If you haven’t been paying attention to the youth movement taking root across MLS, Audi and Bleacher Report are leading you into the heart of it with a “Hard Knocks”-style documentary.
Audi, along with Major League Soccer, is releasing a five-part, all-access documentary series, "The Academy," featuring Sporting Kansas City’s youth teams.
Episode No. 2 recently dropped as SKC players return to training and fight for places. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to be away from the training ground, competition remains fierce as ever.
Audi Goals Drive Progress, a program funded by Audi, allows MLS academies to support youth players by removing barriers that would otherwise impede success, such as limited access to transportation and housing. These funds also support players’ educations to ensure their success off the field.
“It's a very clear setup of going from the academy through the process, and this certainly came through in speaking with both the players and the coaches, that the process of going through the academy is built so that when you get an opportunity with the first team, you're prepared for what's about to come,” Bleacher Report’s Mark Bollons told MLSsoccer.com.
“One of the things they said, which I think is probably quite important to say as well, is that it's important they become the best version they can be of themselves, because Sporting KC, and any good academy, really, should be aware of the fact that a lot of the players aren't necessarily going to make it at that level.”
The show places one of the league’s most progressive player development systems in the spotlight and underlines the human element of that process in moving fashion. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the simple fact that it’s happening at all is a triumph unto itself.
“The Academy” introduces us to Sporting youth players Gage Akalu, Nati Clarke, Osvaldo Cisneros and Jake Davis, sketching out their backstories and following their day-to-day routine, which became a Zoom-centric existence as coronavirus imposed social distancing and limits on outdoor activities. Sporting manager and technical director Peter Vermes, charismatic academy coach Rumbani Munthali and Homegrown midfielder Gianluca Busio also feature heavily.
The original plan was to take viewers behind the scenes in immersive fashion with Sporting’s team at this year’s Generation adidas Cup. The pandemic canceled that event, however, and forced B/R’s crew to rely on b-roll and other video provided by Sporting, in addition to video chats with the protagonists for episode one. It was hardly an optimal situation, yet in the end became a timely snapshot of the crisis’ far-reaching and destabilizing effects.
“When we first said let's do it, let's try and make episode one during the pandemic with using zoom calls and footage that they’ve already got, there was a little bit of nerves about how it would actually come out and what it would look like,” explained Bollons. “But we are really happy with how it's turned out. So we’re very excited to see it go live tomorrow.”
B/R’s film crew planned to visit Kansas City later this year to shoot on location under COVID safety precautions, with a specific focus on the difficult career and life decisions that often await academy players at season’s end.
“The logical next step of it is that we capture that. Now obviously there are difficulties to doing that,” said Bollons. “But realistically, to be true to what we're trying to do in the series, I think we do need to do that.”
“The Academy“ debuted across B/R Football's channels on Wednesday, August 19. You can watch every episode as soon as they are live by visiting Bleacher Report.