(Editorial) – With the rapid expansion of the U.S. Soccer landscape at all levels, competition is increasing. As clubs continue to grow their infrastructure, those with less capital available need to look for creative ways to grow and push the envelope. Saint Louis FC has done just that through youth academy affiliations with AS Roma of Series A and Feyenoord Rotterdam of the Eredivise.
Saint Louis FC Academy Using European Affiliations To Get Ahead
Saint Louis FC is owned and operated by SLSG Pro LCC, a unit of St. Louis Scott Gallagher Soccer Club (SLSG). Founded in 2007, SLSG is a well regarded American youth soccer club, operating out of the St. Louis metropolitan area.
Unlike many independently owned USL clubs, Saint Louis FC has an established academy system, with teams from U9 all the way to U19. They also have a quality training facility. The front office is trying to take advantage of this.
The USL added Academy Player roster rules for the 2016 season. This rule gives USL clubs owned and operated by MLS teams (MLS II teams) an inherent advantage. Most MLS teams are older than most independent USL teams. As a result, their academy systems have been around longer.
The parent clubs have a lot more money to invest in facilities, coaches, travel for tournaments, etc. For the next few years, MLS II teams will be able to take advantage of the Academy Player roster rules because the parent clubs have academy players readily available. It will take several for the independent USL teams to establish their academies before they can fill their five Academy Player spots with well-developed talent.
MLS clubs are also spending half a million dollars or more a year on their academies. The NASL is taking a hands off approach to their clubs’ academies, allowing some to spend significantly if they desire. That’s money some USL teams don’t have, again putting them at a disadvantage.
Then there’s MLS expansion. While Saint Louis FC has not publicly stated that joining MLS is a goal, the success of the academy will be a variable if and when expansion is desired. Sacramento Republic FC started their academy last year and already have teams from U12 to U18. With SLSG about to turn 10 years old, this should be an area in which Saint Louis FC dominates over the other cities/clubs on the MLS expansion short list.
What then has the club done to help stay ahead of the curve? Saint Louis FC has developed a youth affiliation with Feyenoord and the Illinois SLSG branch and AS Roma and the Missouri SLSG branch.
“It keeps us on the cutting edge and keeps us moving forward,” General Manager Jeremy Alumbaugh told Last Word on Sports. “The Feyenoord one has been in the works for a couple of years. The academy staff over in Illinois has been taking over younger academy teams, U13 and U14s,” Alumbaugh added.
These opportunities are invaluable for players as they continue to develop. Getting to travel at that age broadens your horizons no matter what. Getting to train and play teams from two of the best club academy in Europe can be almost as significant. Feyenoord helped make Robin van Persie who he is after all. It expands opportunities and gets them more exposure.
“The Roma one is unique as well. They have partnered with a number of developmental clubs in the US that don’t have MLS affiliations,” clubs that “have steeped history of producing players.”
Roma has used these partnerships to establish AS Roma USA, an academy team made entirely of players from these American affiliate youth clubs. Players from SLSG and other American youth clubs are able to compete with this team in tournaments under the Roma umbrella to immerse themselves further into the culture. AS Roma USA competed in the Milk Cup and Disney Showcase last year.
“Those kids get training, they get seen, they get conference calls. A couple of players are going over there as well.”
It’s not just the players who are benefiting though. “There’s also been some coach exchanges.” Head Coach Dale Schilly and another staff member were able to travel to Holland this past fall. The coaching staffs have monthly phone calls with their new European affiliates, as well as seminars to continue their education. Coaches at both the youth and pro level are participating and seeing gains.
Alumbaugh did clarify that there won’t be any Feyenoord or Roma players coming on loan to play in the USL. “Is Roma going to sign a player from us? If that happens in my lifetime we’ll be lucky,” he joked. There will be a few SLSG players training with the first team this year as academy roster players. Some of them will have the opportunity to go over to Roma for a year, possibly while attending university in Rome.
Getting to train for a full year with professionals at 19-years-old? Maybe even getting some USL minutes and then going to train with AS Roma for a year while going to school? These opportunities could reap huge benefits to the individual and the club in the long term.
The affiliation is helping Saint Louis FC in the present as well. “There’s been some players we’ve looked at overseas who have been recommended from contacts over there.” Alumbaugh is using every networking opportunity he can to his advantage. One good tip from a Roma or Feyenoord scout on a player could lead to a big signing.
Until then, he’ll just have to keep listening in on those conference calls and seminars. It’s a play for the long haul, but also a play for frugal sustained success. It’s paid off for another St. Louis sports team. After all, AS Roma wasn’t built in a day.