For the next week, FC Cincinnati GM and President Jeff Berding will share his thoughts, activities and photos from his trip to Europe through a daily blog. Check back daily for new blog posts.
My final day on this European trip of course began with an 8 AM pick up from Mike. His son Jess Mossel had a U10 match for PSV Fundament (Academy) versus VVV Venlo. These boys already have been scouted at the age of seven or eight by PSV’s regional scouts.
While there, while the teams warmed up pre-match, Mike and I were joined by one of the principals of The Dutch Lions Capital Group BV, Arie Treffers. We discussed the business first year of FCC, some upcoming changes and shared some growth projections. I asked for and received their important feedback. The Dutch Lions Capital Group BV is successfully investing in soccer academies and training centers across the U.S. based on the Dutch development model. They currently have five Dutch Lions FC clubs in the U.S. I was pleased I would be able to watch two youth matches to witness the Dutch results in action.
The match structure was unique. Each club divided their 12-person squad into two groups of six, and then proceeded to play two simultaneous 5v5 matches on adjacent fields. Each player received plenty of playing time, and other than GK, rotated positions (defender, midfielder and forward). There was no referee. The coaches handled calls. Balls out were played in by foot (not throw). The technical ability of these young players was outstanding. While of course the teams wanted to win, the focus was on technical play and development. You could see players running in patterns into space without the ball and nearly all play was one touch passing, with minimal dribbling. I have to say I was very impressed.
As that match was winding down, we needed to leave to drive Mike's older son Owen Mossel to his U12 game at 12:30 PM at his club complex, KFC Turnhout in Belgium. The match was technically similar to his younger brother’s but with a more standard 11v11 structure including a center referee. I learned that, prior to U14, players of both genders are allowed on the same team. And the Belgian team had an excellent female player, who also plays for the Belgium National U12 Girls team. Again, you could really see the focus on technical development. We have come a long way in the U.S. which I have seen for years in many Cincinnati clubs. But these academies are a good challenge to get better, to continue structural improvements and our technical curriculum and coaching.
Afterwards the home team retired to their locker room for post-match words from the coaches. Then they joined their parents who had retired to the clubhouse for lunch - homemade soup, sandwiches, hot dogs and snacks, with drinks including hot tea, coffee and beer on tap. The team ate together post-match - no phones or parents, just boys talking. The team’s coaches sat with the coaches of the opposing team while drinking coffee and eating sandwiches, which is required in Belgium after a game.
We headed back to Holland and back to the hotel for me. I had some time to get a workout in. The hotel was more of a local sports club with rooms. They had public spaces, including indoor and outdoor pools, exercise room, sauna and steam rooms, and more, all available to guests. A little different for sure, but I was pleased to be able to work out a little.
Mike soon picked me up and we were off to dinner with his wife Margie in a very nice traditional Dutch restaurant in their town. We enjoyed good conversation (including with interested wait staff) and a terrific meal. But we had to get going as we had about an hour drive to my final trip soccer event, a Dutch Premier League match between host PSV and FC Twente in Eindhoven.
Arie had arranged with Mike for tickets for us to attend. We had row 1 seats on the aisle in the Chairman's suite. And with these best seats, sports coats are required. I was dressed in collar shirt, FCC sweater and dress shoes - but no jacket. But PSV’s game day staff was prepared with excellent customer service and had black sports coats of all sizes at the ready for us. With a team borrowed coat, we were in the elevator on our way to the suite.
The bar staff offered us a drink, and with one in hand, we then took our seats. PSV's stadium was rocking with 40,000 fans (including one corner upper section with loud FC Twente supporters) singing during the pre-match. The players took the field to dimmed lights, loud music and song. Then it was game time.
The match started out slowly, much like a boxing match of two cautious contenders. Both teams stayed in their lines with tight organization and careful play. It wasn't a surprise that the half ended with no goals.
Mike had noticed that sitting next to us, on the other aisle, was Ruud van Nistelrooij, a former player of PSV, Manchester United and Real Madrid and with 70 caps for the Dutch National team. Mike introduced me to Ruud and he pleasantly invited me to sit next to him and talk soccer. We talked about the first half and too-conservative tactics. He shared he has his coaching licenses and is coaching in the PSV Youth Academy as he begins his post-playing career. He said he's learning and gaining experience in his own style within the PSV culture. We talked about the growth of soccer in the USA and I shared some stats and FCC year one highlights. Similar to my experiences at Bengals, I was not surprised that such a superstar player was so down to earth and approachable. As the half ended, we went back to our seats hoping for a more wide-open second half -- PSV needed the three points of a victory.
The second half was played at a higher level. FC Twente scored early in the half, then with much more pressure and purposeful possession, PSV scored an equalizer. PSV continued to press and nearly scored the winner, to no avail and the match ended in the tie.
After the match, most of the guests stayed for food and drinks. It was a fun environment. I met several guests and talked about FCC. It was cool that Dutch soccer officials and premium patrons were interested in our FCC story. By the end of the trip, I guess that should not have been a surprise but it’s always good to experience.
We headed back to the hotel, knowing I needed to pack for my departure at 6:30 the next morning for long trip home. I look forward of course to seeing my family.
It has been an incredible journey, an invaluable trip. I have seen our FCC future and understand where we need to grow and develop to reach our goals. And as exciting as this 10-day trip has been, it is the future destination that motivates me most.