FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It’s only been five years since the New England Revolution launched its youth development program, but already the club is making history.
The Revolution’s Under-18 side departs for Houston this weekend to take part in U.S. Soccer Development Academy Finals Week, marking just the second time a club from New England will compete for a national championship on this stage.
FC Greater Boston attended Finals Week as part of the Under-17/18 bracket back in 2009 but fell short of a national title, meaning the Revs have a chance to bring home the region’s first championship.
“I think any time you’re doing this for the first time, you want to make sure that the guys enjoy the experience,” said Director of Youth Development Bryan Scales. “They understand this is a business trip – that we’re going down there to try to win a trophy – but we also want them to enjoy the experience of playing against good teams and being one of the last eight teams alive in the country.”
New England’s U18s will play three group stage matches next week against Shattuck-Saint Mary’s (Minn.), De Anza Force (Calif.) and St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri (Mo.) before placement games determine the final national standings on July 20.
As part of the Development Academy, Revolution youth players face the best competition in the Northeast region on a weekly basis, but taking on the top teams in the country presents a whole new challenge. Experiences like Finals Week – and, similarly, last year’s trip to South Africa to participate in the Future Champions Gauteng tournament – will only serve to benefit New England’s youth players as they strive to reach the next level.
“There’s no substitute for [these experiences],” said Scales. “As a professional soccer club, we have a little bit of a different developmental model and time frame when it comes to putting kids in challenging environments and letting them adapt.
“This group that’s going to Houston, we’ve had them in the Academy for two, three or four years, some of them … They’ve had some pretty rich experiences that maybe some other players don’t get. Throw in reserve games and training with the first team and these are really important steps in their overall development.”
Individual development – not team results – remains the primary goal for the Revolution’s youth program, as it does for all MLS clubs that aim to produce first-team players through their Academies. What’s most important is that players like Diego Fagundez and Scott Caldwell mature properly and develop the skills required to represent the Revolution at the highest level.
But there is at least some correlation between overall results and individual development. New England’s appearance at Finals Week – along with the development of players like Fagundez and Caldwell – shows that the Revs are striking the proper balance.
“Our main goal is to develop guys to play at the highest level,” said Scales. “All of the MLS clubs have that mission. So for us, developing players – their long-term soccer development – is paramount.
“You have to find a balance between getting results and being focused on developing individual soccer players. The two obviously are merged when the games come along and we’re certainly going down to Houston to try to win these games.”