During the long season of the USSF Development Academy, producing consistent results is a challenge. Teams must cope with other commitments, including high schools. But one club that has put together a good season is the Concorde Fire, who is contending to capture first place in the Southeast Division and a spot in the playoffs at both the U-16 and U-18s levels.
While Concorde hasn’t exactly been an MLS factory over the years – Chicago Fire midfielder Stephen Kinney is one of their most notable professional alumni – the club has grown, and their Development Academy team has become a pipeline for top Division 1 programs over the last half-decade.
Ten years ago, when the Atlanta youth soccer scene really started to blossom, so did the Fire, as director of coaching Gregg Blasingame explained.
“Nine, 10 years ago, [soccer in] Atlanta started to evolve into a professional-type atmosphere, where directors of coaching were hired and everything else. And when they started paying the coaching staff, they went from a volunteer-based to more of a professional type-based group.
“Things progressed from there. The competition got better, the coaching got better. The bar’s been raised much higher over a period of time and fortunately we were part of that.”
Now, Concorde has evolved into one of the premier destinations for elite young players in the region, this despite being on the small end of the scale – Blasingame estimated the club has around 1,500 players, boys and girls, from ages 8-18.
Blasingame was also enthusiastic in his praise for the Development Academy set-up they participate in.
“Probably one of the best changes in youth soccer at the elite level has been the Academy coming along and the [US Soccer] Federation taking a more active role in the curriculum,” he said. “The value of the games has gotten better. It also prepares players better.”
Results on the field in that league have been positive, and not just this year. Concorde’s U-18s won the Southeastern Conference in 2010 and also 2008.
Implementing a specific style of play in any youth setup has its share of difficulties. Blasingame said that they try and keep things in a 4-4-2, with each coach implementing a tweak or two at his or her discretion.
“As a club, we liked to play a 4-4-2 formation, but we want coaches to have a little bit of flexibility to play it the way that's best for them,” he said. “And on top of that, the players also dictate a little bit what style you’re going to play.”
But one thing he said the club likes to do is place an emphasis on developing a player’s technique from a younger age, so that they are ready and capable of picking up the tactical side at an earlier age.
“At the younger age group, we emphasize the technical side of the game much more than the tactical side. We build the foundation for them so that they thrive when they move on, and when the more tactical aspect of the game comes in, they can execute whatever’s being asked of them,” he said.
With the development of soccer in the area, there’s every chance more and more elite players will emerge from Georgia over the next few years.
“It’s come a long way in the 10 years that I’ve been involved as the director of the club,” Blasingame said. “Just everything – the competition, the players are getting so much better at a younger age, they’re technically just that much more advanced and you can get to the tactical aspects to the games quicker.”