Over the past six months, Sporting Kansas City have been making a splash on and off the field. With a re-brand, a new stadium nearing completion and the addition of a Designated Player, they’ve been making headlines for all the right reasons.
Somewhat lost in the club’s makeover, however, has been the significant progress of its academy program. In that time, the team has made two Home Grown signings in US youth international goalkeeper Jonathan Kempin and defender Kevin Ellis.
So what makes the academy tick? According to Jon Parry, Sporting Juniors director of coaching, it all starts by treating the prospective pros just like members of the first team.
“We treat these kids just like the senior team is treated in regards to their fitness and the way they train,” Parry told MLSsoccer.com. “We mimic a lot of the same things the senior team. We’re constantly doing things of that nature to get these kids acclimated as soon as possible.”
[inline_node:332524]The Sporting Juniors currently consist of four teams – the standard U-16 and U-18 programs, competing in the USSF Development Academy like several other MLS counterparts. There are also two other teams, a U-13 and U-15 team that compete locally and regionally.
Parry says they’ve talked about adding younger age groups, and that they’ve held both open and invite-only training camps to get an idea of younger talent in the area.
In keeping up with the mantra of copying the first team, all four Sporting Junior sides implement the 4-3-3 system that coach Peter Vermes uses. Both the 16s and the 18s have been playing in the Development Academy competition.
“It’s been great,” Parry said. “I think all the games are very competitive, the kids enjoy it. There’s quite a bit of traveling, but it’s part of their development if we’re going to develop professionals. You’re going to have to learn every aspect of the game and that’s a big part of it.”
The Sporting Juniors will resume action this weekend after a long break from the Academy schedule, though they’ve kept busy via a group of friendlies last month in Dallas and a trip to Columbus for a series of matches against other MLS academies.
The return of the reserve league has also proved to be beneficial for the Juniors. During the latest reserve match against the Kansas City Brass, six academy players played, and for Parry, it’s all about giving the younger players unique professional experiences.
“For the senior staff it’s great, because they can take a look at these kids,” he said. “The more experiences we can give those kids, the more comfortable they’re going to be … and our senior staff can see how those guys are with the [first-team] players.”
There’s a close dialogue between the academy coaches and Vermes, as well as the rest of the first team staff. The assistants pitch in with the academy on a rotational basis to help with training sessions, and there’s a constant line of communication.
All of this is done with one goal in mind: maintain the high level of development, and continue to search the area for the next Home Grown signing. If recent history is any suggestion, that next signing can’t be too far away.