The future of FC Cincinnati took the field for the first time Tuesday night when Larry Sunderland, the club’s director of player development, oversaw the first day of tryouts for what will eventually create the inaugural academy teams.

Some of the area’s best players were invited to compete for spots on the FC Cincinnati Under-15 and Under 16/17 teams, which will begin play in 2019-2020. The tryouts will last three days.

“We’re trying to create an environment where the kids are just coming out and they’re just playing,” Sunderland said. “We’re looking at what kind of player they are.”

The tryouts were just another reminder of how far FCC have come in a short timeframe. The team was established in 2015 and played its first game in 2016. MLS play arrived in 2019.

Even as the teenagers tried out at the Mercy Health Training Center in Milford, construction workers filled the background by adding glass and materials to the exterior of FCC’s future home – that will include an academy wing. Tuesday was a first glimpse of which players will occupy the space.

But it was also a chance to see Sunderland, who joined FC Cincinnati last Friday, working with local players.

After serving the Portland Timbers since 2015, he joined Cincinnati to develop players and a regional youth pipeline that will lead to MLS Homegrown Players who will eventually play for the FCC first team. Sunderland will play a major role in making that come to fruition.

Before working with the Timbers, Sunderland was also the director of player development for the Chicago Fire Academy. He eventually became the academy’s director. But while he was there, he oversaw the development of the nation’s first fully integrated professional soccer development model, which started with youth soccer and worked toward the first team.

The Fire Academy won U.S. Soccer Development Academy championships at the U-16 level (2010) and the U-18 level (2015). Sunderland also oversaw two U-20 North American Championships (2008, 2012).

Sunderland is also the only coach in the United States to win national championships at the Under-14 (U.S. Youth Soccer), Under-16 (USSDA), Under-18 (USSDA) and Under-20 (USL) levels.

This level of production and expertise, in addition to establishing an academy here in Cincinnati, is something Sunderland takes pride in and should excite Orange and Blue fan’s for the club’s future success via local players.

“I was drawn here because of the vision of the organization,” he said. “They have a really defined culture that they want to build. They have a pathway all the way from the youth side all the way to the first team. Those things really drew me.

“Ultimately, this idea of Cincinnati being such a civic-minded community, I think it’s a hotbed and it’s ripe to move players through. That grows something organically that’s unique, so I’m really excited about that.”

In addition to his time with the Timbers, Sunderland was the head coach of the U.S. Under-16 Boys Youth National Team that win the 2019 UEFA Development Tournament in the Czech Republic earlier this month.

“When you’re working with the youth specifically, I believe you need to create an environment where they feel safe, where they feel valued, where they feel like they’re progressing, where they have some directions – all these things,” he said. “They’re really human values that you want to bring to the players.”

“Then you get down to the content and the methodology of the teaching, but that’s really the culture I want to try and create here. It’s in link with what they want to do with the first team and in between at some point.”

As with almost every MLS Academy, all of the FC Cincinnati Academy players’ expenses related to soccer competition will be covered by the club, meaning players and their families will not be asked to pay any annual fees or be charged any money to play for FCC. All of the players’ needs – including equipment, uniforms, facilities and team travel to and from competitions – will be paid for by the club.

Cincinnati will compete in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy in 2019-20 in both the U15 and U16/17 age groups and practice at the Mercy Health Training Center.