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USYS Apr 25, 2024

The St. James FC turns focus to grassroots level, minimizing commutes for families of young players

By Sean Maslin
Published in Partnership with The St. James FC

The St. James FC Virginia is holding true to the tagline, “The Future is FCV” as the premier soccer club evolves with rebranding. The club, now officially called The St. James Football Club, has acquired new leadership and offers alluring opportunities for soccer families in Loudoun and Fairfax counties.

“The idea behind our rebrand was never to lose our sense of club culture and where we came from,” said The St. James FC Director of Soccer, Adam Baumgardner. “There’s always going to be that attachment to the club brand and for the players that have come through it and their success. We’ve been very cognizant to keep that history in place.”

Retaining that sense of history is important as the club has grown significantly in national prominence since its inception. The St. James FC has risen to become one of the top youth soccer clubs not just in Virginia, but across the U.S.

“This is just giving our club a little bit of a fresh update to who we are now and where we envision ourselves as a club moving forward over the next five to ten years,” explained Baumgardner.

The St. James FC travel teams will continue to compete in the Girls Academy (winners of a National Championship in 2022-2023) as well as the U.S. Youth Soccer National League. Last year, they earned four playoff berths in the Girls Academy National Finals, with their U19s finishing second and their U17s winning the National Championship. The club has also seen a large number of players go on to play college and professional soccer, including Mya Townes (Georgia 2025 verbal commitment and member of the USWYNT U-17 team) and Emily Fox (USWNT member and currently playing for Arsenal FC in the Women’s English Premier League).

Baumgardner said the hope is that by emphasizing player development at a grassroots level, that the club can continue to have success on the girls’ side while continuing the accelerated growth with the boys’ program.

“We’re going to focus on organic growth,” he said. “We want to focus on providing the right developmental framework for both the boy’s side and the girl’s side that help our teams succeed and our players grow. Success for us is seeing one of our teams win a National Championship where ninety percent of the players started at the grassroots level with TSJFC. We know that players move clubs all of the time but for us it is important that players at every single developmental level can see their pathway and what success means for them.”

The club will create a pipeline from recreational soccer to the travel system without burdening parents with long drives to practices and games. “We have the largest geographical footprint of any youth soccer organization within the DMV, from Springfield to western Loudoun County,” said Baumgardner. “What we have been asking ourselves is: how do we put our players in the best position possible to continue along that competitive pathway. What we have come up with is trying to keep it locally-focused, both in terms of our player development, while also ensuring that they do not have to travel long distances, especially at the youngest travel age groups.”

For many soccer families, commuting to practices and games can be a significant challenge and even a deal breaker. “Many larger clubs operate in a centralized way and for players and their families that means having to travel across the county to have access to that professional level of coaching. We recognize that the travel aspect is a significant hurdle and we want to provide our players across all programs with a high level of coaching and experience close to home.”

In addition to their fledgling travel program, The St. James FC runs a robust recreational program that operates in eight different locations (Ashburn, Brambleton, Chantilly, Fairfax, Lovettsville, Springfield, Sterling, and Willowsford). Collectively, from Loudoun to Fairfax, these programs pull 2,000 players each year. All locations can lead to travel and pre-travel teams for ages U7 to U12.

The regional-based approach provides players with professional coaching and resources to reach their full potential. Each site is run by a Site Coordinator who is a professionally licensed coach to help oversee the training and development at the recreationalBast and travel levels. The site coordinators work with the volunteer coaching staff to organize the recreational leagues with tasks such as scheduling and field operations. They also provide weekly age-appropriate lesson plans to the volunteer coaches to ensure that they feel supported and can provide age appropriate content to help the players grow in the game.

In addition to the site coordinators, the club has also added eight new technical staff positions to their North (Loudoun) and South (Fairfax) regions. A Director of Player Development and an Assistant Director of Player Development, who will specifically be working within their U7- U12 Pre-Travel and Travel Program have also been added to the club for each region. The addition of full time Directors of Coaching for the Boys & Girls side of the club also offers additional commitment to the player development experience for all TSJFC players.

“Our commitment to enhancing the player development experience is proven by the addition of these key leadership positions the bulk of which will service the youngest age groups of the club. We are truly providing a “Player First” environment,” said Baumgardner.

The newest members of the leadership team come from all corners of the U.S. as well as longtime leaders within the soccer community here in the DMV. The new leadership team will include:

  • Bastien Catrin: Girls Academy Director (coming from Seattle United)
  • Brent Heupel: Girls Academy Assistant Director (20+ years with Mclean & Virginia Union ECNL)
  • Amine El-Hachimi: Boys Director of Coaching (previously with NY Red Bulls Academy)
  • Patrick Finney: Girls Director of Coaching (20 years with Mclean & Vienna/ Fairfax Brave ECNL)
  • Chris Pruden: Boys Director of Player Development- North Region (17 years with Loudoun Soccer)
  • Dan Caracciolo: Girls Director of Player Development- North Region (14 years with BRYC)
  • Brandon Nichols: Boys Director of Player Development- South Region (Beaumont Youth Soccer- TX)
  • Christiane Lessa: U13-U19 Boys Director (Austin Rise FC)

The St. James FC also plans to increase its emphasis on player development at the U11 and U12 levels within their pre-academy structure. “We want to keep the local focus at these age levels and make practices and games as convenient as possible for families,” said Baumgardner. “However, we also want players at these age levels to have the appropriate competitive opportunities as well.”

Baumgardner said individual players of this age bracket will be identified from each site, with 14 players within each region being identified for creating their Pre-Academy teams. “The idea behind this is that we are providing the players that are excelling, academy level preparation as well as the training environment that matches their skillset. The geographical distance for practices and games grows a little bit, but you are still not having to travel between counties.”

By creating a tightly organized player identification process at the regional level, TSJFC is hoping that it will continue to lead to more success at both the girl’s and boy’s competitive U15-U19 levels as well.

This unique programming structure and commitment to grassroots soccer and organic growth will help propel The St. James Football Club into this new period within the club’s history, marking the new beginning to the new moniker “The Future is TSJFC”.