New York City FC Academy expands heading into new season
(Via NYCFC) – The excitement around New York City FC isn’t reserved for Patrick Vieira’s club’s run to the top of the Eastern Conference in Major League Soccer.
The Club’s Academy teams began preseason Monday with a vastly different look than a year ago.
“Last year it was just the one team with a couple of coaches and now we’ve grown into a full staff. They will be training out of St. John’s University [during the season] and there will be two teams and younger teams who will watch the older kids play,” NYCFC Sporting Director Claudio Reyna said. “It really starts to build out and feel more like an Academy where there’s kids of different age groups we’re looking to develop.”
Archbishop Stepinac in White Plains is the preseason home base for the U-13/14 and the U-15/16 squads. They are also joined by U-12 and U-13 City Select teams, comprised of players from NYCFC’s 11 youth affiliates, who train before the Academy sessions.
“For some players it was their first official training session with New York City FC and it was a special moment. It’s exciting and fun and obviously they’re building relationships both on and off the field,” Reyna said of the opening of preseason Monday. “It’s gone from one team to four with a lot of coaches around. It’s a very nice evolution of the Academy to see.”
Stepinac’s location, a short distance from the first team’s training grounds and where many of the first team players live, helps create an important synergy between the first team and Academy sides.
On Tuesday, midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy watched the Academy train and Thursday night Vieira will be on the sideline observing the session.
“It’s turned out to be a really good location for that reason,” Reyna said. “Patrick will be out with one of the assistant coaches, our players will stop by, our Academy coaches can easily come to our training facility and prepare for the sessions throughout preseason around the first team and then drive over.”
That bond between the first team and Academy is vital, according to Vieira.
“This is really important for them to understand they are part of this football club and there is a pathway and a relationship between the first team coaches and the Academy coaches,” Vieira said. “It’s a journey for them, a long journey and we will have to give them the support they need.”
Vieira understands first-hand how crucial those relationships are after working with the Manchester City Elite Development Squad before coming to NYCFC.
“They will come watch training, they will spend time eating with the first team, sitting next to [Andrea] Pirlo, David [Villa], Tommy [McNamara], playing ping pong with some of the first team players. It’s important for us, for what we try to do here.”
The connection isn’t just between the players. It also includes the Academy coaching staff, who will have meetings every couple of months with the first team staff to discuss strategy and tactics.
But their interaction won’t be strictly reserved for those meetings.
“Yes there are meetings, but the Academy coaches also feel comfortable to watch the training sessions and they can pick their brains in the office or over a coffee,” Reyna said. “I think that’s really where you learn and steal ideas from each other. Our first team is very open to it and our Academy is excited to have that as a sounding board to get better a coaches.”
Reyna said the Club’s philosophy on how to play and how to train is shared with the first team and the Academy sides.
“It’s very much the idea that we want to play in the same way and be a team that plays the right way in its collective game with all 11 players involved in moving the ball,” Reyna said. “At the same time, though, it’s important to still have flexibility because every team has some slight differences in how they may set up.”
And when Academy players watch first team training sessions, they will see a lot of the same drills and exercises their coaches utilize.
“When they see the team train and play they’ll be able to watch their specific positions in terms of what they work on in the training sessions, their responsibilities and how they attack and defend,” Reyna said.
This time next year, there will be another Academy team with the oldest players inching closer to perhaps a coveted spot on the first team or the chance to play college soccer.
That’s the long-term goal.
In the short term, Reyna is eager to watch the squads improve each time they step on the field.
“We’re excited for this upcoming season, to see these guys grow,” Reyna said. “Every day, every week and every single training session is very important for our players to develop a professional attitude in the way they train and focus to get better. We saw that with the first Academy team from last season. The improvements they made collectively and individually were great to see.”