Club hopes youth academy pilot program will grow into a source of players in the future.

By H. Jose Bosch

Tucson, AZ (Friday June 14, 2013) — It’s no secret that while FC Tucson’s mission is to represent the Old Pueblo proudly, few of its current players are actually from the Tucson area.

But the club hopes to change that with the announcement of its brand new summer youth academy club.

“In the summer in Tucson there really isn’t an opportunity for kids who are dedicated to soccer to travel and play tournaments,” said FC Tucson managing member Greg Foster. “Tucson just doesn’t have that and FC Tucson thought this would be a great opportunity to bring some players together who are very committed to the game and give them a new level in which to play.”

Currently the “academy” is just one U14 boys club. The team is made up from a pool of about 30 players who have been pulled from clubs all across the city and its surrounding areas. For now, the FC Tucson Summer Youth Team will only play in the summer, while the city’s club teams have the time off.

During their time at FC Tucson, the youth players will have the same five-to-six-times-a-week training schedule as the main club and receive instruction from some of FC Tucson’s coaches and players on and off the field.

FC Tucson General Manager Jon Pearlman likened it to an apprentice program for the younger players and he said the intense two-month period will also help players identify whether they’re prepared to continue playing soccer at the highest level.

“It makes all the difference,” Pearlman said. “Sometimes you can get caught in being a big fish in a little pond and Tucson is a small area compared to the larger expanse of U.S. soccer and soccer across the country. They’re so many very good players and when you do very well in a small area you might think you’ve arrived before you have. But to the credit of these players, none of them have that attitude.”

Right now players participate at no cost to their families and Foster and Pearlman both said that even as this youth program grows, they hope it will continue to be free for the players who are a part of it.

“We see this as the first step in reaching out to the youth soccer players in the community,” Foster said. “Summer is the perfect time. We have excellent youth clubs in town and they cover kids from August through May. But June through July, a time when kids are out of school and have time to play, there really isn’t an opportunity to play in Tucson. So we hope we can fill that gap.”

The youth team has already started playing matches. Yesterday the club defeated Chivas USA’s U14 club 2-0. The team will continue its Southern California road trip through the weekend with a match against the LA Galaxy U14 squad. The club will also get a chance to watch a Chivas Guadalajara and LA Galaxy training sessions during their trip.

The FC Tucson staff hopes that all these experiences will give the players a taste of what it takes to play soccer at a professional level. And for the future, it hopes the youth academy will help elevate the play of local players at all the area’s club teams and also help FC Tucson populate its roster with local talent.

“I think everyone understands now that the top clubs in the world all have a youth pyramid that they’re built on top of,” Foster said. “These clubs are beginning to rely on their youth clubs to build their future and in a small way FC Tucson would like to start drawing more and more players from Tucson on the senior squad. This is the way we can do it.”