From the moment Larry Sunderland arrived in Cincinnati last May, he said building the FC Cincinnati Academy would be a long-term project.
Just 13 months later, the “project” has transformed into a solid foundation, and hopefully, a clear pathway to advance youth players into the first team.
Last month, the Academy announced an Under-19 team and two Pre-Academy teams, giving the club five youth squads. Last Tuesday, we got a better understanding of the players who will make those rosters.
FC Cincinnati Academy launched the Residency Program, which will allow non-local players to join the organization by living with pre-screened host families.
“It expands our scope of talent identification and recruitment,” said Sunderland, the club’s director of player development and Academy director. “All the top academies in the world, they focus on their local region, but then they also have to go outside their region to find special talents that might be out there. What you’re finding across MLS now is that pretty much all of the academies are doing some form of residency program to accommodate this.”
The Residency Program expands the potential player pool to fill the five FCC youth rosters. While teams have previously been comprised of players who live close to Cincinnati and regularly commute to practice, the program allows players from outside the region to play for the club by living with a local host family.
“It’s exciting because they become part of the family, they grow with the family and there’s a connection,” Sunderland said. “We’re hoping that the connection between the family and player grows and becomes a really unique bond.”
While this allows non-local players an opportunity to play for the FC Cincinnati Academy and work toward a potential MLS Homegrown contract, it also allows the club to add quality depth to youth teams, which in turn creates a more competitive atmosphere.
Sunderland also noted that recruiting players can also allow FCC to find players based on a need-based effect.
“If we’re looking down the line and projecting, for instance, we need a right back in three years, and we feel we don’t have one in the Academy and don’t have one in the local area, then maybe we’re going to look further afield to try to find this player for our needs in the future,” he said.
As Sunderland mentioned earlier, this is a common idea among the top academies in MLS.
Sporting Kansas City, which won MLS Academy of the Year in 2018, have a similar residency program that’s helped produce talents like Gianluca Busio, who moved from North Carolina to join SKC.
As the FC Cincinnati Academy continues developing, the Residency Program is the next step toward producing an MLS Homegrown player.
The team website has more information about how interested local families can host an Academy player. While this is an opportunity for a young player to pursue a professional career, it’s also a chance for a family to support a player who could soon represent the Orange and Blue in West End Stadium.
“We’re really excited about our local fan base, which is so strong,” Sunderland said. “There’s so much pride in what the club is trying to do, and the legacy that the club is trying to have in the Cincinnati region. We’re really excited to see how many people get involved and have a part in the growth of FC Cincinnati and have a part in the future players that are going to make the first team.”