Can European Affiliates Turn North America into a Soccer Powerhouse?

By Marco Laberge
Wayne Rooney with Everton. Photo by Catatan Bola Photo Gallery

Many top English clubs such as Everton and Tottenham have started affiliating themselves with some of the stronger youth clubs here in North America. Slowly but surely these top clubs started sending youth academy coaches to help with grassroots development, simply educating us on how to really play the game and in return we get send our top youth teams on tour to play some European opposition . They are here to to spread the word almost like preachers. Why do they bother coming here one might ask? Very simple, these top English clubs have seen the home grown like Landon Donovan, Nick De Leon and Diego Fagundez. The players have all been showcased in the MLS and it shows the importance of having a competitive league for these players to grow into.

This form of “soccer colonization” has started to benefit more and more young players in the US and Canada including me. As a young player myself sadly coming to the end of my youth career I had the chance to attend a training session held by our new Head Coach of player and coach development Paul Harris, former Everton FC Academy coach, at my club Ottawa South United in Canada. I was not invited to this program because it was only for the top players in the club. One thing lead to another and I ended up participating in the session.

This “centre of excellence” session which I wasn’t supposed to be a part of turned out to be one of the most enriching soccer experiences I have ever lived. Fundamentally he is trying to change the way the sport is played in North America especially in Canada. Harris often says that Canadians just like the English tend to panic when they are pressured and they don’t do what the Spanish do so well which is staying calm and keeping possession by shielding the ball then passing it to and open teammate. This is so simple yet many players struggle with this concept and just force the ball down the field creating a very easy opportunity for the opposing team to gain possession. With many drills that teach “smart soccer” Paul Harris is just another example of very qualified instructor that has been sent to refine and transform the talent that already exists.

Harris is a UEFA A licensed who has spent the last ten years as International Football Development Officer and Coach with the Premier League’s Everton FC Academy. However he has been making appearances with different clubs across the US and Canada for the past five years.  With more knowledgeable European Affiliates covering associating themselves with more clubs in the US and Canada creating a larger talent pool fans will see a drastic improvement for the emerging talent in the near future. Who knows maybe the US can develop another Wayne Rooney.  Hopefully we will see more quality American players like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley make that jump to higher levels and create a niche for North American players in Europe.

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