(Photo: France's Franck Ribéry marked by USMNT right back Steve Cherondolo)
A few years ago former France National Team legend Zinedine Zidane paid a visit to Dick's Sporting Goods Park as part of an elite soccer program, giving hundreds of young players a glimpse of the final product developed by the French Football Federation (FFF).
This week, the Colorado Rapids are hosting a full delegation from the FFF as well as representatives from all 19 Major League Soccer academies with an eye on creating their own superstars.
Earlier this year MLS announced a new partnership with the FFF which provides the League's youth academy coaches with world class training through a 16-month youth development course, culminating with the Elite Formation Coaching License (EFCL). The sessions at Dick's Sporting Goods Park from June 14-24 are the third phase of the course.
"It's exciting to have them all here, and representing the Colorado Rapids, we're honored to have been chosen as the host site for the event," said Rapids alliance Technical Director and first-team assistant coach Steve Cooke told ColoradoRapids.com. "We're looking forward to a good 10 days of learning from the FFF and with all the people from around MLS."
In late February and early March, Cooke joined MLS representatives at France's Clairefontaine facility for a week of training before each MLS coach was assigned to observe youth systems at clubs in France, Spain, and Germany. Cooke spent a week studying Real Madrid's academy system and was able to spend time with Real Madrid's first-team assistant coach Aitor Karanka, who played for the Rapids in 2006. Other MLS coaches observed the academies at Paris St. Germain, Olympique Lyonnais, Athletic Bilbao, and VfB Stuttgart.
"It was an outstanding experience," Cooke said of his time in Europe. "The staff are fantastic educators and they have a great methodology to what they do with their courses. It was a tremendous experience to be involved in and luckily it continues for another 12 months or so."
During the 10-day visit the group will conduct daily classroom and on-field sessions, touching on everything from possession, finishing, defense, first-touch, and progression to focus, attention, motivation, and other mental aspects of the game.
At the conclusion of the full program MLS team's will integrate the learning into their own academies, whether in creation or modification of the respective club's youth curriculum and evaluation system for the development of players.
"MLS is trying to help teams through a global outreach in partnering with some of the best educators and player developers in the world," Cooke added. "And we're lucky to be part of it."
MLS / FFF Partnership Outline:
February 25 - March 1: Session 1 at Clairefontaine
March 2-8: European Club Observation #1
June 2013: Session 2 & Session 3 in the United States
September 2013: Session 4 & Session 5 at Clairefontaine
September 2013: European Club Observation #2
February / March 2014: Session 6 & 7 in the United States
May / June 2014: Session 8 at Clairefontaine
July 2014: Begin Integration of Program into MLS Academies
MLS Academy Team represenatives in attendance in Colorado: Larry Sunderland (Chicago Fire), Sasha van der Mos (Chivas USA), Steve Cooke (Colorado Rapids), Billy Thompson (Columbus Crew), Luchi Gonzalez (FC Dallas), Nolan Sheldon (D.C. United), James Clarkson (Houston Dynamo), Jon Parry (Sporting KC), Jovan Kirovski (LA Galaxy), Wilfried Nancy (Montreal Impact), Bryan Scales (New England Revolution), John Wolyniec (New York Red Bulls), Peter Fuller (Philadelphia Union), Mike Smith (Portland Timbers), Freddy Juarez (Real Salt Lake), Chris Leitch (San Jose Earthquakes). Darren Sawatsky (Seattle Sounders), Danny Dichio (Toronto FC), Craig Dalrymple (Vancouver Whitecaps).
French Football Federation representatives: Philippe Lambert, Jean Claude Giuntini, Sylvain Matrisciano, Joel Trebern, Alexandre Marles.
Also attending: MLS Executive Vice President of Competition and Player Relations Todd Durbin, Tim Bezbatchenko (MLS Senior Director, Player Relations and Competition), Jeff Agoos (MLS Technical Director), Greg Vanney (MLS), Dave Chesler (U.S. Soccer’s Director of Coaching Education), Marc Nicholls (U.S. Soccer Federation), Fred Lipka (former Director of the Paris Racing Academy and the Le Havre Athletic Club, liaison between MLS/FFF).