If you were an aspiring young soccer player in Europe, you’d try to sign up with the youth academy associated with one of your country’s club teams. Assuming you proved yourself worthy, you’d be taken in hand from the age of 9 or so and brought along year by year, growing and learning every step of the way.
David Jones, who was himself such a young soccer player, nurtured by the storied Manchester United organization all the way up to playing professionally, aims to offer the same opportunity to DC-area girls. To that end, he’s partnered with the Italian Serie A (top-level) women’s team Torino Associazione Calcio Femminile (Torino ACF) to establish a professional, female-only Soccer Centre of Excellence just outside of Washington, DC.
“We’ll provide a complete support system for players and parents so when they join us at U9 level they continue their soccer education all the way up to U18,” said Jones. “Then after players get to college age level, we’ll have not only the WPSL team but a WAWSL team, too.”
The starting point for the organization is the 2012 Maryland Capitols, which Jones founded and then – in their inaugural season – coached to first place in the Women’s Premier Soccer League Northeast Atlantic-South Division. The WPSL team and its sister Washington Area Women’s Soccer League team will remain at the top of the soccer pyramid but will be renamed Torino ACF USA.
The expectation is that academy teams will compete in a top youth soccer league as well as tournaments around the country. Additionally, there will be an exchange program where American players can go to Italy and participate in the program there, while Italian players can likewise come here and play, broadening the players’ exposure both culturally and athletically.
Negotiations are progessing with the Prince George’s County park and planning commission to establish a five-to-ten-acre site to host the academy, and financial support is expected from the US Soccer Foundation. The academy will be a good corporate citizen in the county, participating in the Stay Strong! anti-bullying program and the county police’s DARE anti-drug abuse program.
The “cradle-to-grave” setup is reminiscent of what the Washington Freedom established to some extent under Jim Gabarra and Clyde Watson, with senior-level teams participating in the W-League and Women’s Professional Soccer, plus youth teams enrolled in the United Soccer League’s Super-Y organizations down to the U13 level.
But while the goals include providing a professional soccer education from age 9 on up, that’s not all of it. Support will include high school educational counselors, college preparation advisors, sports injury rehabilitation and prevention experts, and qualified dietitians and nutritionists. And the goal is to provide all of this at a much more reasonable price than most of the existing programs. Additionally, scholarships will be available so that underprivileged players can still attend.
“We’re going to [ruffle some feathers], but I believe in free enterprise and competition and the ability to let parents and kids make their own minds up about where they can get the best soccer experience and education,” said Jones. “We’ll be looking for good players, but more importantly we want committed players who’ll stick with the program for twelve months, year after year. And we want to help develop you as a person, not just a player.”
Tryouts for the Professional Academy Centre of Excellence Torino ACF USA teams will begin in January 2013. Players who wish to be considered should email their details including age, parental contact information, position, and previous playing experience to firstname.lastname@example.org.