Last Thursday I attended my first Revolution Academy training session. I’ll have more on that later, but after practice concluded I talked to Bryan Scales, the Director of Youth Development and head coach of the U16 team. Here, I pick his brain about the upcoming season, the Revs Academy and the state of youth soccer.
Matt Kauffman: You had a short Fall season between the end of highschool soccer and winter break. How would you rate the Fall season and the team thus far?
Bryan Scales: Well, both teams are in first place, that’s not necessarily how we measure progress here, but we are 3-2 with the 16s, the 18s are 4-1. I think for us that was just a quick, month-long season where we had to get a snapshot of where we were and based on that right now we feel like we have a pretty good starting spot.
MK: What are your expectations for the upcoming season?
BS: For this upcoming season, everybody wants to make the playoffs. We obviously want to get the 16s back into the playoffs and the 18s we want to get them back in. They (the U18s) missed out on it last year. So I think on a number of different fronts, we want to see progress, we want to see guys being able to play up from the 16s to the 18s. We want to get guys from the 18s into the reserve team and maybe having the possibility to train with the first team when they are available. But I think we just want to get the connections (between teams) going and get the chemistry of each team right and try to win games.
MK: You talk about the players moving up. Diego Fagundez has been a real success story in that respect. Are there any other players that you see moving up in a similar fashion?
BS: Last year we had a total of maybe seven kids that played in reserve games. So it was great opportunity. It’s a great opportunity that MLS has started the reserve league again. So for (the academy players) they know that not only are the academy games important, but they have a chance to play with the senior team. Guys like Dominik Machado have done well
with the first team, training with the first team and playing in reserve games, so he’ll continue to be looked at. Mitchell Taintor, Willis Griffith — all those guys — we want to see Christian Sady make some more progress. So the opportunities are there, it’s a matter of who now starts to emerge over the course of a 24 game season.
MK: What have been the effects of Diego’s meteoric rise — eventually making the first team and scoring two goals in six appearances?
BS: Well, obviously Diego kind of exploded onto the scene last year. We had him for two years and there is no doubt that he has some special abilities and he made enough progress to really get in and make a terrific debut with the first team. As far as how it effects what we are doing, I think it just reinforces the fact that there’s a path to get to the first team. It also really reinforces the idea throughout MLS that these academies are becoming more and more and more important. For academies to find the right kids and develop them — for the first team — it’s a real, real asset.
MK: On the Revs Academy website, there is a pyramid that looks like a simple path to the first team — the capstone at the top — followed by the reserve team and then the youth academy squads. However, there is a box off to the side between the youth and reserve teams that says ‘college soccer’. What role do you see college soccer playing moving forward, especially as these academies continue to develop and multiply?
BS: I think college soccer will always have a role to play. I think certainly as the academies get established there will be more and more guys like Diego around that go from the academy into the first team, but with college soccer you’re dealing with very good coaches and terrific facilities. There is not enough games for college players and that’s no secret with college soccer that the players need to be playing more games, but college soccer will still be the main pathway for a lot of guys going into MLS. I don’t think that will ever go away entirely.
MK: The Development academy was formed in 2007. Can you talk about the different atmosphere of youth soccer since the formation and proliferation of academies?
BS: Well to be honest, I’ve been a college coach for 20 years so this is my first – I wouldn’t say youth experience because this is a professional soccer club – but when the development academy started it was a real revolution for youth soccer in this country. For the USSF to take hold of the U16 and U18 leagues and to have perimeters and rules and be able to manage the league…
MK: and put out a platform for how teams should train and the style in which US players should play…
BS: Yes, and there was criteria and we had a lot of discussions when I was an assistant coach of the U15 National team of how many games kids should play during the year, how many training sessions, what’s the ratio between training sessions and games, what type of environment are these kids in in an every day basis that is going to help them develop and I think the academy has really improved and put the onus on the clubs to create a real environment for these guys moving forward to be real soccer players.
MK: The Revs academy has gotten 3.5 stars out of 5 — one of the best rated clubs in the U.S. — what do you think the club does well and what do you think you can improve on?
BS: I think one of the things we’ve done well so far is we’ve got a very good connection and a lot of communication between the first team and the academy. When Stevie Niccol was here and Peter Fuller and Steven Miles — and Remy obviously is still here — there’s a real connection. We see those (first team) guys almost every day, so they had a real handle on who the better guys were and they could keep track of them. I think that is the real key; it’s a real club. The 16s and the 18s train here (on the Gillette Stadium grounds), the first team trains here. The communication between the technical staff from the top down has been crucial and it will continue to get even better with Jay (Heaps) and Jay Miller and the rest of Heapsies staff, so that is one thing I think we have done really well over the last couple of years and we continue to try to improve it.
MK: The New York Red Bulls are looking into the idea of creating a full-time residential academy. Have you guys tossed that idea around or is that down the road?
BS: We are a ways away from that. I think these teams that are in major metropolitan areas — us, Red Bulls, D.C., Dallas (who does have a sort of hybrid residency program now) — we have to ask, does it makes sense for a kid from Revere High School to come live in Foxboro to train in the morning? To pull him away from his family? Right now that’s a ways away. It’s a great idea, if we could house these guys and train them in the morning right after the first team, just like Bradenton (Fl.) and they could see the first team train, that’s a great model. But certainly not here yet.