Starting a youth development academy and turning it into a consistent unit that produces professional athletes is no small feat.
But that’s the task now ahead of Fred Wilson and the San Jose Earthquakes, who’ve spent the last year taking strides toward what they hope will be a successful academy program in the Bay Area.
“While [the academy is] in place, we’re also still building it,” said Wilson, who was hired by Quakes general manager John Doyle. “Because ultimately we’d like to have the five- to 10-year-old development centers, we’d like to have youth development across the board, and a youth club that feeds the Development Academy.”
Wilson and Doyle got to know each other while working with the local youth club Mustang Youth Soccer, and when Doyle was hired as the GM of the new Earthquakes, he brought Wilson in to get the Earthquakes Academy program off the ground – something similar to what Wilson had done with the Mustangs.
From there, Wilson worked closely with Doyle, with head coach Frank Yallop and the rest of the technical staff, to study what works and what doesn’t when starting a youth development program.
“We take a lot of that, and we take a lot of other things that exist out in the world there,” Wilson said. “We take the principles of what US Soccer believes is right in terms of development, and take a lot of examples from some of the clubs that have been established longer and what works well through a series of compilation and idea-sharing.
“We put this stuff together, also recognizing the structure is fluid.”
In the first year, the primary focus has been on getting the U-16 and U-18 Development Academy teams started in the Bay Area. Getting started is the first step in what will be a long process. Last fall, the team successful launched two U-16 and U-18 teams, both which are competing in the USSF Development Academy.
And over the winter Wilson and the academy created a U-14 pre-Academy program, working with two pools of over 100 kids and competing in a league in Northern California.
A key component has been the hands-on involvement of the Quakes’ technical staff, including assistants and Yallop himself. A number of the staff members typically attend Development Academy games, and they provide feedback to Wilson, as well as Academy coaches Carl Edwards and Cris Gilmore.
Most importantly, the coaching staff has helped to develop and create a first-team style for the young players to train under, in hopes that they will be familiar with Earthquakes soccer when they are one day ready for the first team.
“Our first team has been very vocal and involved in making sure they have their say in terms of how they play the game and how that translates to the youth level,” Wilson said. “We want all our teams to play and to develop so our players can move up the ladder.”
Four members of the U-16 Academy – Alfred Edmonds, Travis Pillon, Nick Lima and Sam Engs – even got the chance to travel with the team to London during the team’s preseason, playing a little bit in scrimmage and also training with the Tottenham Hotspur academy.
There’s still a long way to go, as Wilson continues to search for San Jose’s own Andy Najar or Juan Agudelo. Ultimately, he wants a program that covers almost all ages of youth soccer in the region, with the hopes of coaching and stocking the first team with academy products.
“My ultimate goal,” Wilson said, “is to sign players into our first team, and get players into our national team.”