Last August I conducted an email interview with then-Director of Youth Development Karl Edmonds with the intention of posting it on one of the many mediums I was writing for at the time. Either that or trying to sell it to a paying publication, but that was more of a pipe dream, to be honest.
Due to several factors, I never ended up publishing the interview or cutting it into a relevant article. Now that I’m running the space here, I figure this is the perfect time to finally give this piece the light of day.
Some of you may already know that Karl left the position months ago and has been replaced by Bryan Scales, but a lot of the information here is still pertinent. It’s especially interesting to note how high Karl was on Diego Fagundez a few months before his signing was announced – obviously the organization has had their eye on this kid for a long time.
See the full Q&A after the jump.
Steve: How would you describe your experience with the Revs youth system so far?
Karl: I have thoroughly enjoyed the year. I have been able to focus on players, and games and everything that goes into the teams. In September and October I was fortunate to have some time to prepare for the season and organize everything. By the time we traveled to our first event in December 09 I was very familiar with the players, had meet all of the parents and was able to lay out strict guideline to both players and parents on how the youth teams would operate during the season. I think doing this laid the ground work for the year as we had no off the field issues to contend with and was able to focus on the players. Working with the players all year was great, we certainly had some ups and downs but that is all part of a season.....so all in all the first year was good.
Steve: How can you compare your experience with Seacoast United to the last year with New England? Are there any parallels? Major challenges?
Karl: I think the main comparison is with the Revs I am able to focus on players and not so much administration. Although I was involved with the admin side of things this year, I had Deven Apajee my assistant coach also working in this area. Plus having just two teams and all of the other support programs I was able to focus solely on coaching and players. Seacoast is a great organization and looks to help players of all abilities and all ages. Therefore, the logistics that go along with running a club like this run far deeper and there is more to organize. Plus Seacoast operates an indoor and outdoor facility which in itself is a lot of work. Being with the Revs I have had the opportunity to be on the field more working with the players, learning from other coaches and this has been most enjoyable.
Steve: Are the Revs doing anything to promote and improve youth coaching in New England as a whole, either at different age groups or at organizations outside the Academy?
Karl: Yes there is another part of the organization that adheres to improving youth soccer in the area. 'Academy' training sessions are set up in Mass, RI and NH and run throughout the year. The aforementioned Deven Apajee is responsible for this part of the organization.
Steve: What are you and the Revs doing to appeal to the youth in NE on an ongoing basis? How aggressively do you market the Academy is a preferred option for development, and what are you and the Revolution doing to connect these youngsters to the organization and to MLS as a whole?
Karl: People must remember that the Academy League is designed for the elite player. A player that demonstrates commitment to the game, a player that focuses on soccer as his premier sport, is prepared to train at least three times per week, a player that is conscientious enough to maintain a high level of academics and a player that is highly motivated. Therefore, in terms of marketing I feel the general soccer community knows that to play in this league these traits are a must......and players that fit do gravitate to the club. I also have a responsibility to see kids and watch games especially in the fall. I am always on the lookout for players, and when I get a player recommended I go and see them play, or one of the other staff coaches will go to the game. I get recommendations all of the time.
Steve: The Revs academy had to be started from scratch and a lot of the original players had to be pulled and cherry-picked from existing youth clubs in the region. I know you were hired in August of 2009, but do you know of any resistance or difficulties faced during that process? Do you still have many of the same problems?
Karl: I have always kept a professional and amicable relationship with members of other clubs, academy clubs or not. If players show interest in your academy and are associated with another academy it is your duty to inform the other club that you have been approached. In the clubs I deal with this is always the case. Acting in this way ensures a certain trust and respect between the clubs. I adopted this attitude before the academy league was in place and it has always served me well. I have always maintained that youth coaches have a heavy responsibility to their players, they are only youth players and are not professionals, therefore they are not someone's property. I also would like to think if a player leaves a club for the Revolution Academy that the coach knows their player is coming into a professional environment, where kids come first and soccer second. In other words players that come here will be treated with respect and pushed in ways that lead for increased opportunities for the player.
Steve: Do you foresee the senior squad looking at any academy alumni for the homegrown roster spots? Caldwell? Tsionis?
Karl: Yes...I think the senior squad coaching staff is always looking for players. I haven't been around long enough to gauge the ability of guys in the question as to whether they would fit in with the first team. However, I did hear that Scott Caldwell did extremely well last summer while training with the first team. Scott did train with the academy during spring break this year, and would likely be training with the first team this summer but is playing for a USL team.
Editor’s Note: I have no idea what he’s talking about in terms of Scott Caldwell playing with a USL team. To my knowledge it would have compromised his eligibility for Akron, and we all know he scored the winning goal for them in this past season’s College Cup. I am curious to find out more about this.
UPDATE: According to team sources, Scott Caldwell trained with the Michigan Bucks in the PDL. Teams at those levels are defined as amateur sides and it is a common practices amongst college players.
Steve: Are any academy alumni currently returning to train with the team through college?
Karl: Right now no, but as I said Scott would be but he is playing on a team.
Steve: Is there anyone in the academy at any level that you feel may be signed in the next year or two?
Karl: This is a possibility but we need to see how things develop. The younger guys are very talented and we brought in 23 new players to the squads this year. So the future is very bright, but as you know it takes huge dedication and a lot of luck to become a professional.
Steve: What exactly is the process involved for signing homegrown players in MLS?
Karl: I can only recommend that a player may be good enough to be signed. From there the coaching staff and VP of Player Personnel can act on the recommendation and if deemed good enough they would interact with the MLS.
Ed. Note: I wasn’t surprised by this at all, but when combined with the answer he gave to my final follow-up question below, I’m lead to believe that the Academy Director has surprisingly little influence in what players are watched by the senior staff. Mike Burns appears to be holding all the cards on that.
Steve: What has stopped the organization from signing any academy vets to this point, especially considering the apparent preference for international free transfers and trialists? Do you believe academy signings would have been a better move with similar or better results?
Karl: I think it is too soon to answer this question. The academy program has only served two years and we are just now beginning to bridge the gap between the youth and the professionals. Do I think an academy player could have made an impact on the first team in the two years we have had the program, in all honesty I don't think so, but it doesn't mean we don't currently have a player that will fit this bill in the near future. When you look at players that make it to the professional level from the youth teams.....they are very often with the club from 10 years old. So I think we need to build up some history before we will see the youth team having an impact on the first team. However, this maybe a good question for the first team/technical staff.
Steve: Tell us a bit about Diego Fagundez and Felix DeBona. Where do you see them in the future of this organization, based on what you've seen of them at the academy level?
Karl: Diego has a bright future, he has fantastic ability, close control, skill, balance and he is a very smart player. He is certainly one to watch but I don't have a crystal ball. All we can do on our end is keep developing him and make sure he is continually challenged in training in games. If the games become too easy for him then we are not doing our job. It is our responsibility to make sure Diego fits in with the level of play, he continues to learn and he continues to enjoy the game. Regarding Felix, he will move up to the older of the academy teams next season. I think there will be a lot of responsibility placed on him in terms of leadership and goal scoring. In other words next season will be a test for him and depending on how he does will give us a gauge on his next steps. He scored 5 goals in the MLS SUM Cup last week and worked tirelessly off the ball...these are good signs.
Steve: They are the two most recognizable names from the SUM Cup roster. Can you think of anyone else in particular we should be keeping a close eye on?
Karl: They all need to be kept an eye on...sometimes it is not the stand out player that makes it. It is the player that is steady and does the job asked of him, and is consistent in that job performance. It is my job to ensure that the simple things are done well and consistently and if I can succeed at that job anyone of the player we have could be recognized. Players that have stood out could be Mitch Taintor center back, Den Tchen center mid, Sean MacDonald center back.
Steve: What did you think of the Revs' SUM U-17 Cup performance?
Karl: I thought we did OK....we had 14 players from the existing U-16 team and brought in 6 players new to the club. Due to many conflicting schedules and the fact the event was not put on our calendar until very later our preparation meant that a lot of the players could not attend practice. Although fitness or match practice was not in question, it was more that we had a lot of unfamiliarity within the team and also that none of the players had played in this event before. In some ways it was new to us all and this showed in our first game. I felt Chivas were very good and deserved their 1-0 victory, but a mixture in unfamiliarity and not being quite ready was our downfall. In the second game we leveled 1-1 with Houston and there is no doubt in my mind at that time we were the better team....but again not being together as a group was our downfall and we conceded right after we scored....something that if prepared should not happen. But we showed our true ability in the last two games beating Toronto and Kansas......familiarity was not in question as the boys had spent time together and were starting to work as a team.
Steve: Both age groups had decent success this season, but in league play the U16s had the better record. Apart from Fagundez, were there any other bright spots for the U16s this season? Or is there anything that happened on or off the field apart from the playing staff that you are particularly proud of? What about the U18s?
Karl: I think the 16's really came together at about the half way stage of the season. They went into games after that expecting to win. I credit Bryan and John for the consistent coaching methods and getting the players to play simple and trust each other. The players were enjoying their soccer and had a strong belief in each other. The 18's certainly showed their determination and started off well, dipped for a number of games but then bounced back to qualify for the play-offs. I think both groups off the field behavior was something to be proud of last year. The boys certainly matured around each other and maintained an excellent attitude throughout the season. Even when the 18's lost a few on the spin they continued to train, listen, work hard and they played themselves into the play-offs. All of the boys are a pleasure to work with and are tremendous talents......a special mention should go to Jonni Ventura on the 18's truly a great player, he scored a lot of goals and is simply a great kid.
Steve: How far do you think the academy system still needs to go to become a consistent contributor to the Revs' squad and organization, through promoted or sold players?
Karl: We have a few years to go, although I think the talent is here. In years to come we may get to work with the players from a younger age and this will help us mold them and show then the path to becoming a professional players. This may be a key factor, but nevertheless the players we have are talented. I also think the incorporation of the MLS SUM cup into our academy season will help. This event may be regionalized next year culminating in the finals. This sort of event helps our players since it gives them a firm sense or representation as Revs juniors playing against the other junior from the other MLS teams. Simply put the environment is exactly what is needed to push for a player to contribute to the first team.
Steve: Where do you see this Academy in 5 years' time? 10 years?
Karl: This is very hard for me to gauge...I need more time to get a sense where we are going in terms of expansion and looking at new ideas.........I'll answer this one in 6 months’ time.
Ed. Note: As a funny aside, unless my dates are incorrect Karl left the club well before this 6-month mark.
Steve: Boston has a large Portuguese population that is heavily involved in local amateur and semi-professional "Luso" leagues, including vibrant youth soccer participation. Is this an area you'll be looking to explore, or have done already?
Karl: I fully recognize that there are many talented 'ethnic' players in Massachusetts and the surrounding states. As mentioned earlier the word is out and when there players come to fruition, or recognition someone somewhere will call me. This season we have picked two African American players from Manchester NH. Previously with the NH Club, NH Classics, they boys and coaching staff decided it was time for them to make the move to the academy league and the Revs. Further, we also got our first player from the project goal set up in Providence RI. This program serves to help players get opportunities in the game they may have otherwise not received. I guess my point is there are ethnic groups that house talented players. It is my belief that the Revs will and can take these players under their wing and develop them. I am familiar with various inner city projects in the surrounding states that can potential boost players in the future. One of which, the Inti Academy, is in Manchester NH and is providing fantastic athletic and academic opportunities for inner city kids.
Steve: Do you foresee the Revs linking with a foreign club any time soon, similar to Colorado's affiliation with Arsenal? Do you see merit in such arrangements? Could it help or affect the Academy and youth development for the Revolution?
Karl: Not sure if I see the merit in this. The Revs have the ability to stand alone and promote what it does and in my area that means develop players. We have a great coaching staff and the recourses we need, and I believe that will continue to grow.....so I think we can manage on our own for now.
Ed. Note: Right after this interview was conducted, MLS announced sweeping changes to the rules governing the signing of Homegrown Players, prompting me to ask this follow-up:
Steve: In light of this new rule change, do you see a shift in tactics for player development at the Revs' academy? Does this change your approach, or do you think maybe this is being made to look significant when it isn't really? Will this have a positive effect on the Revs' academy prospects?
Karl: I did know about the rule.....it is great for the academy players since they can jump in and train when needed. I foresee this happening at the Revs especially as things grow. But once again, it would be the technical staff at the Revs (first team) that would make the decision if and when they bring in a player.
Karl was a gracious interviewee and was as detailed and illuminating with his answers as he possibly could be. Even now, months after his departure and eight months or so removed from the interview itself, his comments on interactions with other academies and the challenges of coaching and running a full youth program are insightful.
Questions or comments? Leave them below!