Academy Director Jamie Smith. Photo courtesy Nashville SC.
The news that many have long-awaited is finally here: Nashville SC’s academy structure is announced. The first academy group – an Under-12 team – will even compete as early as next month.
From Club release:
NASHVILLE (Oct. 14, 2019) – Nashville Soccer Club announced today the launch of the Nashville SC Academy and the appointment of its Academy Director Jamie Smith, who is tasked with building an elite fully funded youth soccer program based at Currey Ingram Academy and serving the entire Nashville region and the state of Tennessee.
The Nashville SC Academy will participate and play against other Major League Soccer clubs at the highest nationwide level of youth soccer in the United States. The Academy will start by launching its U12 (2008) age group team to compete in the Generation adidas Cup U-12 competition over Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 28-30) in Atlanta, followed by the introduction of U13 (2008), U14 (2007) and U15 (2006) teams in the 2020/2021 season.
“The launch of The Nashville SC Academy further solidifies the club’s commitment of being in Nashville, with Nashville and for Nashville,” said Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre. “We are the first professional soccer club with a truly elite soccer academy in the state. Our goal is to inspire young athletes to want to play for our first team and create a pathway for them to do so at no cost. Our Academy will provide players with a unique experience and a learning environment that will be unmatched in the United States.”
The Nashville SC Academy will provide each player with an unparalleled youth soccer experience, creating a vibrant player-centric environment that inspires creativity and cultivates talent.
The Nashville SC Academy is complementary to existing programs in Tennessee – providing the final link to create a defined pathway from youth soccer to the professional ranks in Major League Soccer. It will provide elite players with unique opportunities to participate in MLS events and distinct international experiences, all while being on the Nashville SC pathway to the professional team.
Nashville SC’s Academy Director Jamie Smith joins the club from FC DELCO in Philadelphia, where he also served as Academy Director for the program. He brings over two decades of experience as a professional player for 14 years and a coach, having served as Academy Director and launched several Academy programs throughout the United States.
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to launch the Nashville SC Academy and look forward to working with the youth of the region, along with the established clubs and their directors to create a clear path to the professional ranks right in our home state,” said Smith. “The philosophy of our academy is to prepare players for the professional level – making sure the individual player can adapt to the different situations in the game of soccer. We want to create an environment where the players are getting the education on and off the pitch that is required to succeed as a top professional soccer player.”
“We are excited to have a director of Jamie’s caliber leading our academy effort,” added Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre on Smith’s appointment. “He brings a wealth of experience from the professional and youth development levels which will immediately contribute to the success of this key strategic initiative.”
Smith started his professional playing career with Celtic FC as a product of their youth system. During his tenure with the club, they won the Scottish championship in 2001/02 and 2003/04, as well as the Scottish League Cup in 2001. Celtic was also the UEFA Cup runner up in 2002/03. Smith then joined ADO Den Haag in the Netherlands before returning to Scotland to play for Aberdeen FC.
Smith retired from professional play with the Colorado Rapids of MLS after a distinguished career both in the U.S. and in Europe, having helped lead the Rapids to their 2010 MLS Cup with current Nashville SC Head Coach Gary Smith at the helm. It was with Colorado that Smith began his youth coaching career by joining the Rapids Youth Academy after his retirement.
Nashville SC Academy is also delighted to name Currey Ingram Academy as their home. The club is in the process of building a new state of the art facility set within the picturesque beauty of Currey Ingram Academy. The unmatched facility in Tennessee will provide our players with an unrivalled athletic environment where they will be able to elevate their soccer development.
“Currey Ingram Academy is proud to be the home of Nashville SC’s elite youth soccer development program. As a school that already provides an array of extracurricular opportunities for students, I am especially excited how the Nashville SC Academy at Currey Ingram Academy aligns with our mission of promoting students’ strengths,” added Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell, Head of School at Currey Ingram Academy.
I spoke extensively with Ayre and NSC General Manager Mike Jacobs about the academy program.
With a history in management at Sporting Kansas City – another MLS side that’s not located in what you might consider a soccer hotbed – Jacobs knows the importance of recruiting nationally. During his time as Assistant General Manager with SKC, players from Charlotte, N.C., Carbondale, Ill., and even Nashville headed to the residential academy.
The combination of academics and development available in Nashville SC’s academy – a pitch you might expect to hear more in the college recruiting world than in professional athletics – is a major selling point in drawing the best players from Tennessee… but also branching outward into the rest of the country.
“What’s exciting about what we’re trying to do – and Ian talked about Currey Ingram Academy, for us to compete in this space that is the lifeline and the heartbeat of any club, being able to grow your own players from your own academy – in a country where it’s so competitive for players, but we don’t have a market like New York or Southern California or North Texas, as fertile as those areas are: our territory is the state of Tennessee,” Jacobs explained. “For us, we have to do things a little differently to be able to track top talent not only from our territory, but outside our territory also.
“When you look at what we’re doing at Currey Ingram Academy, I think where maybe we might be playing catch-up when it comes to our territory a little bit in comparison to some of the other territories, the facilities that our ownership group led by John is providing for us, will be like nothing else in MLS. To be able to have it on a campus as majestic as Currey Ingram Academy, to be able to marry this unique educational component with an MLS academy, you just don’t see it anywhere.”
That effort is already under way, with the U-12 team already assembled, and planning to compete at the Generation Adidas Cup just over a month from now.
“Quite uniquely we think, not only is it an outstanding location, but to truly combine education and soccer – which is the plan – it will be incredible,” Ayre said. “Mike can talk more about the program in terms of when we’ll start, but he made a great point earlier today, which is our first academy team for Nashville Soccer Club MLS will play before our first team.”
Jacobs explained: “So the first match that a Nashville MLS team will play will be our Under-12s at the Generation Adidas Cup in November, Thanksgiving weekend.”
Long-term, the integration of the academy setup with Nashville SC’s first team in MLS is a project that will have to take a number of factors into consideration. Ayre has plenty of experience with an off-site academy structure (as was the case during his time leading Liverpool FC in England), and that’s the eventual goal for Nashville SC’s system. However, he’s also aware of the advantages of regular inclusion of academy prospects with first-tea training, in order to best develop talent for the future.
Fortunately, Smith’s experience should help provide the best developmental environment possible.
“I think you can go both ways: in 10 years at Liverpool, and [first-team and academy facilities] were separate, and ironically they’re just building a new facility combined,” Ayre said. “I think it’s more about – and comes down to the coaching staff and at the right point – one of the things that Liverpool did very well was choosing the players to bring across to train with the first team, and then send them back, so they don’t get, ‘oh, I train with the first team every day.’ The manager – subsequent coaches, I think the last three from my memory – were very big on selecting smaller groups. ‘Let’s take these five or six and bring them in.’ They’ll train with the first team, they’ll travel with the first team, in and around the team, then say ‘OK, let’s send them back.’ Some may come more often than others. It’s a gradual integration rather than you just walk in the building and you kind of get used to hanging out with those players. It can work both ways. I think aspirationally, there are two.”
“I get really happy speaking to our academy director, about the things he wants to teach,” continued Jacobs. “It’s even less like model-of-play for our 12s – can they build out of the back, are we playing with four at the back or three at the back – it’s how they conduct themselves. How about adversity, when things don’t go well, how do they respond to that? The group that our U12s are playing in, it’s like the MLS, welcome to MLS here’s the toughest group i a U12 academy in their age group. You could look at it as a burden that they have to play these really strong, established academies, or this tremendous opportunities to test these kids and kind of put them in a blender and see kind of what they make of themselves.”
While it may take time to bear fruit in terms of first-team talent, Nashville SC is clearly focusing on a strong youth system to build from within.