Photo courtesy Nashville SC Academy
As Nashville SC builds its inaugural MLS roster through acquiring players both from within Major League Soccer (through various mechanisms) and abroad, the organization is also making a longer play. The NSC Academy took the field for the first time last weekend, with the U-12s participating in the Generation Adidas Cup in Atlanta.
The Boys (quite literally, in this case) in Gold finished with a 1-1-1 record, falling to New York Red Bulls 6-0 in the opener, drawing FC Dallas 2-2 (with a penalty shootout going to Dallas) in the second game, and earning the first victory in their history Sunday with a 1-0 victory against Minnesota United. More important than the results, though, were the experiences for the players, and the bright signs for the future of the Academy.
“It was a really positive experience,” said NSC Academy Director Jamie Smith. “We had set two main goals before the tournament. They were: to provide the kids with an experience that they’ve never had before and couldn’t get before, and the second goal was to be able to go and compete with other MLS academies.
“We’ve taken the first small step in what’s going to be a long, long process. I believe in the past several months, we’ve started to lay a foundation for what’s going to take kids on the pathway to our first team. We took another small step on that path in Atlanta.”
Future NSC Academy teams will be comprised of players whose club team is the Academy. They will also be in residence at Currey Ingram Academy in Brentwood, with year-round access to both world-class academics and world-class training on the soccer pitch. While the U-12s are the only team now – and at a younger age group than even exists in the US Soccer Development Academy, where the majority of MLS academy teams play (for now) – the future will see the team add age groups sequentially, up through the U-19 level.
NSC’s U-12s are the only Academy team for now, though – and the U-12 team for this event was something of an all-star side. Instead of being a team that stays together throughout the year, they were brought together from local youth clubs, and will train back with those respective clubs going forward.
“We put the team together for the event,” Smith explained. “Those players go back to their respective clubs. By next August, we will have our own academy teams.”
It will take time for Nashville SC to build out its academy to a level that produces MLS-caliber talent. If age groups are added at the currently-planned rate, it will be three seasons before a U-19 side even sees the field: U-13, U-14, and U-15 teams will all be added next year, with a U-17 and U-19 team to follow in the years thereafter. However, Smith has certainly been given the resources he needs to ensure that the academy becomes one of the best in the country over the course of the build.
After leaving the Colorado Rapids Academy for other coaching opportunities (most recently Philadelphia-area FC Delco, where he oversaw an integration with the Philadelphia Union’s professional development pathway) over the course of his career, it may stand to reason that his excitement about working directly for an MLS franchise played a major role in taking the job with Nashville SC. However, Smith insists it’s more about the quality of the organization, not the MLS moniker that made him want to join Nashville SC.
That faith is already being rewarded, including with a drop-in from club brass to support in Atlanta last weekend.
“Someone mentioned to me that it must be good be back in MLS,” Smith explained. “I said to them ‘that’s not why I took this job: I took it because it’s the best job.’ In conversations prior to taking the job, I got the feeling there was care and attention to the development. The fact that we have a blank canvas and get to build something from the ground up was incredibly motivating. Most importantly, it’s not that it’s an MLS club: it’s the fact that it’s this MLS club.
“I’ve had amazing support so far. The club are very motivated to make our academy one of the best in the country. Our leadership team drove down to the event, so the support that I’ve had has been nothing short of spectacular. We’re working stringently to put the right foundations in place for the future.”
If the early returns are any indication, things are on the right track. Fans may not have to wait too long to see their local MLS academy develop its first professional player.