Commerce City, Colo. - In 2007, Soccer United Marketing, the commercial arm of Major League Soccer, debuted the first even SUM U-17 Cup in conjunction with the MLS All-Star game which was being played at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
The tournament was exclusive to MLS clubs that had a youth system in place and could field an under-17 team. The Rapids, looking to launch their Academy teams, fielded two sides which consisted of players from partner clubs. Among the players that first wore the Rapids jersey that summer was Davy Armstrong from Colorado Fusion, who on Monday was introduced as the Rapids first player to move from the club’s youth system to the professional side.
“He’s very explosive, and he’s got a good attacking mind, but he’s got a work ethic that allows him to be effective on both sides of the ball,” recalls Brian Crookham, Director of Operations for the Rapids Youth Academy, on what the staff saw of Armstrong then. “When you look at those baseline qualities, it’s something you can build on right away.”
Davy joined the Aurora (Colorado) Soccer Club when he was six years old and stayed with the club as they joined the Denver Soccer Club to form the Colorado Fusion. The Fusion then became a Rapids adidas Alliance club, and soon thereafter Armstrong joined the Rapids Academy U-18 on a full-time basis.
“Most of the club seasons around here are going to be start and stop,” said Crookham. “We’re fortunate to be able to stretch those kids because we have the facilities, we’ve got the staff, we’ve got a league they can play in, and supplemental MLS events that will give them a full program for 10 months. If you aspire to be a professional player, it’s not a part-time thing.”
While Crookham was among the first to see the potential in Armstrong and was influential in identifying the young forward as a 'homegrown' player, he believes Armstrong’s rise to the pro ranks is a combination of many factors.
“Obviously it’s starts with the raw material you put into the system, so Davy’s qualities and his desire to excel is number one,” said Crookham.
Talent aside, his participating in the Rapids Academy allowed the Rapids coaches to see Armstrong play on a consistent basis and monitor his progress.
He was first brought in to train with the Rapids professional team during the 2010 preseason. Throughout the spring, first team head coach Gary Smith and assistant coach Steve Guppy were frequent visitors at the Rapids Academy games. And then during the summer months, the coaches invited Armstrong to train with the first team again, where they could better evaluate if he was ready to become a professional.
“It’s a fine line, because we definitely have players in the system now that are talented enough to be professionals,” said Crookham. “But it’s more than talent, and Davy has proven that.”
“If you looked in November, I wouldn’t have said Davy was the first one. But now he’s pushed that envelope, he’s opened the door, and the other players that are in the system can see what it takes to get there. The bottom line is that he seized that opportunity with his ability and work ethic.”
From Crookham’s point of view, there is no one individual responsible for Armstrong rise to the professional team.
“It’s a commitment from Kroenke Sports and from the Rapids to do this,” said Crookham. “To build a system where a player can start as a youth player, move in and get experience almost as an apprentice from the professional side and then move on to the pro setup. He’s probably the first of many, but it’s the commitment of the club to be able to do that.”
When Armstrong next steps on to the training field with the first team, he’ll be doing so as a professional.