What Are Top Youth Soccer Players Doing This Summer? Exploring Soccer In Germany & Taking Their Game to The Next Level
Going abroad is always an amazing opportunity to learn and create lifelong memories — but traveling with an expert on soccer in the foreign country makes all the difference.
In a world of people and companies trying to sell services and impossible dreams, Eddie Loewen is the real deal. The native of Lithuania grew up playing soccer in Germany and with youth soccer clubs FC Preussen Espelkamp and SC Herford before starting his professional career with in a Bundesliga division for FC Remscheid in 1998. Loewen founded GFL Soccer — which provides aspiring top level youth soccer players with the opportunity to showcase their talent in Germany and immerse themselves in a true soccer culture.
Related Article: Improving Youth Soccer Development: Eddie Loewen
Youth Soccer News: GFL Soccer is well known for their youth soccer trip to Germany — whether it is creating an all-star elite pool of players from all across the USA and selecting a top tier roster to travel to Germany and test their skills as a team against some of the best Bundesliga youth academies or arranging players for special scouting opportunites, GFL’s founder Eddie Loewen is the real deal.
With a UEFA A License — the highest practical coaching award available — and a career as a professional player in Germany, Loewen personally knowns many of the directors of the top youth academies in the Bundesliga (the Germany equivalent to U.S. Soccer).
As GFL’s CEO, Loewen has launched a series of programs to help American youth soccer players cross the Atlantic and discover how hyper competitive youth soccer players in Germany prepare to advance and seek dominance.
Loewen’s partner, Milen Gaganelov has a UEFA B License and also grew up immersed in the soccer world with a father — Boris Atanasov Gaganelov — who captained Bulgaria in 1966 and the 1970 World Cups. Together, they run GFL and create dynamic experiences for serious soccer players.
While other European bound trips may brag about the ability to set up youth soccer matches at a club like BVB Dortmund only to discover that while an American team is playing at the prestigious club, the match is against a local community team, Loewen’s organization sets up matches with the top tier club teams — competing with the same age groups.
“How else can you really experience and test your skills?” asks Loewen.
Sebastian Dremmler — Head of International Soccer Partnerships and former Academy coach at FC Bayern, to Wolfgang Schellenberg — the Academy Director at TSV 1860 and Martin Siegbert — Chief Scout for TSG Hoffenheim are but a few on Loewen’s contacts and frequent coffee mates when back in Germany.
What is GFL Soccer?
The GFL program identifies talented players through a series of soccer camps, ID Clinics, and comprehensive sorting at selected games and tournaments. Youth soccer players can also be recommended by well established and highly respected soccer coaches
GoalNation followed up with Loewen about GFL’s German soccer trips this summer and what it is like to coach American youth soccer players.
Diane Scavuzzo: You select top youth soccer players from all across the USA and create elite teams that take on Bundesliga Youth Academy Teams – How does this work?
Eddie Loewen: Yes — first, we arrive and practice in Germany and then we play a minimum of four games against Germany Youth Bundesliga Teams, which is the highest level of competition in Germany.
All of these German teams compete against each other in the youth Bundesliga.
Diane Scavuzzo: This year the trip also includes a visit to Amsterdam?
Eddie Loewen: Yes — We are still in the planning stage for our two days in Amsterdam and the teams are staying in a very nice hotel next to Amsterdam Arena and will visit the stadium and will play against teams from the Netherlands from July 7-9th.
Diane Scavuzzo: Often youth soccer trips tell parents all expenses are included but there are surprises — What expenses are not covered on the trip?
Eddie Loewen: All expenses are covered — besides player’s pocket money. This means the player doesn’t have to worry about transportation, 3 meals a day, sightseeing, stadium visits and entrance fees, training, games, even transit from and to the airport is covered. We are experts at this and everything is covered and extremely well organized.
Diane Scavuzzo: What makes you a great coach?
Eddie Loewen: The fact that I have experience as a player in different countries and cultures — in Germany, USA, England and Peru — and, as a coach, I enjoyed my education at the DFB in Germany.
I hold a UEFA A license as well as the USSF B License.
I have the ability to see things through many different eyes, which is important for a coach.
The other important qualities are being able to have empathy, adaptability and flexibility. As a coach, you need to be able to adapt, especially on international trips — this is a key quality to have as a coach.
Obviously knowledge of the game is the foundation for being a soccer coach, but I also feel that — especially working with youth players — it is also very important to be able to demonstrate technical skills well. I happily get on the field and work with the players.
Diane Scavuzzo: How many years did you play in Germany?
Eddie Loewen: I grew up in Germany and started playing at age five and played in Germany until I was 22.
I played in Germany through all youth levels up to the highest level which is called today the Germany Youth Bundesliga. Later in my senior years I played up to the 3rd Division for clubs like DSC Arminia Bielefeld and FC Remscheid.
Diane Scavuzzo: What about you surprises people the most?
Eddie Loewen: I think what surprises people the most about me is that I speak 3 and ½ languages — German, English, Russian and a bit of Spanish and have experienced so many different cultures through my soccer career that I can adapt in almost every situation … I am like a chameleon.
Diane Scavuzzo: Where are the players on the team from?
Eddie Loewen: The players are from all over the U.S. and all different club levels. Not every player is from a U.S. Soccer Development Academy club. We have players that play on DA’s and we have players that come with us from non-DA Clubs. For example we have players from California, Texas, Oregon, Massachusetts, Ohio, and a big part from Florida.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Eddie Loewen: In 2014, we actually beat FC Bayern Munich at their home turf with our U14 team, 2-1.
We had an extremely strong team that year with players like Coby Atkinson who now plays for the Jamaican U17 National Team and also plays at the Portland Timbers Academy.
Another player that we are very proud of, is George Acosta who went with us on our inaugural trip to Germany in 2012 and is now playing for the U.S. U17 Men’s National Team and doing extremely well.
We also had two players — Stevie Rudderham, FC Tampa Rangers and Ishwar Bahtti, IMG — who signed with FC Magdeburg’s U19 team. We have also helped several other players get into good Division 1 colleges.
The players that come with us and experience the German Way and the high level of competitiveness come back very refreshed and motivated to continue working very hard on their game, which results in them just getting better.
A college or pro coach doesn’t care for which club the player played … all a coach cares for is “Can the player play?”
Diane Scavuzzo: Please explain the opportunity to train with Bundesliga Youth Academies — what is the process?
Eddie Loewen: The process is very simple. We train every day while in Germany and play a minimum of four games but usually we play 5 to 6 games.
Scouts often come to our games and also our training sessions.
I know most of the scouts and directors of pro clubs personally and I let them know our schedule in advance and also give them info on special players in advance.
Once the scouts are at the games and like one of our players, there are two options:
- The player gets invited while we are in Germany on the tour.
- The player gets invited to come back to Germany for a tryout.
In Stevie Rudderham’s and Coby Atkinsons case for example, a scout was watching their games and then the players got invited to go back to Germany on a later date for a tryout of 7-10 days, but we also had multiple players that had the opportunity during one of our trips to try out with pro clubs.
When we visit the German Pro Academies — for example at BVB Borussia Dortmund or Schalke 04 — we normally play a game at their facility, meet with the Youth Director for a Q&A, visit the stadium and get a view behind the scenes on how the daily life at a German Youth academy is for a player.
The players get to go to the locker rooms, see all aspects of the facilities and are able to ask some important questions to the coaches and directors.
Diane Scavuzzo: How does this help a player’s development?
Eddie Loewen: The players experience German youth soccer at its highest level and they get to measure themselves with the top players at their age in Germany.
The demands and expectations will be higher and the American youth soccer players will be forced to come out of their comfort zones.
The players will be treated by our coaching staff as they were part of a German club team — they are forced to look at the game from a completely new perspective and culture. This all elevates their game, especially when the player’s discomfort is channeled correctly.
Failure is part of the success and without failure their would not be growth.
Players will at some point experience failure as they’re up against some of the best players in Germany, but that is part of the experience.
I want the player to feel good about themselves, but I also don’t want to give them a false sense of reality by winning every game in Germany against some local teams and going back home very self-confident. I want them to see how high the level of play is at their age group in Germany. It’s an eye opener and it fuels their dedication and passion towards the game and training.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do Germany youth soccer players have that our American players do not?
Eddie Loewen: I think the best English word to summarize the German attributes is GRIT.
The German youth players have a special boldness, spirit, heart, courage and backbone. When you see them train in regular practice or especially games you see a healthy aggression and intenseness in their game that is incomparable.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do the players see a pro game on the trip?
Eddie Loewen: Yes, of course – it is a must to experience a stadium filled with soccer fans.
Eddie Loewen: People live soccer in Germany and when you go to a pro game you witness how involved the community is and how they support their club.
Soccer in Germany is very intense. Players are surprised about the discipline of the “German way”.
When I say we meet at 5:00 p.m. at the locker room, that is exactly what I mean and in reality I expect everybody to be there 10min prior and not at 5:01 or 5:02 PM.
Also, the fact that German coaches work in a very detailed oriented method — every little detail counts.
The players are really surprised on how fast we create a team spirit on these trips — we don’t have much time to get a group to function together and work for each other — but, that is exactly what we have to do.
We often hear, “Wow, the team plays like they know each other for years.” And, in reality, it was their first game together.
For more information on Duisburg 2017 – Traveling to Germany June 30th – July 14th, 2017
Related Article: EXPLORING YOUTH SOCCER IN GERMANY – GFL’S EDDIE LOEWEN – 2016