Last month kicked off the re-launch of the Philadelphia Union academy.
Same logo, same building but this year feels very different.
For starters the powers that be have added a wealth of knowledgable instructional talent to guide the academy model beginning with director and former Rangers academy chief Tommy Wilson. While the "Path to PPL Park" and beyond still remains the main focus, the new look of the academy mimics a very intrinsic approach. Every kid that brought in gets the best coaching and instruction. In this three-part series, we take a look at the men who have been chosen to lead the charge on this remodeled endeavor.
Up first, we introduce U-18 head coach Peter Fuller. Fuller has coached every level of soccer including in MLS' ranks as an assistant for former New England Revolution head coach Steve Nicol. Now, he makes a return to the youth ranks as a firm belief in the grassroots approach and building from the ground floor has landed this native son from Alabama to Philadelphia.
PhiladelphiaUnion.com: Can you just talk about your past experiences in soccer?
Peter Fuller: It is funny my background is an interesting one because I played professionally in this country indoor. I played first and then began coaching in the late 1980s. Most of my coaching has been college, Olympic Development Program (ODP), some work with our youth national teams. I spent a year at New England with Steve Nicol as the reserve team head coach and second assistant with the first team. I think in a lot of ways my background lends itself very well to what I am doing with U18s because obviously I have tons experience in terms of the college coaching side of it plus one of my duties while I was at New England -- we had only three full-time coaches at New England -- so part of my duties were to head up and be in charge of all the scouting for the draft in 2011. So obviously there was a ton of work through 2011 even to the present with college coaches all over the country.
PU.com: What's your ideology when it comes to the youth game and why do you think fits so well with what the Union are trying to do?
PF: Obviously having my opportunity to work in the pro game, to work in MLS, to see the league from the inside-out rather than outside-in, you get to work with professional players, older pros, all of that. So you begin to see what it is going to take for a kid as a 17 and 18-year-old with Philadelphia Union to be able to get to that level. If he can’t quite get to that level or he has the ability to but probably isn’t there yet, part of my job is to really find what college situations would be good ones for him to go to in terms of taking him to that next level as our goal is to have every child possibly play at PPL Park someday.
PU.com: Why do you think it took so long for the academy model to develop in this country?
PF: Tradition, mostly. I mean the mantra has always been, high school, college and hopefully pro. I mean it is what people have grown up with. We are even seeing it here [in our academy], seeing it with my team, there is constant battling, fighting [with parents and club and high school coaches]. I think many of our kids would have loved to play high school, but obviously we are trying to set a standard. This is a new venture, we are going to take our bumps and bruises. There are going to be people that aren’t going to understand what we are trying to do, don’t want to understand what we are trying to do, completely disagree with what we are doing but we have to stay the course. We are doing a little bit of pioneer work here, but we have got phenomenal ownership, we have a phenomenal first team manager [in John Hackworth] who really, really cut his teeth in the youth game and honestly cares about what we are doing and where we are going. The goal is ultimately one day we are producing that player that can come through to play at PPL Park.
PU.com: You hear all the time about these kids coming in and then getting disinterested as they get older. Is it really hard to keep that player from a young age to 17 or 18?
PF: Look, I'll be honest with you. We may have out of 10 kids that come through in an age group but we might only have one that makes it -- and in my opinion we would have done really well if we do that. There are nine that don’t make it so the natural tendency is to think those nine failed. Well, I don't see failure because those nine had a world class soccer experience in an academy and in a first world soccer environment, which very few kids in this country get a chance to have. Educationally, if they came to our school they will have been given the wherewithal to make it outside of the game. So really, I believe it's up to the child and the family to decide if this is what they want to do. All we can do here is give them the tools to maximize their potential.
PU.com: How do you keep kids involved and having those kids who truly want to get better in the sport as opposed to kids who you know are good, but it is kind of a fight to keep them into the sport and keep them happy?
PF: In terms of the game they would have had world class coaching over a very important period of their life and if they choose to go on and play at the college level they probably have well put themselves in position to be able to get a portion, if not all of their education paid for at the college level. I think a lot of it is how you choose to look at it and make no mistake my first job as a U18s coach is to be that bridge between the 14s and 16s into the first team because right now we don’t have a reserve team. So a lot of it is who is going to make it and who isn’t, but I also think it is important that we are not just tossing them off the plane with no parachute, that we are giving them something where they can have a soft landing once they reach ground and have someplace that they can then move on to.
Wednesday: We tap into the mind of U16 head coach Jeff Cook.
Contact Union writer Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org