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Soccer in the US - Manchester United style

Whether you call it football or soccer, the game has expanded massively in the US over the last decade.

The national team’s success has filtered through to the domestic game which has seen a huge growth in interest and participation.

As more kids start playing, a number of English Premier League teams have established US soccer camps to develop their talents. Total Football’s Chris Smith caught up with Manchester United coach Scott Harris, who helps run the Melbourne Beach Soccer Camp in Florida.

“At the EPL camps we see up to 100 kids per day and we are hoping that number will increase next year,” he said.

“I work alongside and in partnership with schools, running programmes during and after school, as well as working with local soccer teams, usually coaching over 500 children and adults per week.”

Replicating the basics

Employed as a youth coach by Manchester United, Harris has been perfectly educated to teach kids. His busy schedule reflects both the strenuous work United put into youth development and the increased popularity of US soccer.

“I couldn't have asked for anything more than working for the biggest club in the world where each coach is exceptional in their field.

“At the EPL camps, we try to replicate the basics, as it's proven that these processes produce top quality players.”

But is not just Manchester United who contributes coaches. The camps blend the experience and knowledge of various club coaches to create a unique opportunity for kids. 

“Our coaches work at different club academies so the expertise shared benefits not only the children but also each coach”.

Landmark moment

Football’s recent development in the US is in no small part due to the success of the national team in recent years. Reaching the final of the 2009 Confederations Cup - ending the record-equalling 35-match unbeaten run European champions Spain in the semi-finals – was a landmark moment for soccer in the States.

The tournament captured the minds of the nation like never before. Coupled with the continued success of USA’s women’s team, football has become accessible, enjoyable and aspirational for a lot of kids.

“I came over in 2009 and the sport was still trying to take off, but the continued growth of the national team has led to an upsurge in interest.

“Then more and more people joined the soccer bandwagon – at the camps for example, our participation has increased vastly year in year out.”

Big-name stars

The MLS has benefitted through big-name acquisitions such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry. Players like this have contributed to the US league becoming more competitive and well-respected internationally.

“I think people were a bit sceptical when Becks first arrived, thinking he’d just come for the money, but his passion and professionalism are there for all to see and now people love him.

“Thierry Henry has scored lots of goals for New York Red Bulls and players like this can only enhance the reputation of the MLS.”

Inversely, the stars of USA’s national team have established themselves across Europe’s top leagues, most notably, the Premiership. This too has helped captivate kids in the US.

“Landon Donovan and Tim Howard are major stars not just in America but also across Europe, but the kids here are fans of Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney, just like everyone else.

“At our camps, we highlight the skills of the Premier League and give them homework to research to heighten their interest in the best league in the world.”

Better footballers, better people

The challenge of nurturing this new wave of optimism is one that Harris enjoys immensely. It is people like him who are charged with helping the US to push on and continue to improve standards.

“Being able to say that I played a part in a child becoming a better player is something I thrive on but my philosophy is making better footballers and better people.

“A coach should not just be passionate about football but improving the kids as individuals via respect and giving them confidence on and off the pitch.”

Despite the increase in popularity, American soccer still lags far behind basketball, American football and ice hockey in terms of participation. In order to compete with these stalwarts of American culture, Harris believes more investment is required.

“There are so many different sports in the US that soccer tends to be more of a second sport.

Youth academy systems

“I would like to see MLS clubs create youth academy systems similar to the English system, to give serious players something to aim for instead of just high school and college soccer.”

As England continue to struggle on the world stage and following the FA’s failed £18m World Cup bid, serious questions arise about grass root investment here. Harris believes England too needs to invest further to truly realise its potential.

“In England, people live and breathe football and are very passionate about it, but the amount of world class players we are producing is insufficient – more needs to be done”.

So far, the camps have been a tremendous success and show no sign of slowing their growth. As the sport continues to grow in popularity, so it seems will the EPL soccer camps.

“All the camps we ran last year have already re-booked our services but we are looking at the possibility of expanding into different areas of the country, not just Florida and California.

“With the sport growing in America so will the interest, and so the sky is the limit as far as the camps go.”

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