Strikers FC Academy Profile: "It's Not all about Winning"
With such good players on the roster and arguably one of the best club coaches in the country at its helm, one of the cornerstones of the Strikers FC Academy philosophy can be hard to grasp for some parents.
It’s not all about winning.
For moms and dads raised to strive to win in sports and used to watching their talented children bring home trophies and accolades as they grow up in the game it is often a bitter pill to swallow.
A team sport where individual skill development is the priority? It kind of goes against the grain.
But the extended Strikers family soon sets to understand the key to playing at this elite level - just because you don’t win doesn’t mean you don’t get the right result.
In the case of Technical Director Don Ebert - who is also the club’s DOC - and the FC Strikers Academy, the most important thing is to play soccer the right way.
The result for countless players who pass through the Strikers FC Academy is scholarships at first rate soccer colleges like UCLA, Cal and UCSB and, for some, a career in the MLS, Europe and Mexico and sometimes coveted spots on the U.S. National Team.
This is not just talk. Strikers FC have been one of the most effective college and pro feeder clubs in North America for getting on one quarter of a century under Ebert, a former professional player and US Olympic team captain himself.
But as you might expect, it’s no walk in the park.
“The Strikers do have a unique culture,” Joe Sofia Sr., who helps administer the Striker Development Academy Program, told football.com. “Don Ebert has always stuck to his “development first” philosophy, with fundamental play from the outset. His success stems from assembling the right coaching staff around him and getting the players and parents to buy into the system. It has got to the point now where former Strikers players are now back to pass on their knowledge as coaches to the next generation of Striker players.
“The style of play has been very consistent here – possession with a purpose-orientated soccer.
“Beginning with our youth teams, players will attempt to play out of the back and build through midfield as opposed to just hoofing the ball forward to a quick fast forward.”
Ebert can be a tough taskmaster. As Joe Sofia explains, once the Academy players reach 14 or 15, “it’s not little boy soccer any more.”
“Don will call it as he sees it and some parents take affront at that kind of style, but they tend to think differently when their kid becomes a 4-year starter at UCLA or some of the other elite soccer college.”
He said his own son, Joe, played for the Strikers Academy before starring with UCLA and being drafted in the Second Round of the MLS SuperDraft in 2014 with the San Jose Earthquakes. But when asked which coach had the most impact on his development as a player, he was unequivocal in his response with Don Ebert being that coach “bar none.”
The Academy teams play around 30 “quality” games in their 10-month season. Both the training model and matches are closely monitored by US Soccer Development Academy staff and, of course, scouts and recruiters alike.
But it’s in training where the real work is done.
The Strikers were one of the inaugural 40 clubs invited to participate in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy in 2007. As a member of the Development Academy, Strikers players train extensively and are evaluated over ten times a year by National Team coaches at practices and games, as well as offering exposure to hundreds of college coaches at national showcases.
Players’ progress is monitored and graded. It’s not for the faint-hearted. Eyes are on the Academy and the players are expected to handle the added pressure. It comes with the territory in the senior game, after all.
Each athlete then gains a greater understanding of how they compare physically against their peers and what they need to do to achieve their optimal performance levels.
It is from the Strikers FC Academy and others like it where the first bona fide US soccer superstar will come from. Mark my words, the time will come.
To give readers an idea of the Strikers FC legacy, here’s a partial list of the club’s notable alumni:
Bobby Wood – USMNT – FC Union Berlin (Germany)
Michael Orozco _ USMNT – Puebla (Mexico)
Benny Feilhaber – former USMNT – Sporting KC (MLS)
Chad Marshall – former USMNT – Seattle Sounders (MLS)
Dan Kennedy – UCSB – LA Galaxy (MLS)
Jordan Harvey – UCLA – Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS)
Jonathan Bornstein – UCLA – USMNT - Querétaro (Mexico)
Steven Birnbaum -Cal-USMNT and DC United (MLS)
Dave Romney - USF - LA Galaxy (MLS)