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Charlotte FC's Academy: The Roots of the Ever Growing Pathway

By Brian Maurer

One of Charlotte FC's academy teams during a recent game (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC)


Charlotte FC’s Academy is in the midst of their third season. Two major steps have been added to bridge the gap between the academy and senior team. Recently announced Crown Legacy FC will be joining the developmental league MLS NEXT Pro this season. This club will provide academy players with an opportunity to earn professional minutes without being put into the senior squad straight away, giving them additional time to develop.


Charlotte FC also announced that they were adding another academy team to the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL). This team will be a bridge between the academy and Crown Legacy FC. Allowing academy players an additional opportunity to compete before either progressing to the professional level or the collegiate level.


While there has been a lot of discussion this winter about the Charlotte FC pathway, especially Crown Legacy FC, there has not been as much discussion specifically on what the Charlotte FC academy system provides to the players who participate in this pathway. Last summer I talked to Charlotte FC’s academy Executive Director, Bryan Scales, about the academy set up, the core foundations of what players who participate in the academy learn, and the direction that the academy is heading.


The Academy


Charlotte FC’s academy has had the opportunity to take advantage of many of the lessons that were learned by other MLS academies when mandates were first put in place back in 2008. “So from 2008 to 2013 and ‘14 everybody was just trying to get their structure right, and get established, and get the foundations right. I feel like having been in the league now for 12 years, the league took a huge jump from 2014 and 15 to now,” Scales says about the growth when MLS teams were first establishing their academies until now.


With Charlotte FC’s academy starting years later, they were able to build a foundation and program without as much of a structural learning curve as some of the earliest MLS academies. This is where the hiring of Scales is extremely beneficial, as he had already gone through this building process once with the New England Revolution “I was fortunate because in New England, the club was established when I had arrived there, in 2009, but the academy had just started, so it was relatively similar to the project here in Charlotte in that you’re trying to put the pieces together, get the right people in the right spots, take care of the kids, take care of the young players, and help them develop so that they can go on to careers, whether as college soccer players, but most importantly as professional players.” Says Scales.


With the structure now firmly in place in Charlotte, the academy is made up of four teams; U14, U15, U17, and the recently added UPSL team. There is also a discovery program which involves U12 and U13 players.



Foundations and Philosophy


One of the core foundations within the academy system is harnessing and respecting the energy and passion the fans have for the first team. Appreciating that atmosphere as they work through the levels of the professional pathway is something that is a focus of embodiment in the DNA of Charlotte FC, starting with the academy.


“What I would say to you is I have been blown away by the level of support, and the energy, and the personality and enthusiasm that the region has shown the first team. And the atmosphere in Bank of America stadium, having seen games and been through almost all of the stadiums throughout MLS, specifically in New England, it sets our club above a lot of the rest. So that's an energy that we want to make sure that we respect, and that we earn, and that the players that are coming through our club are very appreciative of that energy, and passion and support from all of our fans” Scales describes.


Not only is it important for the academy to embody the passion for the first team, it is also valuable for them to be given opportunities to work with the first team as this provides a direct connection between the professional level and the youth level.


“Now you have a pathway, and yes we are only in year two*, but the players that are coming through our academy they will see players that they play with in training and see everyday in practice now getting called in to the first team to train. And think that this opportunity is there for them if they grasp it. But the difference between a professional youth development pathway and youth soccer is a little different, so we have to make sure that our kids can see, through their windshield, the opportunity to be with the first team and that's important to know where you’re going” Scales said when asked about the academy players experiencing the first team.


Another important foundational piece is training players to the level of being able to earn homegrown first team contracts. This provides a direct connection for players in the community between the academy level and the professional level.


“Well it makes a big difference. I had the privilege in New England of a number of players coming through our academy to sign professional contracts. Most notably Diego Fagundez who’s in Austin. And so when Diego was signed as a fifteen year old, all these kids in New England that knew him, or played against him, or watched him play as a youth soccer player. They were Revolution fans. And so having a player from Charlotte, having a player from the Carolinas play on the first team…It just gives the region a real boost,” says Scales when asked about the value of having a regional professional pathway for players.


Players who work through the Charlotte FC academy are also provided with skills that are of benefit to them off the field. One of those foundational on and off field skills is resilience.


“So our academy and many of the other academies in MLS are set up so that kids fail, because it's hard, so taking kids to the edge of their abilities, and having them make mistakes, failing, figuring out how to come back from that, how to make adjustments, how to react to it, is part of the process. It doesn’t always feel comfortable, kids don’t really like it that much at times, parents don’t like it when their kids have challenges that are difficult for them. But that's part of the process, and as soon as our guys understand that it's alright to fail, and they just have to adjust, that's when the real learning starts, and the resilience really starts to build.”


Success Stories So Far


While the Charlotte FC academy is still very new, the system has already been able to demonstrate an ability to attain some of these foundational goals. Academy prospects, Brian Romero and Nimfasha Berchimas, have both earned themselves homegrown contracts. For Charlotte FC this establishes the beginnings of a stronger connection between the youth level and the first team, similar to what Scales mentioned in regards to the impact for kids that Fagundez had as a homegrown signing in New England.


The academy has also had several players, including Romero and Berchimas, being called up to their youth national teams. Most recently Romero (USYNT) and Sam Duncan (Trinidad & Tobago) have been called into action for the upcoming U17 CONCACAF Championship.


Representing both their country and their first teams are both strong examples of the goals that academy players can see their teammates attaining and then work towards themselves. This academy representation also provides further energy to the community as the local community is given the opportunity to see one of their own represent their club and country.


Looking Ahead


All three of the U17 USYNT group stage matches in the CONCACAF Championship will be televised on Fox Sports. This will also include a match up between the USYNT and Trinidad & Tobago, giving both Charlotte FC prospects the opportunity to play against each other at the international level.


Crown Legacy FC’s inaugural season will be starting near the end of March. This will be an additional opportunity for academy prospects to be tested in a professional environment. The home games for the season will be at the Mecklenburg County Sportsplex in Matthews, NC.


The Charlotte FC Academy’s UPSL team will also be starting their inaugural season this Spring. Their preseason starts next Monday with their schedule being announced in the coming weeks.


This spring the Academy will be given another opportunity to test their skills against other MLS and international academies in the GA Cup. Last season the U17s advanced to the knockout stages of the tournament. The GA Cup is a great test to see how an academy is improving and growing compared to other academies in MLS and around the world.


The Charlotte FC pathway has grown tremendously with the multiple announcements that have been made this winter. With two homegrown signings, the work put into creating the pathway is already starting to bear fruit. In coming years, the Carolinas should see players from their community begin to wear the Black and Blues of the first team season after season.



*When I interviewed Scales they were still in year two of the academy, the academy is currently in their third year as a program.


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