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Looking for the Hidden Gems - Michia and Miramontes Head Up New Scouting Program

In a country of over 300 million people – over 16 million of whom play soccer - how can anyone be sure that the national teams are using the best players in the nation?

U.S. Soccer’s newly-formed Development Academy has already made a major impact. To supplement the Academy scouting process, a new program, geared toward the Under-17 Men’s National Team Residency Program and implemented by National Staff Coaches Juan Carlos Michia and Rene Miramontes, is trying to find other hidden gems.

With help from an extensive network of coaches, former players and fellow scouts, Michia and Miramontes are doing everything they can to leave no stone unturned.

“I had a meeting with (Under-17 head coach) Wilmer (Cabrera) a few months ago and we were thinking about how to find players who are outside the traditional systems,” said Michia. “We started looking at areas where we don’t have Academy teams and players who are playing in other countries, like Mexico.”

The Development Academy, which kicked off in the 2007-08 season, utilizes a vast network of scouts. Each team in the Development Academy is seen by a National Staff coach at least 10 times per season, which increases players’ exposure to various national teams. With 72 member clubs across the country, Development Academy players represent some of the best in the country at the Under-15/16 and Under-17/18 levels, but Michia and Miramontes know that there is more unexposed talent to be found.

“It is about identifying potential players for the Under-17 program,” added Miramontes. “The advent of the Academy, that’s a very powerful tool that the Under-17s and other national teams have at their disposal for recruiting and identifying players. However, there are other segments out there that also need to be addressed.”

“When it comes down to it, the soccer community becomes very small once you figure it out,” he said. “National Team coaches tend to have a number of contacts that they trust and sometimes a new player’s name comes up repeatedly.”

The players – 50 or 60 at a time – are brought together for two days in various locations around the country to train in an environment that is both competitive and closely watched. The players who stand out over the course of the weekend are invited into a mini-camp, where they will be seen directly by Under-17 MNT head coach Wilmer Cabrera and his staff and have a chance to compete for one of 40 places in the Residency Program.

So far, seven players discovered through the newly-formed program have joined the Residency Program in Bradenton. Miramontes was thrilled at the success that the new program has seen so far, and is excited about giving young players opportunities that they may not have had before.

“We know there are more kids out there that we still don’t know about,” said Miramontes. “It’s just that there are so many players playing in so many different leagues and situations that it’s very difficult for everyone to be seen. Now we’re getting to see players that weren’t being seen through traditional recruiting avenues and so far those player are responding better that even we thought.”

With at least seven events already being planned over the course of the next year – in New York, Washington, D.C., Laredo, Texas and Phoenix to name a few - Michia and Miramontes have shifted their focus to the next class of Residency players, those born in 1993 and 1994.

“These are places that we miss sometimes so hopefully we’ll get a lot of good players,” said Michia. “Every player is different and they have different circumstances for why they haven’t been found yet. Now, we have the resources to find them when they’re young because sometimes when we find older players it’s too late.”