US Youth Soccer ODP Interregional Showcase Comes to Close
Top players in the United States put their skills to the test over the weekend as the US Youth Soccer ODP Interregional Showcase came to a close on Monday. Just under 100 teams were present for a moment to impress college scouts as well as attend coaching sessions.
Youth Soccer News: The US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (ODP) Interregional Showcase, featuring boys and girls teams in the 2000-2005 age groups from Region II (Midwest) and Region III (South), concluded play on Monday at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex in Memphis, Tennessee.
The US Youth Soccer ODP Interregional Showcase brought together teams from Region II states include Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Nebraska, while the participating Region III states include Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee.
The US Youth Soccer ODP approach is to help grow the game of soccer and identify players who can benefit from extra training and development. These high caliber players are potential candidates for the U.S. National Teams in the international arena. Ever since US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program was formed in 1977, youth players dream of participating in ODP and enhancing their soccer skills.
With nearly 100 teams among nine states, the event provided players with a competitive showcase environment in front of several college coaches. The event also provided players the opportunity to attend classroom sessions and panel discussions during the event.
After a weekend of matches, Nick Gasperi, a goalkeeper on the 2000 Boys Kansas ODP team, was grateful for the opportunity to play against different playing styles and players. He also saw a difference between the first day of matches and the final day.
“There are good players in every age group. ODP kind of pools together the best of them,” Gasperi said. “It really creates a competitive environment that I think benefits everyone—players and coaches. The first day, I was still trying to learn everyone’s name. I think team chemistry might have been our biggest enemy our first game. We won 1-0, but it should have been more. I think today definitely showed our progress with being a team.”
As Saturday also included pool games for select individuals, several players received the opportunity to play an extra match with a mixture of players. Lexie Duca, a 2000 Girls Alabama ODP midfielder, shared her thoughts on the weekend and the difference between this ODP experience and a club team experience.
“I absolutely loved the interregional experience,” Duca said. “During the pool game, it was fun to be on a team with other state players because when we go to Southern Regionals just with Region III, we don’t get to mix with Region II, so it was really fun to meet them.”
With the weekend coming to a close, Duca highlighted what it meant to be an ODP player.
“It means to be a player that is pretty good at getting to know people, getting to play with other people that you’re not normally familiar with,” Duca said. “It means that you’re a versatile player. That’s what I think it means, and I absolutely love the experience.”
Zac Crawford, Alabama Soccer Association’s Technical Director, played a role in coordinating the event and discussed his thoughts on the weekend thus far.
“With multiple states coming together, that’s the power of US Youth Soccer,” Crawford said. “I love this event because it’s about the quality and not about the quantity. At ODP it’s always so difficult to gel and come together, and so it usually takes the first day to get all of the kinks worked out. On the second day, you start to see a lot of synchronicity. The chemistry is improved, so you see better overall play on day two.”
The second day of the interregional also included pool games, in which the state coaches and ODP regional staff selected the top players from the 2000-2004 age groups to merge and showcase their skills. For Maren McCrary, Technical Director of Nebraska State Soccer Association and the ODP Girls Region II Head Coach, there is significant value to the pool games.
“I think the great purpose of it is there’s always the development aspect,” McCrary said. “You have to play with and against other great players to make yourself a better player. Speaking from an identification standpoint, for me it’s always easier to do my job as a regional coach and identify players when I can see them all on one field. We want to see how players perform against other top players.”
An additional advantage within the event is the opportunity for players and parents to attend classroom sessions and panel discussions about topics such as playing at the next level.
“They’ve been very well attended. I think a lot of parents and players are really appreciative to have that kind of thing,” McCrary said. “That’s what makes ODP unique. It’s not just a tournament where you show up and play other teams. It’s a unique environment on the field and then you get this additional opportunity off the field. I think it helps as players across the country to get on the same page as far as what higher level, what national scouts and college scouts are looking for, what you need to do academically to prepare for the next level.”
Overall, the showcase has been an event for state ODP teams to gain an interregional experience when many state teams don’t often receive this kind of opportunity.
“For us at Alabama, we have 17 teams here, which is awesome,” Crawford said. “For those kids to be able to play against other kids from Nebraska, or Iowa or Illinois, they never get the chance to do that.”
“Typically, [the interregional experience] is only reserved for the very top players who get to move on to the regional teams,” McCrary said. “I think this is a unique and awesome experience for all of these state players to be able to see players from other parts of the country.”
Kansas State Youth Soccer Association’s Director of Coaching, Nathan Hunt, said, “There’s a difference between the club environment and the ODP environment. We thought it would be a great idea: a single game a day, not keeping track of the scores, making sure everybody knows it’s about development but also getting identified.”
“For players, they get to play against players of like-caliber or better,” Hunt said. “There are also scouts here from the region, from U.S. Soccer. For the parents, they get to intermingle, see what it’s like at the next level and see where their kids are at. Everyone gets to experience different coaching terminology and philosophies that they may or may not get at home.”
Photo Credit: US Youth Soccer