For nine days, thirty-one St. Louis Scott Gallagher Illinois players and 3 staff coaches, were immersed in the soccer culture of the Netherlands. In those nine days, the group attended three professional Eredivisie matches, trained eight times six of which were with staff from professional club Feyenoord, and played 3 matches against the likes of Eredivisie Professional Academies Feyenoord Academy and Ado Den Hag.
According to staff coach Kevin Stoll, “The purpose of the trip was to totally inundate the players with soccer from the time we arrived until the time we left. We arrived in Amsterdam at 6:30 AM and were training within 3 hours. Within the first 36 hours, the players had seen Vitesse versus Roda JC as well as the biggest rivalry in Holland Feyenoord versus Ajax. We had soccer for the guys from the time they woke up to the time they went to bed and they loved it.”
Starting on Monday, March 3and running through Friday, March 7 , the players trained 6 times with coaches from the Feyenoord Academy’s U11 and U18 as well as the clubs’ Strength and Conditioning coaches. The players trained at the facility of an amateur club in Blijdorp which was located 50 yards from the hotel where they stayed.
Commenting on the training, SLSG Illinois 99 Pre-Academy player Zach Timmerman said, “I learned a lot from the training and games. I think the most important thing I learned as a soccer player is to just play simple instead of trying to do the spectacular when you don’t need to. I also learned, soccer wise, that no matter where you play on the field you need to have quality technical skill. I’ll admit that when I was younger I wasn’t worried as much about my technical skill was because I thought that since I played center back that I didn’t need to have really good technical skill. My thoughts on this changed around the time I turned 12 and I spend most of my time trying to improve my skill with the ball, but this trip really helped to reinforce that fact for me again and showed me the importance of continuing to develop that part of my game.”
After 5 training sessions, the first match of the trip was played on Tuesday against Feyenoord Academy and Sporting Club Feyenoord. The players were split into two teams for the matches with results ending in a 0-0 draw with U15 Feyenoord Academy and a 0-4 loss to Sporting Club Feyenoord U15. Not knowing the exact level of the St. Louis Scott Gallagher sides, Feyenoord put a team of 99 reserves and 2000s on the field for the first match. It was a tightly played match with the SLSG side having the better of the play and chances in the first half, but wearing down as the match entered into the final stages. The other match stretched the SLSG team as they were playing amateur players that were 2-3 years older in some cases, however, the team performed admirably even though they could not overcome the physical difference in size.
According to SLSG Illinois 14 Academy player, AJ Sullivan, who featured in the matches against Feyenoord Academy and Ado Den Hag, “The technique and intensity of the teams we played was amazing. It made me better as a player being able to experience the game at that level as it showed me how much work I have to put in if I want to get to that level.”
Based on the quality shown in match day 1, the professional club Ado Den Hag elected to put not only age equivalent teams on the field, but also the very best of their players in those age groups for St. Louis Scott Gallagher’s second set of matches. The two teams from SLSG played against the Den Hag’s U14 and U15 team. The U15 team itself featured 4 Dutch youth national team players. The results of the two tightly contested matches were a late 2-3 loss at U14 and a 1-1 draw at U15.
Said Coach Decker, “It is extremely unusual for an American club to come to European soil and have the opportunity to play their best. This opportunity is usually reserved for Regional or National select teams and the fact that our players were able to compete with and against this level is a testament the level of these players. The technical, tactical and athletic quality that Feyenoord and Den Hag possessed was tremendous and we typically only see anything approaching this level in the final matches of a national championship series. To get two games like this in such close proximity, during this time of the year was an amazing opportunity for our players.”
The trip was slightly different for SLSG Illinois 16 Academy player, Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal, who, instead of training and playing with the SLSG group, spent the week training with the Feyenoord U16 team. After winning a national championship in July of 2013 and being called into a U17 National Team Camp in the fall of 2013, Kuzain caught the eye of a Feyenoord scout at the Academy Winter Showcase and was extended to opportunity to train with Feyenoord in January of 2014.
When asked to comment on his experience, Kuzain said, “Feyenoord have produced some of the biggest talent in recent years. From Nathan Ake (Chelsea) to Karim Rekik (Man City) and the fact that I was gaining the same experience and training that they were receiving was something special. In a soccer perspective I learned that there is always another level out there. You should never be satisfied with where you’re at. There’s always someone out there working harder than you. Most importantly, the thing that I saw that I will be bringing back is how much fun all these kids were having. They practiced with a smile on their face every day. Even though, they are all virtually competing against one another for that professional contract. There is no doubt this experience has definitely made me a better player.”
At the conclusion of the week, Feyenoord extended an invitation for Wan Kamal to return for more training in the fall of 2014.
As evidenced by the results and the quality of the opponents several other players caught the attention of the Feyenoord staff. According to coach Blake Decker, “We were extremely pleased with how our boys performed over here and several players were brought up in discussions with the staff from Feyenoord. We will continue to work with these players based on the feedback provided and keep Feyenoord up to date on how they are developing.”
By the time Friday rolled around the players were exhausted and after a brief recovery session in the morning, the players headed to Amsterdam for a day of sight-seeing which included a canal cruise, a visit to the Anne Frank house and sometime to walk around the city. The Anne Frank house was a special opportunity for the players to experience history in an authentic way as nearly all American middle school students read Anne Frank’s diary as a part of their education.
“I really liked going to Anne Frank’s house. I think it touched all of the guys when we went to Anne Frank’s house to see how they lived in such a small, confined place for such a long period of time. The visit helped me better understand how bad it really was during World War II and the Holocaust,” said 00 Pre-Academy Player, Zac Cawvey.
The final day of the trip ended as it had started, with more soccer. Following a morning in Rotterdam, the boys boarded a bus for Eindehoven to watch a match where Eredivisie League leaders PSV Eindehoven took on FC Utrecht. The night was actually a special treat for the American youth players who are aspiring professionals themselves as they were able to see an American on the field when New York Red Bull product, Juan Agudelo, entered the match for FC Utrecht in the 65minute.
When asked to comment on the significance of the trip, SLSG Illinois Program Director Dale Schilly said, “This has been an amazing experience for all involved. The access provided to the players and staff from Feyenoord was tremendous, the level of competition, quality of coaching, professional matches and the list could go on and on. For our players, this has been an experience that they will both remember for the rest of their lives and one which will not only inspire them to pursue their dreams as aspiring professionals, but also gave them the insight into the work it really takes to reach their maximum potential.”