Steven Emory, Colorado Rapids

Rapids building prominent youth program

In the same manner the Colorado Rapids won the 2010 MLS Cup, the organization is quietly and efficiently building a top notch youth program in the Denver suburbs.

The program began back in 2007, the same year Dick’s Sporting Goods Park opened in Commerce City, Colo. It first started as two Super Y teams, and nothing more than that.

But a few weeks later, the US Soccer Federation announced plans for the Development Academy League. At the time, then-recently hired Brian Crookham, now the team’s director of academy operations, felt it was something the team should be a part of and forced a quick change of direction.

“Our course changed pretty quickly after I’d been here about a month,” he told over the phone. “We then evolved [the program] into those two Development Academy teams that competed the first year in the Academy.”

So the Rapids set up those two teams to play in the Development Academy and began building a youth pyramid – but in reverse order. Already with the U-16 and U-18 teams required to take part in the Academy leagues, the program soon started reaching lower age groups, and has grown tremendously ever since.

The Rapids operate teams from ages U-11 through U-18 in Colorado state leagues at the training fields at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, and even started their first girls’ teams this past year. They’ve also set up a U-10 training program for young players in search of more intense training sessions.

“What we’ve tried to do is provide a very technically based training system to get those kids some supplemental training,” Crookham said. “It’s not limited to any specific club; players come in from all areas.”

Some of the players who attend those training sessions come from area soccer clubs with which the Rapids have formed alliances – the Colorado Storm, Fusion and Colorado EDGE Youth Soccer Club – as well as a team in Las Vegas. In all, Crookham said the team impacts 14,500 players across the country.

The benefits of the Academy paid off the past year as the club inked Davy Armstrong and former Rapids Academy player Steven Emory to Home Grown deals. To go with that, Academy players Oscar Montez, Ricardo Perez and James Rogers all played in Colorado’s reserve match last weekend, and U-16 Academy player Dillon Serna is a regular in the US U-17 squad.

Because of the facilities near DSG Park, several teams across a variety of age groups can all train simultaneously, giving the coaching staff tremendous flexibility when it comes to improving the development of individual players.

“What that allows us to do is every player can be in the right environment each night,” he said. “So if we need to expose a player to a particular type of training or a particular age group where they need to move up and be challenged a bit more, we have the ability to do that on a nightly basis.”

Crookham said the day-to-day challenge for the coaching staff is to find ways to push players to get the most out of their soccer-playing abilities.

“We want to provide a path where [players] are able to maximize their experience, and really the only limiting factors for them is their motivation and their ability.”

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