Academy Notes: Crew partner with Michigan Wolves

Crew Soccer Academy

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Courtesy of Columbus Crew

The Chicago Fire aren’t the only MLS team expanding their academy program in hopes of finding and developing talent through their system. On Tuesday, the Columbus Crew followed suit, announcing a partnership with successful Detroit-area youth club Michigan Wolves.

For the past few years, the Wolves have competed as the Derby County Wolves in the USSF Development Academy League. But as the club’s agreement with the English Championship’s Derby County runs out later this year, the Crew are stepping in to fill the gap.

The partnership between the Crew and Wolves was a culmination of a few months of informal talks and negotiations by the technical staff from both clubs. Under the agreement, Wolves players are eligible to sign professional contracts with the Crew after emerging through the system.

“Like [Crew Soccer Academy], our expectations for this alliance are very high,” said Wolves coaching director Brian Doyle in a statement. “It goes beyond the excitement and prestige of partnering with one of the top MLS franchises in the country.

Back in January, when Doyle was coaching at the MLS Combine, he approached Crew technical director Brian Bliss about the possibility of a partnership with Columbus. Wolves, aware that agreement with Derby County would run up at the end of the USSF Development Academy League season, thought it would make more sense to pursue something with a professional side much closer to home.

Under terms of the agreement, which goes in effect on July 1, the Crew will provide financial and technical support to the Wolves. The Wolves, in turn, will compete in the Dev. Academy League next season as the CSA Wolves. And once July hits, Doyle said he’d make the trip to Columbus to watch the first team practice.

“The technical cooperation will be excellent for us both,” he said.

Perhaps the most substantial development of the new agreement is the ability for the Crew to sign Wolves players as Home Grown players. For a club that has produced the likes of Josh Gatt, Sean Cunningham and Soony Saad most recently, it’s another lure for players looking to make the jump from high school to the professional ranks.

“From a player standpoint, I think it’s excellent because the players now know they can go down and sign with the Crew as pros right away out of high school if they’re good enough,” Doyle told MLSsoccer.com over the phone.

That’s in sharp contrast to the previous relationship with Derby County, where players would need a UK or EU passport to make their way to a professional contract.

“It’s a huge aspect because now all of our players are eligible,” Doyle said. “Before, it was a very small number that would be eligible to go to England and Derby County. We think this makes a little more sense from a practical standpoint.”

Rendon named National Player of the Year

FC Richmond forward and US youth product Luis Rendon was named Gatorade’s National Player of the Year last week. The award, given to the best high school athlete in the nation, marked the first time a Virginia native snatched top honors in boy’s soccer.

Rendon was a standout at Cosby High School in Midlothian, Va., contributing 16 goals and 12 assists in 12 games this season.

“Luis’ ability to score goals is amazing,” Dave Amsler, Rendon’s club coach, said in a press release. “He has a calming effect on the game and his skill level is very high. He’s just not your typical American player. He’s a very elusive player. He just brings something totally different to the game.”

At the moment, Rendon is overseas with the US U-18 national team, competing in the Lisbon International Tournament.

Trio leaves Toronto FC Academy

Last Thursday, Toronto FC announced that Keven Aleman, Dino Gardiner and Jonathan Lao have all departed the TFC Academy.

Of the three, Aleman appeared to be the most promising talent, playing a starring role in the Canadian Under 17 national team’s qualification for the 2011 U-17 World Cup. He also spent time with Toronto’s senior squad during their preseason preparations.

“We ask that our Academy players sign a letter of commitment, which is an agreement between our club and player that they will receive the best training and development opportunities with the goal of reaching the first team,” TFC head coach Aron Winter said in a press release. These players have decided not to commit to our Academy in order to pursue tryouts overseas.”

Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.