‘Promising’ Times for NYCFC’s Academy

Sands announcement

By CHRISTIAN ARAOS

NYCFC logoIt has been an impressive first season for both of New York City FC’s academy teams.

The U16s won the Premier Division title at the Generation Adidas Cup with former member James Sands becoming NYCFC’s first homegrown signing this week. The U12s were the best Major League Soccer team at that tournament and earned an invitation to participate in the La Liga Promises tournament this weekend in Newark.

City will play in a group that includes Barcelona, Villarreal and Benfica this weekend with two of its games at a temporary stadium in Riverbank Park that could seat 3,300 people. The games against Barcelona and Villarreal will be broadcast around the world and the NYCFC’s U.S. academy airector Rodrigo Marion said that experience will be a challenge and a learning experience for the young players.

“They’re going to get exposed to situations that they’re not usually exposed to here in the leagues where we compete and the tournaments we participate,” Marion said. “This is an experience where they’re going to learn a lot, especially with the pressure of the whole team at the tournament and also with people coming to the stadium and watch them play against top teams. They’re going to feel a little bit of that but that’s part of the learning. That’s why we feel good about this tournament because it exposes them these players to that at this age and it’s going to benefit them long-term.”

The staging of the La Liga Promises tournament in the New York area is part of La Liga’s commitment toward expanding its presence within the U.S, Carlos Pérez, La Liga’s U.S. Country Manager, said. This weekend’s tournament is part of a partnership among the league, Ironbound SC, who are participating and hosting, and the Morena Foundation which launched the tournament as a way to encourage sportsmanship and friendship among promising young soccer players.

“It is an honor for Ironbound SC to host this prestigious event,” the club chairman Albert Coutinho said. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our kids, club, and community. We are humbled by the trust that La Liga, one of the finest professional sports organizations in the world, and the Morena Foundation have placed in us.”

The U16s will spend this weekend in Indiana competing in the Development Academy’s Summer Showcase. They are drawn into a group with Columbus Crew Academy Wolves, FC Dallas and Baltimore Armour and begin play Thursday. For NYCFC, both tournaments present opportunities for its academy teams to earn more invitations to exclusive tournaments such as the Promises Tournament, Marion said. He added that the team has spent the past three weeks preparing for the tournament by staging local tournaments against older competition and adjusting its tactics for the tournament’s 7 v 7 format.

“This group is very skillful compared to the other age groups that we have,” Marion said. “This is a good group. We feel very confident that this group is going to represent us well in regards to the way we like to play. I think that’s something I’m looking forward to because we feel that this group has a bright future.”

City’s Academy will expand for next season to six age groups ranging from U12 to U19, which will allow for the current U12s to continue their development. The next batch of U12 players will be young for their age group with some qualifying for U11 status, Marion said.

“The reason for doing that is that we want to expose our young players to an environment where we’re always challenging them,” he said. “Always playing up is something that we really believe helps the players especially knowing the competition in the area and the teams we’ll be playing against.”

The Academy teams will be stocked with players who successfully tried out in the spring as well as selections from the team’s various youth affiliates. Marion said he didn’t want the team to exclusively be a quasi All-Star team because they will be playing their affiliate clubs during the DA season because then the players would not be challenged.

“We want their best players but what we’re doing is playing younger guys so when they play with them, it’s more challenging and they feel there’s a lot more to learn as opposed to having easy games and just winning,” he said. “That for us, is not great. We always want the kids to feel that they want to learn more.”

The emphasis on development will exist primarily within the U12 to U15 age groups. From U16s onward, the academy will look toward winning games and competitions with an emphasis on identifying and nurturing talent for the first team. Members of the U16 team were already training with the first team on occasion throughout the season. Sands spent his preseason with the first team before signing his homegrown contract this week.

Yet as City builds its talent pipeline, there is a missing link between the Academy and the first team. One aspect of the MLS/USL partnership is the ability for MLS teams to field a second team or run the technical and player personnel aspects of a separately owned team in the United Soccer League. Marion said City are leaning toward the latter but there are no plans in the near future. That means the club will continue seeking affiliations such as the current one in place with San Antonio of the USL.

“The idea is to have a local USL,” Marion said. “When the players from the academy graduate, they can fit into the second division where they can exposed to playing with pros before they jump to the first team, that would be the ideal scenario. Our goal is to have it local, to have it here. That’s not going to happen in the short-term so in the meantime, we’re relying on an outside USL team, the one we have San Antonio and eventually we would like to find is one local one that would work closely with our U19s and U17s.”

Marion said that the team is considering more than one proposal from local ownership groups to operate a USL affiliate. The Long Island Rough Riders are New York City’s Premier Development League affiliate and are actively seeking to build a 5,000-seat stadium on the Suffolk Community College campus in Brentwood. The Rough Riders are also looking for more investors to finance their efforts. A request for comment with the Rough Riders had yet to be returned.

The Academy and the first team are already in lock step. They both are versed in playing possession-oriented soccer with defenders who can pass and build play in their own halves to silky attackers who can combine with one another. They are staffed with a diverse set of coaches who enjoy teaching the game. They are both winning on the field more often than not. Yet they are young and despite their promise, still do not have a place of their own.