Midway through the first practice in FC Cincinnati Academy history, Yoann Damet, Gary Walker and Larry Sunderland sat on a bench and watched the session unfold.
Damet is FC Cincinnati’s interim head coach, but he knows a thing or two about youth development. After all, his coaching career didn’t start after a professional one – it started coaching youth teams and gradually progressing into a role coaching an MLS outfit.
On his right was Gary Walker, the club’s director of sports performance. Walker arrived at FCC earlier this year after a long tenure at Manchester United. While there, he saw some of the world’s most-famous players come through their academy. He saw the value of developing youth.
And then on the left was Larry Sunderland, Cincinnati’s director of player development. It’s a newly-created role at the club, but one he’s delivered success in on the national and international scene.
Sunderland is the one in charge of everything in front of those three, and in turn, plays a crucial role in creating a pathway for Greater Cincinnati kids to funnel through to the Orange and Blue first team.
The future started Thursday night in Milford at the Mercy Health Training Center, where the Under-15 and Under-16/17 teams trained for the first time.
“The first day is always super exciting for both the coaches and the players,” U-15 Head Coach Joshua Neff said. “The expectations for the Academy in general would just be constant improvement. I don’t think we expect to be the finished product.”
That’s one of the big draws of coaching at the FC Cincinnati Academy, Neff said.
Before joining the club, he was the director of performance and Under-14 head coach in the New England Revolution Academy. Prior to that, he coached in Spain.
For him – and for everyone a part of FCC’s Academy – the beautiful of it is the newness. Nothing’s being inherited. Instead, what follows in the next few weeks, months and years will pave the pathway for young Cincinnati players working toward a first team opportunity.
President Jeff Berding delivered that same message to the U-15 and U-17 teams.
“This is literally the first night of the FC Cincinnati Academy,” Berding said. “It’s an exciting night for all of us associated with our club and it’s a real honor for all of you. I hope you all feel honored to be a part of the very first group. There’s only one first.”
The two Academy teams will play in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and face other MLS opponents. Some clubs such as FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake and the New York Red Bulls have become sides built primarily through their academies.
There’s no reason FC Cincinnati can’t do the same, too. Thursday night was just the first time the Orange and Blue saw that dream take the field.