In recent years the performances of Crew SC Academy products Wil Trapp and, more recently, Ben Swanson have garnered national attention. With Trapp becoming a staple in the U.S. National Team’s youth ranks and Ben Swanson’s own recent call-ups, the two players are giving Crew SC Academy great press.
But while Trapp and Swanson may be out of the Academy, more work continues to be done. In fact, Crew SC Academy recently hired a new staff member in an effort to improve the existing structure. Enter Joaquín González, recently appointed U-16 Head Coach and Fitness Performance Coordinator.
“I knew that soccer in the U.S. was growing and I was very interested in contributing to its development by sharing my knowledge and experience,” he says, adding that he was captivated by the Academy’s ideology.
“I had the opportunity to meet with Gregg Berhalter, Asher Mendelsohn, and Nico Estevez, who explained to me the philosophy of the club, the training methodology, and the game plan, and the truth is that I identified with the work ethic and didn’t hesitate to begin working here. “
González, a native of Spain, brings to Crew SC Academy quite an accomplished résumé that includes not only a PhD in Soccer Performance Analysis and a Master’s degree in Physiology, but also stints with the youth academies of La Liga teams Valencia CF and Levante UD. Having worked in Spanish youth academies, González has noticed some differences.
“The main difference is in regards to structure. Academies in Spain have teams that go from six years old to 23, while in the U.S. there are only three teams: U-14, U-16, and U-18,” he says. ”This means that here you begin to work with players when they’re 12 or 14 years old.”
However, while Spanish academies may begin to develop players at an earlier age, there is at least one aspect in which Crew SC Academy fares better. “One of the things that attracted me to this club most is that the First Team works closely with the youth teams, and in Spain that’s not the case.”
One might be forgiven for thinking that the interaction between First Team and youth teams is limited to players simply moving up the steps of the youth system ladder until they reach the First Team, but that’s a far cry from the truth. In fact, there is a surprisingly high level of interaction between staff members from the First Team and staff members from the Academy on a regular basis.
“All of the coaches in the Academy go see the First Team’s training sessions. We also have meetings with the First Team’s coaching staff, meaning that we know first-hand how to work with the First Team,” says González. “The First Team’s coaching staff and the youth academy’s coaching staffs are in daily contact. We speak every day.”
Staying in close contact with the First Team allows González and his staff to design training sessions that employ the same methodology as the First Team, something that is pivotal to the development of players. “For us, the design of training sessions is fundamental, as each session is a tactical challenge for the players,” he says. “The methodology department tries to ensure that all of the teams in the academy learn the same concepts, so as to create a playing style that is the same as that of the first team.”
If you’re wondering what that style is, González says that it is “based in a lot of ball possession, in wanting to dominate matches, and pressuring opponents.” In short, it is an attractive, high risk-high reward style of soccer that requires players with high soccer I.Q.
“We look to mold creative players with the capacity of taking initiative and dominating the opponent through possession and tactical superiority,” adds González.
By employing the same training methodology as the First Team, the Crew SC Academy is able to ease the transition of youth players into the First Team. “It allows us to develop players that are ready to play in the First Team at any given time. For example, a player that is 16-17 years old will [already] have been working for three or four years with the same concepts that the First Team will demand of him,” says González.
The indoctrination begins early on, with young players being exposed to Crew SC’s style the minute they arrive to the Academy. ”When a player is young we try to work on general concepts, tactical concepts that can be used in all types of playing styles, but in a manner that adapts them to our style,” says González. ”The child may not be conscious of what the concepts are when he’s 12, 13 or 14, but when he’s 15, 16 or 17 he begins to notice these concepts.”
The development of an academy that incorporates the First Team’s style into the youth system is not a new concept. Europe has several academies where this is done to great effect, with the Ajax Youth Academy and Barcelona’s La Masía being among the most successful ones. In recent years, the success of such academies has also led to success at the international stage, like in the case of Spain.
González believes that the advancement in coach methodology at youth academies in Spain was pivotal to the success of the country’s national team, allowing for Spain to become the soccer powerhouse it is today. “This is what has led to the creation of a national team that is based on combination play, ball possession, and good decision-making. I believe that the United States will, in the near future, become a soccer powerhouse as well.”
If González’s assessment of what led to success in Spain is correct, Wil Trapp and Ben Swanson may just be the first of many success stories. Crew SC Academy could potentially be at the forefront of an American soccer revolution. But how long will it be before it flourishes?
“I’m sure that it won’t be long before we create an academy of the highest level,” says González, “I’m absolutely certain of this.”