A lot has changed for U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team standout forward Josh Sargent in the past four years.
He’s played in not one, but two FIFA World Cups (U-17 and U-20).
He’s traveled the world playing soccer matches.
And he recently committed to a professional contract to play with German club Werder Bremen.
But John Boyer, his U-13 coach at the Development Academy’s St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri, sees one thing that’s stayed the same.
“He scored a lot of goals, even when he was little,” said Boyer. “It hasn't been a huge change for those of us that have seen him from a young age.”
The good thing for U.S. Soccer is Boyer and the other St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri coaches weren’t the only ones that were watching him four years ago.
As a 13-year-old, one of Sargent’s first opportunities to show his scoring prowess came at a Development Academy Regional Showcase, providing the budding talent a stage in front of a slew of U.S. Soccer scouts.
Sargent appeared in 2013’s inaugural round of Regional Showcases. The events provide players a chance to compete against some of the best players in the country and when players like Sargent can demonstrate their abilities, scouts take notice.
“We wanted to cast an earlier and wider net for all of our scouting,” said Tony Lepore, U.S. Soccer Director of Talent Identification. “When we started, it was really clear that these U-13/14 Showcases were valuable talent identification opportunities.”
Sargent became a National Team mainstay from the U-14 level, and four years later he has nearly scored the most career Youth World Cup goals of any U.S. player ever. This past May, he earned the Silver Boot at the U-20 FIFA World Cup with four goals and one assist in five matches and he has scored two goals after just four games at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, currently playing out in India.
And Sargent isn’t the only one.
Eighteen of the 21 players on the U-17 MNT roster competing in India come from Academy clubs and several got their first major exposure to U.S. Soccer at Regional Showcase events. This weekend marks the first of three events for the Development Academy’s three regions: Central, East and West. The current U-17s were the first age group to play in Regional Showcases.
“It was really the first group where we expanded all the scouting we were doing to a younger age group through the Development Academy,” Lepore said. “It’s no coincidence that we saw them early and they became the first group with a lot of depth in every position. We started scouting them in a consistent environment in the Academy, and it provided numerous identification opportunities for their pathway from their Academy Clubs to the Youth National Teams.”
Solar Soccer Club’s Greg Oglesby started coaching Blaine Ferri at age eight. It didn’t take long to tell that Blaine was special. As he progressed, the Showcase event provided an opportunity to demonstrate his talents to National Team scouts from across the region.
“From day one, he just had a different feel for the game. He sees the field so well. Most players, you’re thrilled if they’re a pass ahead. He’s two, three passes ahead,” Oglesby said. “I really truly believe he gets just as big a thrill out of an assist or the assist to an assist as he does scoring a goal.”
Ferri’s keen vision on-the-field saw him as the U-17s’ top assist man leading into the World Cup. Unselfish to a fault, Oglesby had to convince him to take charge on the field. He knew that Ferri could dominate a game, he just needed the encouragement to take over individually with his superb technical ability.
The Academy prides itself on play-up opportunities as another chance for individual development. From the very start with Weston FC, George Acosta was training two years above his age group. His former coach at Weston FC, current U.S. Soccer Technical Advisor Marcelo Neveleff, says it made him quicker on the ball and quicker-thinking. It also molded him into a leader with a competitive mindset. He brought that attitude to the inaugural East Region Showcase and the National Team call-ups that followed.
Acosta scored in the U-17s’ final group game against Colombia, a proud moment for Neveleff. After demonstrating his ability in the inaugural Regional Showcases and three years in the Academy, Neveleff says it’s just another step in Acosta’s individual development pathway, as he aspires to become a world-class player.
“Hopefully it’s just the beginning of his international career,” Neveleff said. “His goal is to play for the full National Team. Hopefully, he keeps working hard and he can fulfill his dream.”