As the 2023 Fall Academy season gets underway, it's time to reintroduce Next Up. In this series, expect to find monthly Academy updates highlighting the next generation of Charlotte FC players.
This month, it's a complete overview of the entire Academy structure, goals and objectives for each age group, full rosters for all teams, as well as a preview of the year ahead.
Year in Review
Four years ago when the Academy launched, it started with two teams: the U-15s and U-17s. Today, the ladder to the first team has been expanded to include:
- Discovery Program (U-12/U-13)
- U-14 Team
- U-15 Team
- U-17 team
- U-20 UPSL Team
- MLS Next Pro Team (Crown Legacy FC)
This was the first year during which Charlotte FC’s youth system had a fully and clearly defined pathway to the first team. While the goal is always to develop players with the intention of contributing to the first team, the primary objective of the Academy is to prepare players for the second team, Crown Legacy FC. From there, they become full professionals and can make the final jump to Charlotte FC.
“The most crucial aspect within any Academy is that transition from being 16, 17, or 18 years old to now playing against men and competing for a job every weekend,” explained Executive Academy Director Bryan Scales. “With Crown Legacy, we can immerse the academy players in the deep end without overwhelming them. So, that's a really vital part of this process... this is a long-term development.”
Crown Legacy provides the professional environment the Academy coaches needed to accurately assess where Academy players are in their development, in collaboration with Legacy Head Coach Jose Tavares. A measurable metric is the total minutes that Academy players accumulated for the second team.
In the inaugural season, the Academy accumulated a total of 3,262 minutes among the players. An impressive figure for the first season, and this does not include the extent of their participation in Legacy practices. While getting minutes with the second team is the primary goal, having as many Academy players invited to Legacy practices is still a positive indicator of development moving in the right direction.
“We're still in the process of setting up our structure, aligning, and making it efficient, but 3,262 minutes is a promising starting point," Scales added.
"When we have players from our [Academy] teams who are making the leap and getting an opportunity to be in that environment. To adapt to it, witness it, and experience it... That's truly the most rewarding aspect of this job for all of our coaches.”
Atrium Health Performance Park
With the Academy's need to move players between different trainings, host virtual schooling, provide meals, and have coaches meet, all teams being under the same roof at Atrium Health Performance Park has made all the difference.
"This is a game changer for our Academy setup and is crucial for continued development across all the youth levels we have," said CLTFC Sporting Director Zoran Krneta regarding the impact of the new facility.
It's further optimized the process of youth development, making it seamless to communicate between coaches and shift players between the different teams. In addition to that, a typical day for an Academy player involves a blend of training and education.
They can walk out to the fields to practice and then walk back inside for virtual school without the need to figure out logistics for transporting players to the facilities where they can receive schooling and meals. AHPP rivals some of the best soccer facilities worldwide, and how it greatly benefits the Academy can't be understated.
Although youth development is the central focus of the Academy, the quality of coaches you have is a limiting factor. Therefore, the Academy is equally dedicated to nurturing the development of coaches. One of the coaches advancing their soccer education is U-14 coach Patrick Daka, who was chosen to pursue the Elite Formation Coaching License (EFCL), the prestigious French coaching course.
Charlotte FC has a graduate from the EFCL in their ranks... Bryan Scales himself, a member of the inaugural class of American coaches to go through the program.
Two others making strides in their coaching education are Torrey Stricklin and Michal Gorszczaryk. Stricklin is currently a candidate for the UEFA B license with the Scottish Football Association, while Gorszczaryk is a candidate for the UEFA C and UEFA B Goalkeeping licenses, also with the Scottish FA.
The process of developing coaches, like that of the players, never ceases at the Charlotte FC Academy.
U-17 World Cup Involvement
The 2023 U-17 World Cup is rapidly approaching with the competition kicking off November 10th in Indonesia. Despite the Academy’s short existence, they’ve already had consistent youth representation in the United States Youth National teams.
For the U.S. U-17s, Charlotte FC’s Brian Romero, Nimfasha Berchimas, and James Nyandjo have all been consistent figures in the national pool of players. Most recently, Romero and Berchimas were both invited to the last two World Cup training camps for the U.S. U-17s. Up next, the final World Cup roster will be announced and there’s a good chance at least one Charlotte FC player will be representing their country in Indonesia.
“It's huge. We're moving through our fourth year as an academy,” said Scales. “And to have two players (Romero and Berchimas), plus James [Nyandjo], competing to potentially go to the World Cup... you don't see it this early in the process for an academy.
“It's great. It's great for the club. It's great for them. It's an experience and that's just something that you'll never forget.”
The U-14s and U-15s are the two youngest Academy teams and serve as an introduction to the Club’s playing philosophy and the competitive environment of an MLS club.
“These are kids that are all the best players in their previous clubs, and now they're coming to play in one club, a new training environment, competing against good players every single day to get on the field and to be in the 18 on the bus for trips. It's really competitive, and it's something that many of the kids have not had to deal with before in a youth soccer environment.”
Once players reach the U-17 and U-20 teams, the focus shifts more to winning and preparing for the professional soccer environment. The biggest takeaway from last year was more consistently getting players involved in Crown Legacy, and the goal doesn’t change for the upcoming season.
The U-20 side was a new team added to the Charlotte FC developmental ladder with the purpose of providing players who age out of the U-17 group a place to further their development. In their first season competing in the UPSL Mid-Atlantic Division, they reached the second round of playoffs.
On the goals set for the U-17/20 teams for the current season, Scales said, “To get more players into the Crown Legacy environment. I think as our 20s become more established, and that team matures, the more solidified our pathway becomes. The goal doesn't change from year to year: it's to develop players who can compete at the professional level."