The most renowned club in the United States is finally taking a big step into modern US soccer. The New York Cosmos has inspired a generation of American soccer players, but has never produced a player of its own. For nearly 40 years the club was built on bringing in international stars starting with Pele, but the club’s most recent legendary signing, Raul, brings more than the promise of on the field glory. With his arrival comes more significant news, the creation of a youth academy which he will advise.
The Cosmos academy is in its infancy stage. The club is planning to open centers in Long Island and Brooklyn to serve and siphon off the talent pool from the large New York City suburb and the City’s most populous borough.
The youth program has a face, a 38-year old Real Madrid and Spanish legend, and a director, a veteran of three decades of youth coaching in Long Island. The club, which is only beginning its second full North American Soccer League campaign, is still attempting to present an aria of being one of the premier clubs in North America as it negotiates with local politicians and maneuvers through state and county bureaucracies in their process to put down structural roots in the area. The club’s ownership has done its best to finance what they can control, roster and staffing, while working to open their own stadium and training grounds.
This move is not the first attempt by the Cosmos to have a youth academy. The club partnered with Blau Weiss Gottschee in Queens and Los Angeles Futbol Club to start Cosmos Academy East and West, respectively, before the first team began play in 2012. The partners with both academies quickly dissolved within two years. The new venture is following a structure similar to what Major League Soccer has in place.
This plan by the Cosmos is focused on reaching out to area youth through clinics and camps which Director of Training and Development Program John Fitzgerald refers to as the foundation of the future academy. Fitzgerald was announced as the Cosmos Training and Development Program (TDP) Director in June of 2014 and came on fulltime on the first of September. Additionally, the Cosmos run the training for Rivertown United Youth Organization in Westchester. Ultimately, the mission is to have an academy to first team.
“We are looking to have a direct connect between the youth program, our TDP, and the professional team,” said Fitzgerald. “We envision once we get the academy fully up and running that there’s constant dialogue, constant checking on the status of the players that we are bringing in.”
New York would be one of the few NASL clubs operating their own youth academies. Clinics, camps and affiliated youth clubs are the norm for NASL teams, but operating their own US Soccer Federation (USSF) Development Academy would give them an advantage over the long-term. Only the current NASL Soccer Bowl Champions San Antonia Scorpions run a USSF academy. Both Canadian clubs, FC Edmonton and Ottawa Fury FC, have youth academies as well. On the business side of the club, that will give the Cosmos an opportunity to eventually become a seller rather than the league’s biggest buyer.
Before the club can officially launch their academy, it is waiting on the approval from the USSF. If approved they would be only the second USSF academy on Long Island, the other being Albertson SC, and the only one in Brooklyn. In all four counties that make up Long Island that is more than 1.7 million children under the age of 18 according to 2013 U.S. Census figures.
“Long Island Junior Soccer League is one of the largest youth leagues in the country. Just because of the geographical set up of Long Island. It has about a hundred member clubs,” said Fitzgerald, who also serves as Director of Coaching Education for the soccer league. “There is upwards of almost 100,000 kids on Long Island, not per se in Long Island Junior, but playing in Long Island.”
Fitzgerald’s hiring as the director of the TDP signals the club’s commitment to the region. Over his 28-years of youth and professional coaching experience he did two stints with the Long Island Lady Rough Riders of the USL W-League as head coach and 17-years as a coach with the US Merchant Marine Academy’s Division III men’s program as an associate head coach. As the Director of Coaching Education for the Long Island Jr. Soccer League Coaching Academy he is tapped into a number of area youth clubs. The Cosmos which had clinics for coaches during its first iteration will continue to do so to improve player development in the earliest stages before they would reach the academy. Fitzgerald sees it as a way to instill youth players with the “Cosmos Way.” Fitzgerald admits the Cosmos Way is simply the winning way, but he is open to first the few crops of players to help define the club’s play in the future.
Sporting Director and Head Coach Giovanni Savarese is involved in the academy planning and direction. Fitzgerald, however, will be implementing the clubs vision and figuring out the how-to. In the press release announcing the hiring, Savarese said of Fitzgerald, “He’ll help set the academy training curriculum, structure and establish our player development pyramid.”
Fitzgerald describing the relation between Director of TDP and the Sporting Director, “We have an open relationship in terms of communicating about what we think we need to do. Where we are going to go, but we’re also flexible in changing that until we find the structure and the niche we are totally comfortable with.”
Of course, what people want to know is what Raul’s role will be with the academy. In the press conference announcing Raul’s signing, he made clear his commitment to his role in the academy as a special advisor post playing career, “I will try to play those two years, but it might be one, maybe two, maybe even three years. If the body says this is it in six months, I will be more involved in the academy.”
Fitzgerald believes not just Raul’s experience as a world class player developed through the academies at both Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid, but as a parent will be a priceless asset to the club. “He has a tremendous amount of experience not only as a professional players but working with other academies,” said Fitzgerald. “Having children himself, he looks at it through the eyes of the parents and realistic expectations as a professional and as a parent.”
Even before the official announcement of Raul a buzz was building around the academy. Calls from parents increased immediately, which is good for business both on and off the field. In no time, the Cosmos will be developing professional players rather than just inspiring them.