Sporting KC Academy lifts U15 trophy

Sporting-Academy

NOVEMBER 2015 – The future of soccer in America is bright, and nowhere in America is it brighter than in Kansas City.

The growth of youth soccer in the area is shown in the rise of youth organizations like Heartland Soccer – the largest youth soccer organization in the United States – and the opening of world-class facilities such as Swope Soccer Village.

One highlight of this growth came this summer when Sporting KC Academy won the U15 championship, becoming the first boys’ team from the region to capture a national United States Youth Soccer crown at any age level.

The 3-1 win over Fewster FC (Maryland) capped an unbeaten (9-0-0) run through nationals after qualifying from the Midwest regional with a 5-1-1 mark.  They also won the Kansas State Cup in May and the USYS Region II Championships in June.

Perhaps most amazing is a third of the roster was actually “playing up” – kids who were young enough to qualify in the U14 age bracket and were mostly competing against older players.

Despite their relative youth, these players had a secret weapon: experience. They have been playing together for several years.

“Basically, that team’s been together since they were U12,” academy director Jon Parry said. “We’ve had them a couple of years; some are in their third years. The thing I’m proud of is they’re all from the KC area.”

Playing together gives them an edge on the pitch. They know what to expect and how to get the best out of their teammates.

“We have the chemistry,” said midfielder Roman Knox from Shawnee, who assisted on the first goal in the championship match.  “We know what this person’s going to do if they get the ball and the whole scenario on the field, so we know what to expect and how to talk to this person and how to encourage this player.

“You know where someone’s either going to make the run because you’re under pressure or you’re going to know someone’s coming on so they open up to give you options.”

Jacob Hall from Overland Park scored had a goal in the 76th minute to seal the championship.

Youth-soccer“We’ve been working together for quite a while,” Hall said. “We just have this chemistry together.  We were able to come together and make it all the way through to Nationals and win.”

The team mentality is a testament to the character of the U15 players, but also to a coaching staff dedicated to developing good players and good people.

“Our main objective is to develop professionals to play on the first team,” Parry said.  “It’s really about individual player development, but if you can couple that with the team development it bodes well down the road. I think that gives them even another edge. We talk about our culture all the time at Sporting KC. We have a tremendous culture and environment.

“It’s demanding but they love it. Kids have been part of the success here; they really latch on to it. I attribute that to our staff. We have an unbelievable training staff.”

Besides Parry, who played at Rockhurst before a ten-year professional career and 16 years coaching experience; the staff consists of Istvan Urbanyi, head coach for U16 and U18, who played professionally in Europe for 13 years with two years in MLS and coached the Maldives National Team; U14 coach Josh Gardner, who played professionally in MLS and with Sporting KC; and U12 coach Matt Trump, who played at Baker University and teaches in the Olathe School District.

Responding to a Major League Soccer directive to all teams, Sporting KC developed it’s academy from scratch eight years ago.

“It was difficult,” Parry said. “We went through a lot of challenges. But we have a tremendous ownership group who have invested more in youth soccer than anybody has before and has committed to it. And we got an award for best facility (Swope Village). We opened up locker rooms. It really changed our dynamics.”

One unique feature of the Sporting KC Academy is the first team shares locker room facilities with Sporting KC players, who train at the same facility. The environment exudes an atmosphere of total team commitment.

“The most important thing here is the culture and the environment we’ve created,” Parry said.

Part of the SKC Academy culture includes developing the individual in addition to the player. Each individual has chores they must do before they can play. Whether it’s pumping up balls or filling water bottles, everyone has a duty.

“It teaches you values outside of soccer,” said forward and team captain Colin Innes from Olathe.  “We have responsibilities every day that we have to do and then when we get on the field we have to work our hardest just to keep our spot on the team and to be able to travel.  So, it teaches us hard work.”

Said Parry, “Our whole plan here is to have a systemic approach to how we do it, how we train technically, tactically, physically and the psychological part of it comes into play. Those are the four pillars of our game.  We mix those with our core values.  We always have a team-first mentality.

“We want to have a winning mentality and a tremendous work ethic on and off the field, and then the fourth is being intelligent on and off the field.  We feel if we mix all that stuff together we’ve got the recipe to continue to develop players.”

Two players developed by SKC Academy will participate in National team duty. Cameron Duke from Olathe and Mason Visconti from Lee ’s Summit will attend the National camp in November in Bradenton, Florida.

Meanwhile, the mix created a strong team which drew inspiration from the previous season when they qualified for Nationals but lost in the early rounds.

“That was a really motivating factor because it was our first experience being in the National Championship,” said Knox, who goes to Rockhurst High. “We were looking for redemption from teams that were in it last year, beat us, and then went and won the championship, and we were looking to go back there and prove that we also could win a championship.”

And the team earned the redemption it was seeking.

“It kind of pushed us because we lost in nationals the year before,” said Hall, who attends Blue Valley Northwest.  “We wanted to prove something; that we’re better than other teams.”

As the season progressed, the U15s began to feel they had a good chance to succeed.

“Once we made it to nationals and we won our first two games and we just beat the defending national champs, we got a feeling that if we keep playing like this we can definitely pull this off,” said Innes, from St. Thomas Aquinas.  “And we kept playing like that all the way.”

Said Hall, “I had full confidence in my team, that we would be able to win the national championship,” Hall said.  “I think it all started at State Cup, when we started to get our groove on, started beating all these teams and basically winning the championships.”

Hall and his teammates hope to continue their “groove” into the coming season as they try to defend their national title, and most have hopes of playing professional someday.

“Hopefully it’ll lead to an Academy championship, this summer,” Innes said. “I’m like any soccer player; I want to be a professional soccer player when I grow up. I’d hope to someday be in one of the better teams in Europe, but I’d like to someday play for Sporting.”

The players may dream big, but not too big.

“It still remains to be seen if any of these guys can be world-class players,” Parry said. “But that’s what our ultimate goal is. If we can produce world-class players, guys who can play in the Champions League, then I think that goes hand-in-hand with playing with their respective national teams and their home clubs.  So, our ultimate goal is to provide them with that pathway.”

Article by Marc Bowman

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