Aspiring pros compete at SRSC
With players coming from all corners of the globe for a professional soccer tryout at the Smith River Sports Complex on Saturday, naturally some players hailed from hot-weather climates.
For them, Martinsville was a rather rude, frigid awakening.
"These guys coming from Brazil must feel like they've gone into Siberia," said head coach Matt Weston. "Unbelievable."
The sub-freezing temperatures steered most fans away from the SRSC for F.C. New York's tryout, but players from all over the globe braved the weather as they attempted to make their name known to Weston, Enda Crehan, and other evaluators for the club from the professional United Soccer League.
Although the brutal weather understandably kept most fans indoors, they missed some quality soccer. Players ranging from talented teenagers, to recent Division-I college players, to seasoned pros from other teams in the USL showed up at the tryout for F.C. New York, a startup team in the USL that is in the process of forming its first 25-man roster.
The tryouts were invite-only, and 55 players turned out to the SRSC. Countries represented included France, Brazil, Spain, Germany and even Japan.
While Weston's networks throughout the world helped attract some players, simply having New York in the team's title also helped recruit talent from all corners of the globe.
"I've had players get in touch who have just googled New York, and all of a sudden they've sent me a resume," Weston said. "The greatest thing about being in New York is that you get to have exposure to the world."
With players flying in from all over the globe, a little snow dusting wasn't about to halt the event that had been in the works for a year or more. That's why SRSC Director of Operations Billy Russo, Director of Marketing Kimberly Payne, and other volunteers spent some five hours clearing snow and ice off the fields and walkways Saturday morning.
That diligence allowed the four-hour tryout to go on, which featured mostly scrimmages among the players as the coaches observed.
"Ultimately you see everything you need to see an 11-v-11 game," Weston said. "It doesn't take me really long to see what I long from a player. It's consistency, and it's finding a player who looks like they belong at this standard. And there's only a few people who do."
The tryout concluded with a showcase game for the public, though few fans remained to witness it.
Four 11-man teams were assembled, and each team played one full half of soccer as the fading sunlight only made the conditions tougher on athletes and spectators, alike.
Still, the tryout went on for obvious reasons. But the bigger question was, what is a team based in Gardens City, N.Y. doing in southern Virginia?
The biggest reason was Crehan and his networks in soccer. Crehan, who is helping Weston select players for the F.C. New York roster, is known locally as the Director of Coaching for the Piedmont Youth Soccer League, but his soccer roots go far deeper than that. He has coached from coast-to-coast, and estimated that he has contacts in some 40 states.
His expansive network includes Weston, whom he met in Long Island roughly a year ago, Crehan said. Weston wanted to market his team outside of New York; his buddy Crehan offered the facility, and a deal was struck.
"I wanted to get out away from New York," Weston said. "I wanted to get to another part of the country. This is a hotbed for soccer down here. For me, once I spoke to Enda, it was a no-brainer that it was the thing to do - good for P.R., good for marketing. And also reach out to the local population here - which Enda has spoken highly of - and have them come out and see some quality soccer."
This weekend's tryout - which continues with another session today at the SRSC - is the second of three tryouts for F.C. New York; the first occurred in November. Weston said he already has an idea of who will make the team, and will likely extend offers for several players before the final tryout Jan. 15-16 in New York.
From there, Weston said he hopes to build a fan base that allows F.C. New York to survive. That's part of why he wants an ethnically diverse team: to win over a similarly diverse group of soccer fans in New York.
"In New York, the ethnic diversity of the place is great," Weston said. "You've got the Ecuadorians, El Salvador people, Honduras, Caribbean. And I'm reaching out to those communities, because those are the soccer fans who are going to come by and support your teams. Hopefully we can build a fan base which can help the club make money and survive. Because a lot of USL clubs have found it hard to survive.
"The big thing for me is to get this team quickly into an internationally known soccer club, and I think we've got a great chance of making that happen."