Syracuse draws from Empire United Development Academy to build program

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first_imgWhen Adnan Bakalovic checked into the third game of the season in the 27th minute against Colgate on Sept. 1st, he got an unusually loud round of applause. A lot of the noise came from a large group of teenagers in attendance all wearing similar black hooded sweatshirts with the same logo on them.The teenagers were all part of the Empire United Development Academy, one of the members of the United States Soccer Development Academy system. Empire United has always pulled kids from three major upstate New York cities: Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. In the last two years, it’s started pulling kids from Niagara, Canada, as well.Bakalovic and SU captain Liam Callahan are two players on this year’s Syracuse team who played for Empire United. Former Syracuse goalkeeper Alex Bono, who helped lead SU to its first ever No. 1 ranking and also became the first Orange player to leave school early for the MLS, also honed his skills at Empire.There’s are already two seniors at Empire, Lukas Rubio and Matthew Pickard, who’ve committed to play for Syracuse next year. SU associate head coach Jukka Masalin coaches at Syracuse Development Academy, a club team that sends some players to Empire, and has coached irregularly at EU.The Orange has taken advantage of the premier development academy, getting more exposure to the best local talent and keeping the best players at home.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“Syracuse has been pretty open with us,” Paul Valenti, U-16 boys head coach said, “saying that they want to get the best player every year from Western New York from the academy to come to Syracuse.”In 2007, the United States Soccer Federation created the Development Academy system in an effort to change the way youth soccer players improve their games. Valenti added that it was mostly to strengthen the U.S. National Team, but it has had a domino effect in boosting the competition from the youth leagues all the way to the collegiate game.There are four separate clubs in the four cities, and the best players from those clubs feed into EU, which currently has a U-14, U-16 and U-18 boys team. U.S. Soccer has authorized a Girls’ Development Academy, which will start next fall. Empire United was chosen as one of the 74 different academies to pioneer the expansion.“It’s the best training environment for our young players coming through,” SU head coach Ian McIntyre said of the academies.There are two showcases throughout the season. Nearly every collegiate soccer head coach, throughout each division, shows up to recruit players there, Valenti said. For SU, though, recruiting from Empire was easier because of its proximity and the Masalin connection.The Development Academy system slightly mirrors the youth training programs over in Europe, and Masalin, who played professionally overseas, stressed that it’s helped the level of play improve.The first time Bakalovic met Masalin was at SDA. The sophomore forward says the quality of practices under Masalin was much higher than anything he’d previously experienced.“He took me from the transition from the academy to here,” Bakalovic said. “It was all through him. It was great.”Both Masalin and McIntyre stressed that it’s important to keep the top local talent in the area and bring them to SU. With the recent success the program has had, including making its first ever College Cup last year and being ranked inside the Top 10 throughout the entire regular season this year, it’s become an attractive destination.“I think, across the board, everybody wants to play for Syracuse University if you’re around this area,” Masalin said. “It’s attractive … we have the best team in this neck of the woods.”That theory seems to have been validated this year too. Rubio, this year’s captain for Empire United, committed to SU just two weeks after he was offered around March, and agreed that most of the high-level players at Empire want to play for the Orange.Courtesy of Lukas RubioBefore any of these kids, including Rubio, play at the collegiate level they have to make tough decisions in order to play at Empire United.Players spend increased time practicing and traveling, following a three-practice-per-week schedule while playing games on the weekend. The practices were located at Empire’s head facilities in Rochester. For Syracuse natives, that meant making the roughly 90-mile trip consistently to practice.In 2012, U.S. Soccer changed the length of the Development Academy season from eight months to 10 months (instead of running from November to June, it would run from September through June). With that change, a rule was also implemented that prohibited academy players from playing for their high school teams.It cost Bakalovic the last three years of his high school soccer career, and he called it a hard decision. Rubio, who played his first year at high school and at a local club before joining Empire, agreed, but said he had no regrets about the switch over to Empire.“It’s night and day,” Rubio said. “Club soccer, I’m playing against decent players who possibly, most likely won’t go to play college soccer … the competition is probably the biggest difference between club and academy.”The change didn’t affect Callahan because he was out of high school by the time that rule was put into effect. He played for Sweet Home High School near Buffalo and for Empire throughout his four years. He said that while he enjoyed his time in high school, he does think the rule is smart.The landscape for youth soccer is changing. Everyone involved with Empire agreed that the percentage of collegiate players who attend a development academy would continue to increase.Right now, and in the future, Syracuse plans to keep recruiting heavily from the Empire United player pool. It’s become the best place to find the most talented players.“I think it’s pure and simple right now, and I’ve said it to every parent, people that I talk to,” Masalin said. “It’s clearly the best youth league in America right now.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on November 1, 2016 at 12:37 am Contact Tomer: [email protected] | @tomer_langerlast_img

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