Saturday, March 3, 2012

Developing Elite Level Players in a Small Club

As kids lay in bed at night, dreaming of becoming the next Messi, it never crosses their mind to consider where they live. Should it? So many players around the world have a dream to one day make it to the big time. These players sometimes fight despair, poverty, lack of parental support, and abysmal educational opportunities before reaching fame in soccer. Hopefully here in the U.S. we aren’t setting ourselves up for the demise by limiting a player’s progress through the ranks based on where they live.
Youth soccer has made tremendous progress in the past 12 years since I started coaching so long ago. The development of regional leagues, and now the USSF Development Academy and ECNL, has elevated youth soccer in this country in so many ways. Alarmingly though for some players who live more than an hour outside of a large metropolitan area it seems to be increasingly difficult to be identified by the many different identification processes now in place.

I am always happy though to find coaches at small clubs spread across the country that seem to find a way to not only develop Elite level teams but also elite level players. Teams from small clubs continually pop up at major events having great success. Players from these teams/clubs are often found on ODP rosters, at national team training centers, and at US Club id2 camps. A small club in Manhattan seems to have really honed in on what it takes to develop elite level players.

There is no secret ingredient or hidden pocket of exceptional athletes at this club. It is a focus on putting kids in the right environment giving them the right training. For kids who are serious enough to attempt becoming the best, finding this type of club is the most important step. It is a long journey but well worth it for those who can follow through. Below I have outlined some common characteristics that I have found through my dealings with youth soccer and small clubs that seem to get it right.

Characteristics of small clubs with big success in player development

Extreme Organization
These clubs and their staff tend to be very organized down to the last detail. From their training curriculum and schedules to team and player selection these clubs normally leave nothing to chance, as they know they can’t afford to lose players or one day of moving those players forward in their development.

Technique, Technique, Technique
The training focus for these clubs is almost always over the top on making their players technically excellent. The training curriculum is very focused and detailed based on the players age, level of play, and how to best move him/her forward as quickly as possible while also teaching them to enjoy and grow in the game.

Parent Education
Educating parents is always a key for these organizations. Making sure that parents understand the true road to player development is necessary. Without proper education many parents from these smaller metropolitan areas begin to look elsewhere even so far as several hours away to play on more competitive teams that WIN big events at earlier ages. Teaching parents to understand the pathway for player development and the path that their club has chosen takes time and repetition just like it does with the players.

Written Curriculum
These clubs almost always have some type of written curriculum that all of their teams/players/coaches follow throughout their career. In addition to the their curriculum they do a great job at focusing on the correct components of the game (Technical, tactical, physiological, and psychological) at the correct ages. Click here for US Soccer and Claudio Reyna’s new curriculum for youth soccer in the U.S.

Player Environment
Staff and coaches in these clubs always work tirelessly to insure that the best players and teams receive lots of challenges in both training and games. Younger players often train and play with older players. Multiple additional training opportunities are always available for all players to continue their development. Training, playing on your own and watching soccer is always stressed as one of the most important areas of improving as a player. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Small Club Big Results......

Manhatttan Kickers FC focuses on development

Article Written By J.R. Eskilson, ESNN
Sometimes, you hear an idea so simple, you are amazed no one has thought of it first.
That is the story of Manhattan Kickers FC's success.
It is a little club in a big city. With only 60 players currently at the club, it would not even register on a map for the most prominent youth soccer establishments in New York State.
But, MKFC has caught the eye of youth soccer observers recently because there is something weird going on there: it is actually producing players.  
Alumni like Max Brown and Alex Muyl, who were among the first players at the club, have gone on to bigger things after starting with the Kickers. Brown was reportedly sought by Manchester City, but denied the opportunity due to work visa problems.
boys club soccer manhattan kickers fcMuyl was one of the last players cut by Wilmer Cabrera from the U.S. U17 World Cup roster last summer. Both players now play with the New York Red Bulls Academy.
Other alumni have found success at European youth academies. Former players Mohammed Al-Khamees and Sal Esposito are highly thought of by their clubs Atletico Madrid and Genoa, respectively.
How could a club with no history, no marketing, and no publicity start churning out players better than most of the top U.S. youth clubs?
It is simple, the club decided to focus on player development between the ages of five to ten.
"We really don't think we are doing anything special,"Manhattan Kickers FC Director Evan Rosenthal told "We aren't reinventing the wheel."
Rosenthal and his older brother, Curt, began coaching in the club in 2003 and soon split off from the recreational program, which has been around since the 1980's.
Curt has moved down to Brazil and started coaching with the historic Flamengo Academy. Evan is still running MKFC, developing players, and coaching.
The younger Rosenthal brother seems genuinely as confused as many as to why other clubs have not approached player development in the same manner.
"The way our coaches look after the players is the only sort of difference I can tell," Rosenthal said as he tried to explain how his club has found success so quickly compared to other clubs. "We really care about our training and developing the players for the long-term."
Even though he continues to stress there is no magic to his practices, there are subtle disparities that appear to set his club apart from any other domestic youth program.
One of the little distinctions that Rosenthal recognized was the way his club specializes in these ages and focuses on that stage of the development.
"There isn't much knowledge carryover or institutional memory in youth soccer coaching," Rosenthal explained. "The typical youth soccer coach will move up with a team to another age group, but if you go to the best European or South American youth academies, you will find a guy who specializes in the young ages and remains there for years.
"We really understand what is needed at the young ages. That is what is lacking at other clubs, it is very rare to find an experienced coach who is working with the youngest kids."
Parents appear to take notice of that attribute, Sedat Gazko said his son played against MKFC at a tournament and he came away impressed by the way Rosenthal's team played.
Gazko called the club after the tournament and asked for a tryout for his son, Tarik. Rosenthal immediately accepted Tarik into the program and coached him for three years.
"It felt like a family," said Sedat. "Evan worked hard to develop players. He prepared the boys to play competitive soccer."
After Tarik graduated from MKFC, he had trials in the Netherlands, Brazil, and Spain. He spent a considerable amount of time with Atletico Madrid, but had to return to the States due to residency issues. He now plays with the New York Red Bulls Academy.
Tarik is a slight exception in joining the club when he was 9-years-old, most players join MKFC at an even younger age. The majority of the current U12 team has been at the club since they were seven.
Other parents have similar stories about how they heard about MKFC. DeWayne Martin said his son, Henry, was practicing at the same facility with another club when they saw the Kickers. Rosenthal said that Henry Martin's previous club had him on the "B or C" team, and did not see the potential.
"Evan, and the Kickers, did a great job teaching the boys the fundamentals along with a deep appreciation and love for the game," said DeWayne Martin. Henry Martin is now a regular in the U.S. youth national team program with the 1997 group and plays for New York Red Bulls.
Ryan Alexander knew about the Rosenthal brothers via his previous playing days. Alexander said that he played on a select team with Curt for many years in Cleveland. When he began searching for a competitive club for his son, he heard about Manhattan Kickers and the Rosenthal brothers through his parents.
"MKFC's understanding, dedication and patience with the youngest of players is truly remarkable," said Alexander. "[My son] Nolan is truly excited for each session whether it's entirely technical or the boys are playing in small-sided games."
Although there are not many spots at the club, it is not a very selective process. Rosenthal said they take pretty much anyone who shows up to some extent.  
"We look for players who come to practice every week and are serious about soccer," said Rosenthal. "Ideally from a soccer family, but that is not always the case. We aren't going to work with a kid who has other priorities and doesn't come to practice; it just isn't going to work out."
But he does have high expectations for the players, as he expects the foundation of a good player to be in place before any player graduates from MKFC after the U12 team.
"By 10 years old, a kid should have all the skills to be a good player," said Rosenthal. "If you look at a really good 10-year-old player in a top soccer nation, the way the he moves and his skills are similar to a professional player - he can juggle the ball 100 times, strike and receive the ball with both feet, and has plenty of ideas when he's on the ball."
Rosenthal's aspiration for his club's future is a little club in Argentina called Club Parque. He has never been to the club, but he knows the tales of the Buenos Aires youth futsal academy.
"At one point, there were six [Argentina] national team players from this club that only goes to U12," Rosenthal said about Club Parque. "Their club is sort of the ideal model that I would imagine for the Kickers."
Many may consider that an ambitious dream for the tiny club, yet ingenuity and ambition is what got the club here in the first place. 

Read more: Manhatttan Kickers FC focuses on development | Club Soccer News | Youth Soccer News 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - A (re)New(ed) Approach to American Soccer Development

A (re)New(ed) Approach to American Soccer Development

Thursday a couple weeks ago was a dreary night in Foxboro. As the sun came down, the temperature made its slow and steady descent below freezing. Rain fell in a continuous mist with sporadic periods of showers interspersed. To put it simply, if you had to brave the elements it was an evening to be thankful for Gore-Tex and a down jacket — two essentials I armed myself with in expectation of standing outside for a couple hours observing my first New England Revolution Youth Academy training session.
However, much to my delight, the teams —U16 and U18 — would be practicing in the Dana Farber Field House, an 80,000 square foot mega-tent that holds a full size NFL football field inside, right in the shadow of Gillette Stadium.
I guess sometimes it pays off to share the same owner as the mighty Pats (well not so mighty after Sunday’s Super Bowl).
As I entered through a side door, the session was already underway. The boys were going through a number of passing drills, four to a group, one player on each end and two in the middle. In a matter of seconds, a quick succession of passes had seen the ball zip from one footballer to the next.
Four players, four touches, one end to the other and not a wasted movement in any of it. Repeat, repeat and repeat again.
As someone who played soccer year round for the better part of my childhood and adolescence, it wasn’t a scene that was entirely foreign.
It was the pace, mood and length of duration in these drills that was different.
For anyone that’s played or observed their fair share of competitive youth soccer here in the United States, in the past, drills like the ones I witnessed  are usually a warm-up, an exercise to get the blood flowing that even the coach hardly bats an eye over. My teammates and I would occasionally use the time to joke and catch up. In other words, it was the time for us players to dog it.
However, these exercises served as the centerpiece for much of the Revolution’s training session. Like many exemplary European academies, the Revs’ youth squads seem to put a very high premium on touches on the ball. The more, the better. For what seemed to be about half the training session, the boys bludgeoned the ball back and forth as if on a string, the only sounds the spare, measured instructions of Coach Scales and Assistant Coach Gary Hall and the relentless thwack of boot meeting ball. It was not until the very end that the teams got the chance to play a full-size game.
Missy Wade, a communications coordinator for the Revolution, told me that most practices follow a similar format. With three sessions a week and the rare friendly before the season starts in March, the academy takes a quality andquantity approach: quantity in high-tempo, high-performance training and quality in the matches they play.
This seems to be in line with the U.S. Soccer Federation’s outline for producing technically proficient players.
D.C. United President and CEO Kevin Payne, who studied player development in other countries at the behest of the USSF, had this to say to ESPN a few years ago: “I think the biggest thing we found, something that was very consistent [across countries], was that we had the ratio of training time to game time exactly reversed. In those countries that are so good at developing great players, for every hour of playing time, they sometimes have five or more hours of training time. We were doing the opposite.”
That frequency of training means a substantial time commitment for players, with some commuting from as far as Hooksett and Manchester in New Hampshire, about 75 miles north of Gillette Stadium. Yet it’s an opportunity few would pass up. Wade informed me that the academy is the only youth soccer program in New England to foot the bill for all of their player’s soccer-related expenses, including equipment, uniforms and travel. This is a strange concept to just about anyone who has played youth sports in the United States, where pay-to-play is the norm.
This largely accepted, and curiously American concept led me to think of how many youth prospects fall through the cracks in a system where a player’s family is saddled with the burden of payment. I once played for a competitive soccer club growing up in Oregon where one of our best players was a recent immigrant from Mexico. Still trying to get the hang of english, his family impossibly poor, for him playing soccer for a team was an indulgence, a privilege. Had the club not made an exception and our parents not helped out, an extremely talented player like that would have remained off the radar. 
The Revs, and many MLS acadmeies, again take their cue from Europe, where clubs identify skilled players at a young age and invest in them. The few gems that surface from the spartan selection process then join the first team or are sold to other clubs for millions of dollars/euros/pounds/insert currency here. In the U.S. though, this endgame is years down the road. The USSF is betting the emerging Development Academy system will be a success, much like the academy heads who fund the footballing education of young wards at an Ajax or a West Ham United.
Many Americans have said this sort of system is exploitive and turns kids into nothing more than ball-booting, slide-tackling automatons. And in many parts of the world, maybe there is truth in that to some degree, but it’s also a system that is honest about its intentions — something that can’t always be said about profess…ahem amateur sports leagues that hide behind the facade of education and call their objectives honorable.
Yet I’d argue that ‘honorable’ is exactly what the Development Academy system is at this point. Reaping no real financial rewards and the path from youth prospect to professional yet to be homogenized, the benefits seem to go right to the players.
And though the boys I watched played with a focus and precision that belied their adolescence, they weren’t robots at all. They played with too much passion to be confused with the likes of that.

Academy changes are all about training

Article Written By Travis Clark, ESNN
Last week, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced plans to shift the Development Academy schedule to a ten-month schedule starting in the fall of 2012.

As the never-ending quest for improving youth development in the United States continues, the change to a new calendar has a strong central focus - increasing the number of training sessions throughout a year, which in turn will ideally create a higher caliber player.

"That's what we really want to emphasize, that there will now be more time for training sessions," U.S. Soccer Technical Director Claudio Reyna told reporters in a conference call. "I think it's hard to argue that's not important for players at this age to make sure they understand the value of training."

Taking that step could alienate some, as the ten-month requirement means no high school soccer for some of the best of the best.

claudio reyna
Claudio Reyna
 But, as Reyna points out, that stipulation may only impact one percent of those playing boys high school soccer, and the decision was made with a majority of Development Academy clubs advocating it.

"The support of our clubs was huge throughout this process of going ten months and following it," he said. "It was a lot to do with them and what we heard in terms of an overwhelming amount of [clubs] having the players with them more often and going to a ten-month season."

In a way, the move is similar to what the U.S. men's senior national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann is trying to do with his players.

While a discussed schedule change was already in the works before the German was appointed head coach last summer, since Klinsmann took the reins of the national team, he's preached the need of how important training is in a player's development, exactly what Reyna hopes to pull off with this schedule change.

"At the senior level, he's been pretty strong and adamant about the importance of training regarding a professional player," Reyna said of Klinsmann. "In a few different ways he wants to keep the players training and developing, highlighting some of the younger players, the Brek Sheas, the [Juan] Agudelos to get them training offseason.

"[It's] nothing that hasn't been done before, but he's been adamant about that, the training that they've done out in Arizona, I think represents the same focus - that we need to train more and better. He's clearly seeing it more from an elite level, a professional level, we're sort of in the same way supporting that in a youth level in these age groups that become critical in their development."

At this stage in the switch, there is plenty of work ahead, as U.S. Soccer and the 78 Development Academy sides try to come up with a schedule for the 2012-13 schedule.

One of the keys to that will be to determine how a team fills out its schedule, dependent of course, on where the club lies within the country and what kind of winter weather it might face.

While it's too early in the process to know how those schedules will function - teams in Southern California and Texas already experimented with the ten-month schedule - Reyna speculated a little bit as to what a schedule might look like.

"Many of them will have non-competitive periods where they'll be training a little bit more, and if they can schedule a game, which for some of them will be a showcase event that we do in the winter months, and then they can layer in games however they can during that period," he said.

The challenges that lie ahead over the coming months are many as U.S. Soccer implements these changes. But as they try to set a new course, the belief is clear - that higher-level training sessions, conducted with greater frequency, will continue to move U.S. player development in the right direction.

Read more: Academy changes are all about training | Club Soccer Players To Watch(TM) | College Soccer Recruiting News 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Big Club or Small Club - Which is better in competitive youth soccer?

With youth soccer continuing to grow rapidly in the U.S. there seems to be a competitive club in every town, no matter how big or small. Depending on the size of the town it could be a club comprised of only several competitive teams or in the case of a huge metropolitan area, like Atlanta, there can be numerous clubs all fielding teams from thousands of participants.

Each club in any area brings its own unique advantages and problems. Having worked in several different clubs at both of these levels there are numerous advantages and disadvantages to each situation. The key for any parent is finding the right fit for his or her son or daughter and sticking with it over time. No matter how green the grass is on the other side, most will agree moving from one club to another will only stalemate a player's development. Each town, suburb, or big city normally has several options for players. Doing the research on which club has the best plan and recognition for developing not only teams but also high-level players is imperative for any parent.

The advantages and disadvantages listed below are generalities that I have found working in both environments. There are both big and small clubs that do a great job in some areas and a poor job in other areas. 

Big Club 1500 + Players
-More qualified staff to support all aspects of both team and club functions for the highest level teams
-Normally more highly qualified directors for multiple programs (Girls, boys, select, academy, junior academy, recreation, etc)
-Multiple teams in every age group producing competitive environment for players to get on top level teams and
-Multiple teams alleviate problems of attrition (although not solving it) by the large number of players that can be added in at the later stages of team development
-Name recognition for entry into high-level tournaments
-Possible high-level local tournament eliminating travel 

-Disconnect between A level teams and lower level 2nd tier teams with different coaches, training styles/philosophies, and the parent support system 
-Disconnect between personal knowledge of ALL players in club/Impossible to keep track and know every family/player
-Quantity vs. Quality - Dependence of large # of players in any given pool to compete at the most competitive level. 
-# of coaches/staff needed to coach all competitive level teams/Difficult to fill every team with a highly qualified coach
-Difficulty managing all levels of the club without multiple directors in charge of different programs 
-Much more difficult to create and integrate a consistent style of play, philosophy, and curriculum for player/team development across the whole club
-Less attention to 2nd tier or fringe players because of large #'s in club/age group

Small Club 1000 Players or less
- Possible for directors/leadership to have personal knowledge of families/players/coaches
-Much easier to create and integrate a consistent style of play, philosophy, and curriculum for player/team development across the whole club
-Quantity vs. Quality - Fewer players in every age group creates need for more quality training for every player including 2nd tier players
-More attention to 2nd tier/fringe players and retention of these players - these players are imperative for team success at older age groups 
-Easier to create family atmosphere within club 
-Easier to manage all programs of the club with fewer players

-Less Name recognition when trying to gain entry into high-level tournaments. 
-Possibly no high level local tournament creating more travel (dependent on location)
-Directors/leadership responsible for multiple areas of programming, administration and coaching. This leads to less time for each area in some instances. 
-Fewer players in each age group
·      creates less longevity for each age group
·      causes addition of lesser players later in the team development
·      creates combination of age groups to hold teams together at older age groups

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Georgia Kid at West Ham..

Article written by Robert Ziegler, ESNN
Reprinted with permission from

When Steve and Anne Johnson preside over their quartet of sons at Christmas dinner in their Duluth, GA home, it will be as happy and typical as any other occasion.

It's after the holiday season where the unique quality of the family situation kicks in. The Johnsons' son Daniel is an exceptional case in the context of American elite youth soccer. It's not that his dreams are so different from those of many other young men playing the beautiful game, but rather how vigorously he has, with his parents' help of course, pursued them.
DJ with his parents Steve and Anne.
Daniel, 16, is in the middle of his 3rd season with the youth side of English club West Ham United. He will learn in the coming year whether he is being signed on as a U18 "scholar" player with the club (the final step before the professional reserves and first team side of the London club). Regardless of whether that ultimate dream is realized, Daniel has been on a rather extraordinary journey. Both the details of it and the attitude which he and his parents have developed in the process are part of a story worth telling.

While his brothers (Zack-21, Nick,-18, and Drew-13) continue their educational and athletic pursuits back home, Daniel's route has been far more cosmopolitan. He was a precocious player who showed a tremendous enthusiasm for the game at an early age. Anne Johnson explains how things changed.

"His oldest brother Zack played for the Norcross Fury Gold and so Dan was dragged to games when he was younger. You know how it can be for the younger siblings, so we just said 'Here's a ball, go over there and kick it around,'" she explained. "Well around the time he was 7 or 8, he was just doing circles around the other kids. He had an affinity for the ball. He loved to dribble and he always had a ball in the house or in the backyard. We had him in other sports and he would do his requisite season in those and then just tell us 'Nah, I don't like that sport. I want to do soccer.' My husband played baseball in college and he wanted him to do that, but Daniel just said 'I don't like baseball. I like soccer.'"

Anne explained that while she had some exposure to the game growing up in Africa (child of a foreign service professional), neither she nor her husband had any understanding of the American competitive or player development scene. Daniel continued to progress in part through extra training at an area indoor facility and through coaches like Tony Annan at Norcross and Forsyth Fusion director Kerem Dasar. She mentions Casar passing on one particularly helpful point of advice.

DJ after a West Ham youth game.
"He told Daniel he would hear parents on the sidelines screaming things like 'Pass the ball.' But he said 'Don't listen to them. I want you to take on players. If you can take on the entire team, I want you to do it.' It was the right idea for him at that time (U11). It's not that you would do this at U15, but it turned out to be astute advice. He let Daniel be Daniel and the little guy was able to go a little freestyle and have fun on the pitch."

Around this time, Daniel, a 1995 birth year player, made the Georgia ODP '94 team in the age group's first year. As a result he went to the U.S. Youth Soccer Region III ODP camp in Mississippi, which began to open up a new world in terms of his possibilities.

"That's when we started to get the idea that maybe Daniel really is good at this sport," she said. "So my husband is in Mississippi and he calls to say Daniel made a pool game. I asked what that meant and he said he didn't know, but then he made another pool game."

What it meant is that despite playing a year up, Daniel was selected to be on the Region III team and traveled to Disney's Wide World of Sports where he played in the ODP Interregional, despite giving up a considerable amount of size to his teammates and opponents.

As Daniel continued catching eyes in the soccer marketplace, he had what turned out to be a life-changing opportunity to go on a soccer trip to England with some Atlanta-area players including an older brother. The Johnsons made it a family trip and Daniel was allowed to train with coaches of English clubs like West Ham and Tottenham.

Two things happened in conjunction with this: The coaches overseas were noticing the younger player's ability and Daniel was taking a real liking to the soccer-rich environment he was in, His mother remembers him saying it was like he had "come home." As Daniel recalls, it was love at first sight.

"All the people there are football fans. Everyone is football oriented. When I was little, that's what I was all about," he said. I just wanted to watch the (English) premier league. I didn't have anybody at school to talk to about a match I played in or saw at the weekend. When I come to school now, that's what everybody is talking about."

After being noticed on this trip, a trial the following spring, April 2008, was arranged. He did well enough to be invited back for another couple of sessions, including a trip to France with the West Ham U14s. By summer 2009 the West Ham youth coaches told the Johnsons they wanted him in the youth academy full time. The then 13-year old Daniel was able to make the move because his father's company included a branch in the United Kingdom, qualifying him for a work visa. Daniel enrolled in boarding school and is now in his third year of school and playing with what is now the West Ham U16s.

DJ in front of Selfridges Department store in Central London.
While the past 2 ½ years has featured some ups and downs, after all the whole process of the British youth system involves players regularly proving their worth and passing tests of various natures to determine their suitability as candidates for professional soccer, Daniel speaks very positively about his life in London.

He lives in a boarding house associated with his school. School lasts from approximately 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. After about 45 minutes for eating and preparing to train he is transported to the training ground for 1-2 hours of practice depending on the day of the week. Some days also involve time in the gym, and Thursday brings a whole day of on-field, technical, classroom and gym training.

Match days are Saturday and free time from soccer (as if) comes on Sundays and Mondays. Daniel's team plays in a Southeast England league against Premiership teams like Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Fulham (he recently played central midfield in a match against Dallas-area product Emerson Hyndman, who is with the Fulham youth setup).

Daniel admits it took some time to adjust to playing English soccer, but is very positive about his experience thus far.

"The most notable thing is the intensity, passion and quickness of the game," he said. "All the kids want to be there and become a professional. That's what they want to do. The club always tells us, 'It's not practice makes perfect, it's practice makes permanent. The way you train is the way you'll be in the match.' So every kid takes the training sessions very seriously. They get the most out of you."

"The quickness and intensity alone can be a great shock to some of the American kids who come over on trial. A lot of times I see that the game just passes them by."

Daniel said the learning in this environment never stops.

"From a tactical standpoint, it took me a while to get better awareness of playing 1-2 touch and having my head on a swivel to know where everybody is on the pitch," he said. "I'm still getting that awareness. The whole U14 season I was working on checking my shoulder when I received a pass. I kind of knew to do that before, and I'm still not the best at it, but I'm definitely more aware.

"West Ham encourages a lot of technical ability," he continued. " Every Wednesday we have a 30-minute technical session in the warmup, working on agility with cones and all that. They always say they don't want to discourage me from dribbling, but for me to do it in the right areas. In the middle of park, they want me to keep moving the ball and get the attack started, but in the final third, if I see an opportunity with the defenders, to try and create something. "

School in the UK brings another variety of challenges.

"I wouldn't say I find it more difficult, just much different," he said. "The style with which they teach and the manners are differernt. The teachers talk and teach here, but not as much. They write a lot of notes and you copy them down you study and learn more on you own. There is more emphasis on the exams and how you do on those determines if you move on (to higher grades and levels).

Daniel added that if he is signed as a scholar he would do his additional schooling with the club as his soccer training would then take priority in the schedule.

As far as settling in with English life, Daniel feels he has largely done it.

"There haven't been any kids who single me out because I'm an American," he said. "Obviously you get the odd joke, but I can give one back. The only place I really see where being an American affects me is if I play football for my school. Some kids will hear my accent and sometimes I get comments. You can tell they don't like being beaten or shown up by an American in a sport that's supposed to be their sport.

Anne Johnson said she and her husband have tried to soften the transition and also take advantage of the cultural opportunities available to Daniel; visiting him during school breaks and taking in shows, museums and other cultural events. She added that the family is feeling positive about his opportunities to be signed, but are taking nothing for granted as coaches do not generally communicate with players' families beyond the absolute essentials.

"Things look good, but we know it's professional sports," she said. "They want to make sure their players are mentally strong and able to handle things professional athletes have to deal with. It's a lot of pressure for a 16-year old, but that's the nature of the beast for the kids who love it so well they want to do this."

While Steve Johnson's work visa enables Daniel to be a youth player, the family and club will still have to sort out tight British work permit rules should the chance come to sign as a full professional, but for now they'll leave that one to the attorneys.

For Daniel, perspective is a must, but he makes no secret of his goals.

"If it doesn't work it will still have been a great experience," he said. "I've learned so much, so coming back it will benefit my play, but the goal is definitely to stay."