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Heading into the 2018 Jeff Cup, we're highlighting some of the top clubs that attend the tournament on an annual basis with our Jefferson Cup Club Feature Series. In the third edition, learn more about Florida’s Tampa Bay United Rowdies.
Developing an elite level youth soccer program is no easy task. It takes years to fine tune, to adjust, and it requires not resting on one’s past success, but building on it.
Through years of hard work and determination, Tampa Bay United has developed into one of the top soccer youth development programs in the United States. Their success includes multiple state and national titles, and a history of strong performances in the Jefferson Cup.
While Tampa Bay United has continuously evolved as a club since its formation, the Jefferson Cup has remained a staple in their programming across the age groups.
“The club was formed in 2001 with HC United, and we have had teams participating in the Jefferson Cup dating back to those years,” said Tampa Bay United ECNL Technical Director Adrian Bush. “We’ve really kept [the Jefferson Cup] as a mainstay for our program. The event is fantastic and we really started getting some of our younger teams up there. We start recommending it at 12 years old.”
Bush, who holds a USSF ‘A’ License and a USSF GK ‘A License, has been with Tampa Bay United since 2009, and also served as the Director of Coaching for HC United (2001-2006) and RSL Florida (2006-2008). In addition to his role as TBU Technical Director, he also serves as the ECNL 2003 Girls Head Coach and is the Head Men’s Soccer Coach for the University of Tampa.
While Tampa Bay United has gone through multiple different changes and identities, high level soccer has been a constant. In 2015, their Girls U-17 side won the US Youth Soccer National Championship as well as the US Youth Soccer Regional Championship for Region III. They have also won 12 Florida State Cups, seven Disney Showcase Championships, and four Presidents Cup titles. At the Jefferson Cup, they have been crowned champion three times, including the U-12 Boys age group in 2006, and at the U-14 Girls level in 2012 and again in 2016.
It should comes as no surprise that due to the success of their teams at the youth level, that their players have gone on to ply their craft at both the college and professional levels. United is a girls and boys ECNL member club in one of the national league’s most challenging regions, and is a U.S. Soccer Development Academy member club on the boys side.
On the boys side, notable alumni include Portland Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, Oklahoma City Energy midfielder Anthony Wallace (formerly the ninth overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft), and Haiti national team midfielder Pascal Millien.
On the girls side, the list includes Stacy Bishop (formerly of the Boston Breakers and the Atlanta Beat) and Meggie Dougherty Howard (who made 23 appearances for the Washington Spirit last season). The club also announced recently that Sydney Nasello, who has committed to the University of South Florida, was selected to join the United States Women’s National Team Under-18 camp in San Diego, California.
In the last two years, the club has had 32 players commit to colleges across the United States. For 2018, they currently have 15 players committed.
“Our goal is that any kid that wants to play at the next level, we are going to look to do everything that we can to get them there,” Bush said. “Being able to go to the Jefferson Cup is something that helps them out.”
So, how has the club achieved so much in such a tough environment like Florida soccer? By putting an emphasis on the development of players at a young age.
“We focus on development,” said Bush. “We are not overly concerned with results from 8 years old to 12. Really, 8 to 14 years old. Parents are sometimes taken aback when we have that initial meeting when I tell them ‘I don’t care about your scores. I don’t care about your championships, where you rank when you are 13 years old.’ It is strictly development and we get coaches in place that have that experience.”
“We have a large college staff that are working with our players,” Bush continued. “We have a really good staff, a good mix of individuals that have been doing it for a long time and they enjoy it.”
Tampa Bay’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. In April, the club announced a Youth Development Affiliation agreement with the USL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies.
“The partnership with the Rowdies has come in with the goal of them getting into MLS,” said Bush “They had to secure a youth development program, and I think we are maybe the largest club in the state, in terms of numbers. With the affiliation, we are able to collaborate with coaches and the structure is great.”
The Rowdies’ long-term plans in terms of building a women’s team also seemed to appeal to United.
“The Rowdies initial plan is to also have a women’s team, which is very important for us and I know it was something in the discussions that was big part for us,” said Bush. “Getting a women’s pro team is really the goal for us, creating that [player development] pyramid where there is development for all levels. It starts at the rec levels at 5 years old, but it carries on. We are one of the very few clubs that has a top of the pyramid.”
While getting professional women’s side is in the club’s long-term goals, gearing up for the 2018 Jefferson Cup is a high priority in the short-term. The event is something Bush and the club are looking forward to, as they do every year.
“The biggest thing that I can say about the Jefferson Cup is the quality of the event,” said Bush. “It is the teams that come to the event. All of the teams are quality. It is a well-run tournament, and it has a history of being very well-run. You know you are getting good fields, you are getting good referee, and the structure is going to be there. So that side of it has always been fantastic.”
“For us the best thing is that it gets us out of this area and it gets them out of this area before a State Cup or starting our preparation for the ECNL,” Bush continued. “But it gets them out of this state, and it gets them playing some of the top teams in the country and you know we really get that brand the Northeast that is so good and strong. We are able to see that which we don’t see on a normal basis.”
Bush believes that the experience is not only important for the players but also the coaches as well.
“You want to be challenged,” he said. “That’s what players come to our team for to get to a culture and environment that is geared towards the highest level that is pretty serious. When you get up there, and I think it’s true not just for our players but our coaches, are able to grow at events like that. When you look over and your counterpart is just as good as you or better, you’re excited to coach that day.”
In 2017’s edition of the Jefferson Cup, the club had nine sides accepted into the tournament: five boys (U-12 Championship, U-12 Elite, U-13 Championship, U-16 Classic, and U-17 Superior) and four girls (U-15 Classic, U-16 Elite, U-17 Superior, and U-19 Superior). Their U-12 boys side finished with a record of 3-0-1 in the Championship Division.