As Sporting Kansas City’s Academy Affiliate program continues to grow in size & stature throughout various Midwestern communities, the percentage of players earning spots in the SKC Academy also rises at a staggering & exciting rate. This year saw the addition of the program’s 15th branded club, Sporting Springfield, proving there are now countless opportunities for even more players to find a pathway to pursuing a dream of playing professional soccer.
Since August alone, there has been an influx of new affiliate players joining the Academy from various cities including St. Louis & Springfield (MO), Lawrence & Topeka (KS), Omaha (NE), Quincy (IL), Bentonville & Rogers (AR), and even Minneapolis (MN). With these additions, at least 11 of the current 15 Academy Affiliates have representation on these rosters, with some players moving full-time to KC, and some commuting anywhere from 2-8 hours round-trip for a single training session.
Will Nicholson & Danny Goddard are two such players that commute for these opportunities, having recently joined the U14 Academy team from one of the St. Louis affiliates, Sporting JB Marine. The two of them noted though that this opportunity comes with sacrifice as “there are often days we may not see our family outside of a meal at the breakfast table, since we don’t return home until late at night”, though if anything, they use that as motivation to ensure these sacrifices don’t go unrewarded.
Seeing affiliate players travel to KC from far off cities for the opportunity to join the SKC Academy isn’t as uncommon as some readers may think though. In fact, 2016 was also a year that saw the first Academy Affiliate player earn professional minutes for the Swope Park Rangers. Ezra Armstrong featured for the club’s USL side, after being identified by Sporting Nashville & moved to the Academy in 2014. And beyond that, numerous former affiliates even earned time with various US Youth National Teams, with Sporting Blue Valley & Sporting Nashville being represented.
The recipient of Bob Gansler Player of the Year Award, Felipe Hernandez, a former Sporting Nashville product was one of those players, having just earned his second call-up to the US U19 National team in just a few months’ time. He’s also now on an amateur contract with the Swope Park Rangers, and hopefully on the way to a professional career from there.
To understand the bigger picture of this impact, today over 55% of the entire SKC Academy involve players who began their development at Academy Affiliate clubs. Even more exciting though, is the flood of top affiliate players beginning to fill the U12, U13, & U14 SKC Academy teams (pictured at the top of this article), with nearly 65% of those rosters comprised of affiliates, an estimated 30% of which come from regional affiliates, some as far as 7-8 hours away from Kansas City.
Speaking to some of the players from even greater distances, the SKC U12 Academy team saw two specific new arrivals in August: Gage Daniels & Kelly Kipruto from Sporting St. Croix in Minnesota. Both of these boys moved to Kansas City in August of this year for the opportunity to pursue a professional career in one of the best developmental environments in the country, with Kelly amazing having just turned 11 years old a month prior to his arrival. Echoing similar sentiments to players like Danny & Will from St. Louis, Kelly in particular had words of advice far beyond his years for other affiliate players hoping to chase their dreams of playing for the SKC Senior Team. As he put it, “even though it’s a big sacrifice to be here, I truly believe no one can stop you if you work hard, try your best, & know who you want to be. My ultimate goal is to make the SKC Senior Team, & from there hopefully get the chance to represent my family on the US National Team.” Hopefully with the support at the SKC Academy, and from his family & friends these lofty ambitions will be met some day.
This increased presence & impact of Academy Affiliate players on the SKC Academy not only provides high hopes for the future of Sporting Club’s professional teams, however. Arguably, it is also a testament to the strength of these Academy Affiliate relationships & the incredible hard work those youth clubs & their staff put in every week, and every season. With this relentless dedication to youth development spreading across so many unified affiliates, the goal is to provide even more players the opportunity to pursue their dreams of someday playing professional soccer.