From August 9-13, U.S. Soccer invited the top 64 players ages 15-17 to participate in a National Combine held at Nike’s International Headquarters in Portland, Ore. The players were invited to the combine after being assessed by U.S. Soccer scouts at Training Centers, Development Academy events, and other youth programs held over the past year. The Philadelphia Union Academy was represented at the National Combine by U-16 player Chris Gomez , whose invitation came as a result of the Philadelphia Combine held at YSC in June. While in Portland, Chris was gracious enough to keep a journal and reflect on his time at the National Combine.
Day 1: It was a long flight from Philly with a connection in Chicago that got delayed an hour, but we finally made it to Portland. I was very anxious to get on the field and just start playing. Once the moment came I was excited and confident for the opportunity to do what I do best. The training was light and everyone was nervous, but that's always how things go at the first training. We received our gear today, as well, and I was beyond surprised with how much gear we got and how cool it was. After a day of travel and the first training session, I thankfully got a good night of sleep, as a promising second day was the goal for every player.
Day 2: We had our team meeting in the morning and were divided into three evenly divided groups- I was placed into Group 2. After being divided, we went through SPARQ fitness testing which is not any players favorite thing to do; however, it is such an important part of every players game. During the testing, I reached my goal of getting a 15 on the "beep" test, so I was happy with that. I must keep on improving my fitness, though, as it can always get better.
After the fitness testing, training consisted of attacking style of play. Going forward as a left back is my favorite part of the game and I feel like that is my biggest strength. After training, we had pool regeneration session to get us prepared for a two a day tomorrow. Our meetings with the staff were also amazing, as we saw how much they truly care for all of us and soccer itself. The amount of professionalism, effort and passion they put into the game and everything they do is incredible.
Day 3: We stayed in our same groups today and worked more on the defensive side of our game. The defensive part of my game is not my favorite because attacking is my biggest strength, but I know that a quality outside back needs to be just as good at defending as he is at attacking. Defending is an area I can always improve upon and these opportunities are the perfect way to do so. It was a solid training session. I feel very comfortable here and feel as though my game and my confidence are very high. Later in the day, we were split into four teams of 11 that were balanced, talent-wise. We played an 11v11 drill and I felt very satisfied with my performance in the game. Our second session consisted of another 11v11 drill and I also felt good with my performance.
After training, we got to meet Chris Wondolowski of the San Jose Earthquakes and he spoke to us about how he made it to the top from the bottom through his hard work and perseverance. One thing I took away from his talk was that failure fuels success and that it is the perfect way to make greatness happen. It was great to hear Wondo's stories and served as a great inspiration.
Tomorrow will be a huge day because we have intrasquad games, which serve as an opportunity to make one last impression on the coaching staff. This final chance to make an impression is important, as the games will affect the coaching staff's decisions on who will make the U18 national team camp in late September. A good night of rest and a good dinner will help me be at my best for tomorrow.
Day 4: Today was the biggest day of the camp, as every player was desperate to impress and make a case to be called up for next month's youth national team camp. We spent the day having individual meetings with the coaches, as well as interacting with the staff in focus groups to offer our opinions and constructive criticisms. Being able to provide input made the entire players feel special.
I felt that my performance in the inter squad game was very strong. I played to all my strengths and I can honestly say I gave it my all and left everything out on the field. I was able to attack a lot and overlapped and managed to put a couple crosses in the box. I linked up with my left wing well and gave him several dangerous threw balls that led to very good chances, although we couldn't finish them off.
It is sad to leave this amazing campus. I was here in 2011 with PDA for the Manchester United Cup, so this was my second time in Portland. Our closing meeting with the staff today was awesome because we were able to thank them and the U.S. Soccer staff for an amazing and unforgettable five days.
I hope to have impressed the coaches enough to get the call up to next month's camp and I'm walking away from this experience with no regrets, on or off the field. I can't thank everyone enough for this phenomenal experience and perfectly organized event, as it was truly a once in a life time opportunity for everyone. It felt good representing the Philadelphia Union on the national team level and I look forward to future opportunities and the beginning of our Development Academy season.
For more on Philadelphia Union Academy: philadelphiaunion.com/academy. Follow the Academy on Twitter: @philaunion_acad.