When it comes to developing soccer players, Baltimore, Md. has been something of a sleeper in helping produce some of the best and brightest.
But one youth club has stoked soccer in that region – the Baltimore Bays.
Best known for the youth club of D.C. United’s Santino Quaranta, the club has reached new heights and is currently one of the 74 teams competing in the USSF Development Academy at the U-16 and U-18 level.
“Our overall vision is to develop soccer players both on and off the field,” Baltimore Bays president and Academy assistant coach Kevin Healey told MLSsoccer.com. “I’m very proud of how the kids, boys and girls, handle themselves [there].”
With around 700 players ranging from ages 9-18, the Bays are hardly the biggest club on the youth soccer scene. But they’ve managed to establish themselves as one of the premier clubs in Maryland.
This is cemented by their inclusion and success in the Development Academy.
“The Academy’s something you should be proud that you’re in and proud how you represent yourself in,” he said.
The two most recent Bays players who have reached the MLS ranks are Portland Timbers defender Rodney Wallace and LA Galaxy rising star AJ DeLaGarza, who trained with the US national team during Bob Bradley’s January camp.
And former Virginia collegiate standout and Bays alum Chris Agorsor is on his way to MLS as well, via a weighted lottery held on Monday.
A coaching and development partnership with Chelsea FC is another peculiar aspect of the club. First started back in December 2008, the agreement is one designed to improve Baltimore’s coaches and players.
Chelsea sends their Academy coaches to the US to help run camps in the summer and hold coach-instructing clinics.
Chelsea also improve their brand identity through the relationship, as the Development Academy teams wear the same jerseys that the Premier League club does, and each jersey on the Bays has Chelsea’s badge.
Officially, the club’s Development Academy is referred to as Baltimore Bays Chelsea.
The overall experience working with the London-based club has been a positive one for Healey.
“We’re really proud with our relationship with them, and it really is a true partnership,” Healey said. “They also help us raise money that helps reduce money for the cost of soccer for our kids.”
One of the biggest challenges for any youth club in the United States is the interaction with high school soccer teams in the area. For the Bays, the academy-high school dynamic is a positive one, with both systems effective in developing players.
“It’s my firm belief that while high school soccer’s not the same level as Academy Club soccer, there are some elements you can get out of high school soccer that are very important,” Healey said.
Currently, the U-16 and U-18 Academy sides are on a winter break and will begin the heart of their 2011 schedule on March 12, aiming to top the USSFDA Atlantic Division for the second year in a row.