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Global Sep 03, 2012

Toys for Tots: FC Milan (Va.) experimental model proves successful in U-14 play

By Roger Gonzalez

Even veterans of the youth soccer scene probably haven’t seen anything like it. A soccer club where match results are hardly prioritized at all, a team who competes in tournaments and friendlies with no league play?

That is exactly what Tony Rogers is doing with new club FC Milan. A coach with SASA of Stafford, Va., for years, Rogers left to form his new club, which is participating in the PWSI Toy for Tots Tournament this weekend.

“I’ve been coaching now for going on eight years,” said Rogers, who leads several different teams at the club.

“I’m a believer in the technical aspect of the game and that it is the provider to future growth. When you are in the club environment, there is a lot of, ‘You can’t do these things because it’s not the club curriculum.’”

His team, playing in the Under-14 Boys White division, had a perfect start to their tourney, going 3-0 with 12 goals scored and two against. The team is co-ed and also has a few U-12 players on it.

The coach, who says he couldn’t care less about the results, mixes the players so they are exposed to all levels of play, with the hope of them improving by seeing so many different situations. It’s what he calls a ‘free-play environment.’

He runs his program with intense training, aiming to develop players, not get wins. It’s something that he thinks is appropriate for the age group.

“We in this country lack technical [skill],” said Rogers, who started the club this year.

“We are going to play friendlies. The pressure of winning is off,” he explained. “It’s all about development. If we want to learn how to build out of the back, then that is going to be the emphasis and we do four friendlies for that. We could lose 10-0, but we are eventually going to get it.

“If you play league play and you lose, you get knocked down divisions and the whole nine [yards] and then everybody is hollering that you aren’t in division two or division three. The status here is development. All I’m doing is calling local clubs and setting friendlies up.”

It all started with his Rare Academy, where he trained one kid, which then became 40 a month later. He now trains many more than that.

“The parents love it,” he said. “It’s less pressure. I want every kid to individually know how to play the game.

“Now I’m training 700-1,000 kids a week, technical training, three-on-three, four-on-four, more touches.”

The coach works on every physical aspect of the game, including speed and agility, then focusing on one certain objective each game, which this week was attacking in the final third.

It will surely sound odd to the average fan, but the parents love it for their children.

“We have been with him for awhile,” said John Stevens, a parent. “He has been preaching this to us and we are seeing the benefit of it.

“They play for development now. We will see the results when they are 15, 16. They are learning how to play rather than just playing to win.”

What improvements has he seen?

“The way they play on the field, a lot more ball control,” said Stevens, whose child has been on the team for years.

“Every kid plays all over the field. They play the right way.”

Doug Camp’s daughter joined the team last year.

“This is new for us,” he said. “I think the greatest thing is the philosophy behind it. It’s more strategic and tactical than kickball.

“We are very pleased seeing where our daughter was and where she is now, with the training, skills and everything she has received.”

“It’s just like any coach, if they have a good track record, philosophy and if they are consistent, you want to stick with that coach. Tony’s track record is bar-none.”

Rogers, who works the kids at his own indoor and outdoor facility, hopes that down the road they are the top talents in the area. The parents hope so too, and believe they will be based on how much he cares for the players.

“He loves his kids and he is dedicated to them,” Stevens said.

They looked like top talents on Sunday as FC Milan went on to win the tournament with a 4-0 win over NVSC 98 Juniors Royals.

“To wrap it all up, it was quality soccer,” Rogers said. “When you play tournaments like this and play a four-game round robin, conditioning becomes a factor…I don’t think they were as fit…I tell the kids, sometimes you win those games, sometimes you lose those games. Under pressure, we had parents counting 16, 17, 18, 19 passes.

“I was very pleased. With youth kids, sometimes winning will bring out the best in kids. It was their first tournament win in a year in a half…I told them, patience is a virtue. The quality paid off.”

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