A plan that was years in the making has come to fruition for thousands of aspiring soccer players in the Greater Philadelphia region.
Amid a group of young soccer talent, hopeful soccer moms and the media, Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz and coach Peter Nowak yesterday announced the Union's partnership with Wayne, Pa.-based YSC Academy in an effort to groom top soccer talent in the region.
Sakiewicz and YSC Academy founder Richie Graham conveyed a plan akin to the one used by many of the top club teams in Europe. One difference is that this program is being called "club neutral" in the sense that any player, regardless of club team or level, has a chance to take advantage of some of the best coaching around, spearheaded by YSC Academy director Iain Munro.
"There is no question that in the long run this partnership is going to make our team better," Sakiewicz said. "Ultimately this is about finding the next great player - or two, or three - right here at home to play in our stadium in Chester."
The design encompasses four phases of development, starting at age 8 with the Player Development Program. Level 2, called the "Union Juniors Academy," focuses on continued development in preparation for middle school and high school levels.
Ultimately, the plan - which has two more phases - hopes someday to have that homegrown talent playing on the Union, from reserves to the first team.
"If you look at our [YSC's] motto, 'Dream, perform, excel' the first word you see in it is dream," Graham said. "This program provides kids with a realistic dream of getting to the professional level."
The plan will be accessible not only for players living in the suburbs, most already playing on travel teams, but also for city children who might not have access to top instruction. The group, according to Sakiewicz, has already looked into scouting teams in the city and has discussed opening satellite campuses in Philadelphia, Reading, South Jersey and Delaware.
"There are a lot of talented players out there that are never found because they just don't have the resources," said Sakiewicz, a former professional goalkeeper who said he started out among the recreational ranks. "This program is out to create as big a net as possible and finding those special players that want to learn and get better. That's what this is about."
As the days count down toward the Union's first kick, Nowak leaves Friday for a monthlong world tour, looking to add top talent to a roster that will be bolstered at the MLS expansion draft and subsequent MLS SuperDraft on Nov. 25. Sakiewicz and Nowak both said they already have more than 200 player resumes, with more expected.
"There is a lot of work to do in the coming weeks," Nowak said. "Busy man, busy, busy, busy."
The team also plans to hold open tryouts at sites and dates to be determined. Sakiewicz noted the team will make its official announcement in "2 weeks," but a team source said tryouts will begin in November. They will be open to the public, but there will be a fee.