With the U.S. Men’s National Team setting up its base at U.S. Soccer’s National Training Center during the bulk of the first two months of the year, significant focus is placed among the younger crop that looks to be a part of the senior team picture for this 2018 cycle.
A unique opportunity came about for the Development Academy teams based in the California region with approximately 30 coaches and technical staff on hand to see some of its own products training under MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. They were invited to a Jan. 21 morning session, and it was an invaluable chance to soak in the senior team while also witnessing the progression of some of their alumni competing at the highest national team level.
“We think it’s brilliant,” said Arsenal FC Academy U-16 head coach Steve Lucey. “Just the fact that we are out here observing the first team train, I think it’s a brilliant idea. I feel personally more invested in the team now, seeing these guys training, and Jurgen making us feel welcome. Jurgen has a huge influence over what’s going on with the Academy system and we appreciate it.”
For Lucey, he had an opportunity to see former Arsenal FC midfielder Dennis Flores at camp.
Much of the Pateadores Academy club was on hand, as well, and former Pats midfielder Luis Gil was at the January Camp and was named to the MNT’s roster for a two-game set against Chile and Panama.
Both players recognize the importance of that chapter in their youth career as they have progressed to the MNT level.
“It was a great club to be at,” Gil said of Pateadores. “They’ve always been a high-class type of club with great coaches. Starting out at a young age there with a club team, it gives you an advantage growing up and playing with some great competition.”
“I have a lot of memories with them,” Flores said on his time with Arsenal FC. “I grew up with them for seven or eight years. We had a lot of accomplishments. PJ Brown and Steve Lucey helped me out a lot and helped me to be the player I am today.”
The Jan. 21 viewing was just another small part in the continual focus on development. The player development certainly has been at the forefront, but greater emphasis and guidelines are constantly being put in place to educate the Academy coaching community.
“The involvement and the structure of the Academy compared to when it first started to now has been tremendous,” Pateadores assistant coach Mario Gonzalez said. “You see it in the coaching development, coaching advancement, courses and coaching education. It has helped the growth and infrastructure of U.S. Soccer. With the Academy structure, we have to be more impactful on every player’s development for a long-term goal, which is to get them involved in U.S. Soccer.”
If there is one steadfast takeaway from Flores’ and Gil’s success, it is that their pathway represents the ultimate goal for any serious player in the Academy that has aspirations to play a role with the senior squad.
The Academy coaches and technical staff naturally can connect their current players with the accomplishments of Gil and Flores.
“We bring Dennis’ name up all the time – not just because of his ability, but just what a nice kid he is and how hard he worked for his dream,” Lucey said. “We know he had obstacles in his way, but he found a way to overcome them. He never lost sight of what his goal was, and here he is playing for the U.S. National Team. His name is mentioned every day at the field.”
“Luis is an inspiration for the club,” Gonzalez said. “A lot of the kids that see him play on a day-to-day basis with his MLS team and with U.S. Soccer look forward and strive to be the player that Luis is now. Players ask about his involvement with U.S. Soccer, and now that they see him here at the big stage, preparing for a potential World Cup qualifying spot, they are motivated to be him in the next World Cup cycle.”
For Flores and Gil, they are humbled by the response from the current Academy base.
“For my name to be mentioned is an honor,” Flores said. “I will always thank them for everything they did for me, and hopefully Arsenal FC keeps it up and they keep bringing up players like me.”
“It’s a great feeling to have, knowing that I came out of a club like that and kids are looking up to me in a way,” Gil said. “It gives them a sense of opportunity that it can happen to them, as well.”