With a new season at foot, the Earthquakes Academy brims with optimism as the program continues to grow and prosper.
Academy product Tommy Thompson is showing the way, playing and training alongside superstar Chris Wondolowski on the senior team.
The Earthquakes’ under-13/14 academy team will christen the 2014-15 season against the EBU Bay Oaks at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 6 at College of Alameda.
On Sept. 13, the U-15/16 team, which finished in the top eight in the country last season, and the U-17/18 team will start off against Juventus Sport Club at Cal State East Bay’s Pioneer Stadium, at 10 a.m. (U-17/18) and 12:30 p.m. (U-15/16).
“Our program is growing,” technical director Chris Leitch said. “It’s being elevated. The expectation level has increased. We’re a predominant program around the country now. The off-the-field stuff is great as well … the 17 college commitments we had last year. We sent players to some fantastic Division I programs, as well as to some good Div. II, JC and NAIA programs. There’s a place for everyone. Everyone’s future is brighter because of the program, and we’re working diligently on that.”
The Academy has added several new youth club teams: under-12, under-11, under-10 and under-9, as well as an under-23 PDL team in Turlock, a budding soccer hotbed area. The Earthquakes also have under-14 and under-16 club teams.
Additionally, Leitch is also excited that the Earthquakes’ new stadium complex, the academy’s future home, is nearing completion. In the academy system, top youth players can practice 10 ½ months a year, four days a week, while experiencing top competition in matches, jamborees and college showcases, and having access to the club’s senior squad.
From the Earthquakes perspective, it’s the perfect soccer storm.
“It’s good now, and it’s only going to get better as we progress,” Leitch says.
The Quakes’ U-17/18 squad boasts the Fab Five of Amir Bashti, a Stanford commit; goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski, who is headed to Georgetown; Jorge Lara (UC Irvine), Philip Hausen (Harvard), and Jonathan Partida. Marcinkowski trained with the Quakes senior team over the summer, and he and Bashti have national team experience. Marcinkowski made five saves and had a clean sheet in the U-18 men’s national team’s 0-0 draw with Norway in the Lisbon International tournament in June.
Last season, Bashti had a team-high six goals as the Earthquakes’ U-15/16s finished a close second in the West Conference with a 14-5-7 record. In February, Bashti led the U-17 Quakes through the second round of the Generation Adidas Cup. He had two goals in a 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy.
The U15/16 squad boasts the dynamic Ivan Valencia, who had a team-high 26 goals for the U-13/14s last season, and the talented Kaya Fabbretti. Leitch nominated both players for the All-Star team for the U-16 age group.
“Both of these guys, even though they’re very young, have very bright futures,” Leitch said of Valencia and Fabbretti.
In a primer for the season, the Quakes 02 PDA U-13 team impressively won the Mustang Stampede Tournament title with a 3-2 victory over Mustang Estudiantes. The U13 Pre-Academy team won the California Regional League championship, besting the two top-ranked Southern California teams.
The Academy season will run from September into June. The Quakes U-17/18s and U-15/16s will host the LA Galaxy on Sept. 20 at Cal State East Bay, and then will face Chivas USA on Sept. 21 at Mustang Soccer Club in Danville.
LEITCH ON COURSE: Leitch is on track to receive a prestigious UEFA Pro License, and has experienced 10-day club immersions with Real Madrid and FC Porto. He was among 19 MLS academy directors to undergo the training, a three-part course being administered by the French Football Federation.