traveled. In addition to DC, he has also lived in Cameroon, Senegal, Ivory Coast, and finally France, where Tall would draw comparisons to new Montreal Impact signee and Chelsea legend, Didier Drogba.

Maki says that he welcomes the comparisons, but also says he has a ways to go before they hold any weight.

Maki Tall Drogba comparisons

Didier Drogba after winning 2012 Champions League final, where he was MOTM

“I am honored, of course. But Drogba is unique. I have a long way to go before I can be compared to a great player like him. I think the reason why people compare me to him is because he trained at the same youth academy in Le Mans. My style is that of a fast and powerful striker. I am also sure-footed in front of the goal. Drogba at his prime was a master in all these areas. I hope to be close to that level some day.”

Some of Maki’s other favorite players include Ibrahimovic, Aguero and Teves. Not a bad attacking front 3.

Yank abroad: adjusting to life overseas

Tall developed into one of the most promising prospects at the academy of French League 2 side Le Mans. His on-field exploits dazzled club officials, as he led Le Mans in scoring at four different age groups (U15, U16, U17, and U19). But Tall had quite a few obstacles in his way as a youth player in a foreign country trying to prove himself.

“When I came to Le Mans, I was almost 14 years old. I had to adjust to the cold weather since I was coming from Cote D’Ivoire, and I had to learn tactically how the game was played in France. The physical intensity of the game is also something that I had to adjust to.”

Off the field, his everyday routine also wasn’t exactly that of a normal high school player.

“Language was not a barrier, since I already spoke French. But aside from my father coming to visit every month, I had no family around. We also trained twice a day, and still had to take normal classes.”

His success at Le Mans Academy led to a contract with Lille in 2013, and a four-month loan with third division French club Red Star last season. While his minutes were limited in his first two matches for Red Star, when he did get on the field, he was able to show some glimpses. He was involved in his team being awarded 2 penalty kicks after coming on as a substitute in a League Cup match.

“All together I played in 4 games out of 12 for Red Star, but I missed most of the season because of National Team duty. I must say it was also difficult coming in at mid-season, in a team that was playing well and with a striker in top form (Kevin Lefaix was top scorer in the league). Still, it was a great experience training with very experienced players like (former Manchester United player) David Bellion every day.”

Proud to represent the Stars and Stripes

Tall spurned early offers from the French National team program. Later, he would suit up for FFF youth national teams, but the U.S. never left his mind. Perhaps his Christmas and summer vacations back to the DMV kept him grounded in the possibility of representing his land of birth.

“I go back to DC twice a year, when my schedule allows it. I am a big Wizards fan, and of course I do not miss any Redskins games on TV or through the internet. I have a permanent subscription to NFL and NBA League Pass, so I try to keep up with the Redskins and Wizards.”

“Hail to the Redskins!” Maki says on his Instagram account.

Maki wondering who would win in a foot race, him or John Wall.

His father, Madani, hoped to see his son in the red, white, and blue of the USMNT, rather than donning the kit of Les Bleus. His father’s hope became reality, at least at the U-20 level. U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos called Maki into camp after the January qualifying tourney in Jamaica. When asked seeing his son step onto the pitch for the first time as a United States Youth National Team Player:

“I was very proud. The culture in America is that if you work hard, you will get your chance. Maki seized his chance when he was called up to join the U20 team, and it was a very great moment for all the family.”

The young and dynamic forward wasted little time adjusting to Ramos’ system, and found the back of the net two times in the team’s final four tune-up games before the U-20 World Cup.

Overcoming adversity

Tall would go on to start in the 2015 U-20 WC opener against hopeful minnow, Myanmar. Tall netted the first goal in the 2-1 win for the Yanks. Yet, his time on the international stage was as almost brief as his stay in the DMV.

The right-footer left the Myanmar game in the 49th minute, never to return to World Cup action after suffering a broken left big toe. We asked him how his rehabilitation process has been going.

“I am rehabbing very well. I should start running next week, and I hope to play my first game with FC Sion in early September, after a game or two with the reserve team in order to be in full shape.”

Tall hopes to feature for the reigning Swiss Cup champion, FC Sion, this season and continue to improve. If he finds playing time, there is no doubt that he will stay on Jurgen Klinnsman’s rader.

Will an early World Cup qualifying call-up and cap tying appearance be in Tall’s future?

“That is what every soccer player dreams about. There is a lot of talent in the various USA teams, from the full side to the different youth players coming through the ranks. It will take hard work and a little bit of luck to be part of the full USMNT. Before that, my focus is on the Olympics.”

A young, dynamic, and exciting USMNT prospect who has set goals for himself and is prepared to work hard on (and off) the field to make them a reality. If Maki is able to complete his injury rehabilitation process and make a name for himself in the Swiss league, his dream of representing the United States at the 2016 Summer Olympics, and of going on to represent the full United State’s Men’s National Team one day, may become a reality.

From everyone in the DMV, good luck Maki. Make us proud.

DMV US Soccer Development Academy Recap 9/19-9/20

USDAAll three DMV-area US Academy teams endured long road trips up North this weekend, facing off against tough opponents in the Northeast conference.

DC United traveled to New York to take on BW Gottschee and Albertson SC,  while Bethesda-Olney and Baltimore Armour both took weekend trips to Connecticut to square off against Oakwood Soccer Club and Beachside SC.

Baltimore Armour

Baltimore ArmourBaltimore Armour vs Beachside

Baltimore Armour’s u17/18 side took on Beachside SC on Saturday at University of Bridgeport. They were able to get on the board against a competitive team, but the home team prevailed in a 3-1 victory. Goal scorer for Baltimore Armour u17/18 has not yet been reported.

Also in action on Saturday was the Baltimore Armour u15/16 side, coming off of a victory last week against division opponents Bethesda-Olney.

After allowing 2 first half goals to Beachside, and an early goal in the second half, Armour was down 3-0 early, but continued to fight. They were able to make it 3-1 after defender Ben Detweiler saw his deflected volley find the back of the net. A few minutes later, Matthew Bailey was able to put a left-footed shot in the back of the net to make it a 3-2 game. Armour continued to pressure Beachside’s goal throughout the second half, but were unable to find the tying goal despite a hard-fought effort.

Baltimore Armour vs Oakwood Soccer Club

On Sunday, Armour continued their journey up North to Portland, CT to square off against Oakwood Soccer Club at Oakwood’s beautiful soccer complex.

Baltimore Armour u17/18’s were up first, putting in a hard-fought effort but unable to produce a result despite pressuring the Oakwood goal throughout the game. The match finished 1-0 in favor of the home team.

Up next, Baltimore Armour u15/16’s tried to keep the momentum going after nearly coming back from a 3-0 deficit the day before. Armour was able to get on the scoreboard in the first half, thanks to an excellent finish from Olufela “Fela” Osifeso who collected a flick-on from Baltimore Armour striker Brady O’Connor, dribbled around the goalkeeper, and finished the goal from a tough angle. Armour were able to preserve their 1-0 heading into halftime, despite a number of efforts from Oakwood striker Kamer Nuhiu nearly finding the goal. A second half which can only be described as complete insanity would follow in one of the craziest halves of soccer that you could imagine in a USSDA match.

Baltimore Armour striker Brady O’Connor hit the post early in the first half, unlucky not to give his team a 2-0 lead. Oakwood was able tie the match soon thereafter, with Oakwood striker Kamer Nuhiu, who was very impressive throughout the match, finding the back of the net five minutes into the second half to make it 1-1.

However, Baltimore Armour was able to shift the lead back in favor of the visitors, thanks to Olufela “Fela” Osifeso following up a rebound and finding the back of the net to make it 2-1.

Kamer Nuhiu wasn’t finished however, as he was able to find another goal eleven minutes later, tying it up at 2-2 with 24 minutes left in the match. Game on.

Nuhiu was then somehow able to find 2 more goals in the second half, in the 66th and 68th minutes, to take his goal tally in the match to four and putting his team up 4-2. A resilient Baltimore Armour side, coached by head coach Frank Assaro, continued to battle. Matthew Bailey found Armour’s third goal after a spectacular volley from 25 yards out found the back of the net in the 69th minute, and it was sure to be an intense final 10 minutes of the match with the score being 4-3.

Armour conceded a fifth goal two minutes later, when Simon Becher scored for Oakwood. However, Armour continued to battle, and made the game 5-4 in the 79th minute thanks to Kamso Onwumechili getting on the end of a ball bouncing in the box and finishing for Armour. It was 5-4 heading into extra time, but the Baltimore Armour u15/16 side weren’t able to equalize and were left with a long bus ride home after a roller coaster of a match.

Next weekend, Baltimore Armour travels to Pennsylvania to take on PA Classics on Saturday.

Bethesda-Olney

Bethesda OlneyBethesda-Olney vs Oakwood Soccer Club

Bethesda-Olney u17/18’s came into their matchup vs Oakwood with a perfect 2-0 record so far this season, after defeating Baltimore Armour the week before and Everton FC Westchester in Week 1. The visitors were able to keep their perfect record in tact on Saturday, after defeating the home team 1-0 at Oakwood’s soccer complex in Portland, CT. Bethesda-Olney’s goal was scored by Justin Lobe.

Up next was Bethesda-Olney’s u15/16 side, taking on a tough Oakwood u15/16 side who only lost to New England Revolution’s u15/16 team in week 1 by one goal in a 1-0 defeat. The home team prevailed this time out, with Oakwood winning the match 2-0.

Bethesda-Olney vs Beachside SC

On Sunday, Bethesda-Olney were in Bridgeport, CT to take on Beachside SC before a long journey back to Maryland on Sunday night.

Bethesda-Olney u17/18’s were up first, looking to keep their perfect record in tact. However, they ran into a Beachside team who were able to produce a 3-0 victory and improve their record to 2-1 on the season. Bethesda-Olney’s u17/18 side are 3-1 heading into next weekend’s away matchup vs NJCSA.

In u15/16 action, Bethesda-Olney looked to rebound from 2 straight losses to Oakwood and Baltimore Armour, respectively, and were able to do so after securing an impressive 3-0 away victory versus a quality Beachside opponent. Goals were scored by Jerry Zouantcha, Alex Debayo-Doherty, and Gabe Segal. Bethesda-Olney u15/16’s will travel to NJ next weekend to take on NJCSA.

DC United

DC United AcademyDC United vs BW Gottschee Academy

With the other two DMV-area Academy clubs traveling to Connecticut this weekend, DC United had a Northern road trip of their own this past weekend when they took the road to New York to take on BW Gottschee and Albertson SC, respectively.

DC United u17/18’s were coming into Saturday’s matchup with BW Gottschee- who is historically competitive at every age level- with a perfect 2-0 record after beating NJCSA in week 1, and earning an impressive 5-0 away victory in their last match.

Heading into halftime scoreless, DC United u17/18’s took a 1-0 lead thanks to a goal from Gerson Umana. However, the home BW Gottschee continued to battle and were able to secure two second-half goals, handing DC United their first loss of the season.

DC United’s u15/16 side, who allowed 5 goals in the week prior in a 5-1 defeat to New York Red Bulls, also dropped to the home BW Gottschee side by a score of 1-0.

DC United vs Albertson SC

Both DC United Academy clubs were looking to rebound from losses on Sunday, when they took on Albertson SC at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY.

The DC United u17/18 side were up first, and managed to improve their record to 3-1 after defeating the home Albertson SC side 2-0. Miles Robinson scored in the first minute of the match, and Jose Carranza scored DC United’s second goal in the first half to secure the 2-0 victory.

In u15/16 action, DC United made short work of Albertson SC thanks to Colin Brezniak, who netted a brace within 20 minutes of the match. Alexis Cerritos scored in the second half, as did Casimir Zekoua, to secure a 4-0 victory for the DC United u15/16 side who travel to Pennsylvania next weekend to take on PDA.

USSDA Atlantic Division Standings

U17/18

U17/18 Atlantic standings

DC United are currently in third place in the U17/18 Atlantic Standings, followed by Bethesda-Olney who are in fourth. Baltimore Armour u17/18 are in last, with a lot of time to improve.

U15/16

U15/16 Academy Standings Atlantic

In the u15/16 tables, DC United are in fourth place through 4 matches, Bethesda-Olney in 6th place, and Baltimore Armour in 8th.

Congratulations to all of the local DMV Academy teams, and keep up the good work!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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