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Youth Boys Feb 08, 2019

Crossfire Premier, San Diego Surf, Real Colorado announce partnership

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(Via Crossfire United) – Working in concert with two of the most respected youth soccer clubs in the nation, Crossfire Premier has announced the formation of a new partnership aimed at increasing opportunities for players to move on to professional clubs abroad.

Joining together with San Diego Surf SC and Real Colorado, Crossfire has agreed to annually form elite selection squads at three ages—Under-15, Under-17 and Under-19—comprised of the top players from the three clubs. These teams will then represent the clubs in Europe over a 10-day span in August of each year.

“The genesis of the idea was simply a series of conversations about how we could do better for our players,” explained Crossfire Director Bernie James. “None of us have a first team playing in MLS, with our youth players tied to homegrown contracts that limit their choices. We see that as a major advantage—our players can go anywhere they find the right fit, and as a club, we can put our resources towards opening those doors for them.”, international partner to Crossfire Premier, is handling all the planning and logistics on the European end for the clubs, with the three age groups set to travel together in early to mid-August. In 2019, the groups will base in eastern Holland, playing four or five friendlies with professional clubs, including KAA Gent and KRC Genk in Belgium, FC Cologne in Germany and SBV Excelsior Rotterdam of the Dutch Eredivisie. Professional scouts from dozens of other European clubs are slated to attend the matches to get a firsthand look at the American players, who will also train with the coaching staffs of another set of clubs while on the continent.

“This is really setting up to be an amazing opportunity for the top players in our Academy,” James continued. “Most of our players are headed to college, which is fantastic—they’re going to play soccer at top universities and get great educations—but there is also a subset of players who aspire to play the game professionally, and we need to make sure we have a pathway available for them. Increasingly, that pathway can mean starting out in one of the European leagues, where playing and developing youth remains a priority.”

Before the most recent SuperDraft held in Chicago last month, 321 players had been selected in the MLS Draft since 2013. Only 30% of those players have ever stepped on the field in an MLS game. In fact, from 2015-2017, if not a top 10 pick, there was only a 1-in-5 chance of a player being drafted and still being on an MLS roster in year two as a pro.

Two Crossfire Academy products, Hassani Dotson and Nathan Aune, were drafted this year, by Minnesota United and the San Jose Earthquakes respectively, but as James points out, broadening the opportunities available—and doing it at an even younger age—can only help the clubs’ young players move towards achieving their dreams of professional soccer.

In 2017, American players under the age of 22 played less than 2% of the minutes available in MLS, one of the lowest numbers of any major professional league in the world and paling in comparison to many European leagues, which range from 4.2% in Serie A to 7.6% in the Bundesliga and up to 9.5% in France’s Ligue 1. And it’s not just the youngest Americans who are finding game minutes hard to come by. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the percentage of minutes for all U.S.-born players in MLS has fallen from 52.7% in 2013 to 42.2% last season.

This coincides with a time when American players are more welcome in Europe than ever before, including at the best clubs and in the best leagues. From high-profile stars such as Christian Pulisic to the pair of teenagers who signed for Bayern Munich last month, the young American player is getting opportunities like never before. On any given matchday in the Bundesliga this year, for instance, five Americans under the age of 21 may find themselves in a first-team starting lineup.

“Obviously, we wish Hassani and Nathan the very best,” James said. “The MLS route has certainly worked out well for Kelyn [former Crossfire Academy player Kelyn Rowe has starred in the league for the past seven years], but there are other routes out there too, and we feel it’s our job to make sure we open every doorway for our players.”

This season Crossfire has had two players on trial at Stabæk Fotball in Norway, and the club is set to send another to trial in Mexico with three of the biggest Liga MX clubs this spring. On top of that, several of the club’s other players are poised for trials in Belgium, Germany and Holland, and now with this new program providing even more exposure to professional clubs and their scouts, it stands to reason that Crossfire will have a much greater professional presence in the very near future.

“We are extremely excited to add another layer to our program,” James finished. “It starts with all of our top boys’ teams competing in Europe against the best clubs in the world every year beginning at Under-10, and some of them are getting multiple opportunities per year.”

Couple that with the club’s range of development programs, James continued, and there is a proven pathway to professional soccer, whether those opportunities come at home or abroad. “When you have a kid in your club, under your coaches’ tutelage, from the age of 7 or 8 through 19, you feel it’s incumbent on the club to continue providing for their care, to give them real options to continue growing in the game. Now, with the addition of this new international program and all of the trial opportunities our players are receiving in Europe, we can really say we’re opening up more doorways for our players than ever before. Deciding to walk through those doors is up to them.”