One of the world’s premier soccer academy systems officially established itself in Lake Travis last week, with the arrival of Liverpool FC manager Kenny Dalglish.
Dalglish was giving his stamp of approval for Dynamo Juniors Central Texas, run by his son Paul Dalglish, and in collaboration with LTYA, Houston Dynamo and Liverpool FC.
In a meeting with parents and prospective parents last Tuesday at Waterloo Ice House at the Shops at the Galleria, Paul Dalglish’s message was clear and consistent.
“This is absolutely the best system for player development in the world,” he repeated at multiple times during the meeting. “We are the only program in North America to offer this development opportunity.”
Dynamo Juniors Central Texas, which will be based out of Lake Travis, enters a club soccer market in the Austin area that has been dominated by Lonestar Soccer Club for years. Many questions at the meeting were about how Dynamo Juniors’ philosophy compared to the current Lonestar system.
“I won’t speak about what other clubs have done,” Dalglish said. “I can only speak about our philosophy. It will be a system built on development, not trophies, and our focus is not to be the biggest, but the best.”
Backing up that intention is a stamp of approval from both the Dynamo and Liverpool – the latter of which is approving its first sponsored academy in the United States – which is no insignificant step for one of the biggest soccer franchises in the world. The program hopes to spread the “Liverpool Way,” making clear its initiative by launching the Liverpool International Football Academies in 2010, and by the arrival of Kenny Dalglish to sign off last week.
“We want to reach out to everybody,” he said. “This is all started 18 months ago when Rafa Benitez (then the Liverpool manager), and a Spanish technician got together and implemented a system for the academy. The development the last 18 months has been really heartwarming. [Dynamo Juniors Central Texas] is going to adopt the philosophy of Liverpool Football Club. Liverpool has trusted Paul with this because he knows the Liverpool Way. The club trusts him, I trust him and we know where his heart lies.”
Through his statements at the meeting, Paul Dalglish’s heart appears to be in creating an environment that nurtures soccer talent, creates a fun atmosphere, gives players a chance to prove themselves through a curriculum that adjusts year-to-year and if a soccer career isn’t in the cards upon graduation, makes sure the kids are better off having been in the program.
Some skepticism from parents popped up during the meeting, likely spurred by previous clubs’ attempts to announce themselves as “the next big club” in Austin, but the younger Dalglish remained resolute in the academy’s system and its execution going forward.
“Don’t judge us by what we say, judge us by what we do,” he said.
While all parties involved were extremely confident in their plan to build the best soccer club in Central Texas, there was also a clear sense of humility. When asked how excited Lake Travis parents should be about such storied franchises making a home in their community and the opportunity presented, Kenny Dalglish made it clear that no entitlement will come with the coaching staff.
“Initially, we’ve got to earn the respect,” he said. “We don’t earn the respect just by walking in here and being who we are, and neither should we. It has to be proven by actions, by taking the pressure off the kids and by giving them a chance to prove themselves.”
The Houston Dynamo sponsorship comes with serious credentials, as well, as the program has graduated four players to the Dynamo and has placed every other nonprofessional academy member thus far into a collegiate soccer program.
Lake Travis has become the ninth Dynamo Juniors satellite program in the country, but the first to simultaneously include the Liverpool academy curriculum.
The panel speaking with parents on Tuesday night included Paul and Kenny Dalglish, James Clarkson – Director of Youth Development for Dynamo, Dynamo Juniors Central Texas Director of Coaching Tim Chestney and LTYA Executive Director John Nelms.
The questions ranged from philosophical to fun – one prospective player requested the team uniforms be purple (they will be Dynamo orange, for those wondering) – to serious, like the questions about LTYA’s growing enrollment but seemingly limited facilities. Nelms tried to quell any concerns in that regard.
“My main job, and the first one I’ll be working on as soon as this meeting is over, is securing more facilities for our growing programs,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good plan in place and should be able to accommodate all of our kids.”
As for what Dynamo Juniors Central Texas offers to prospective athletes once they’re on the field, high-level coaching is probably the best selling point. Paul Dalglish’s resumé is a long one, and it includes stints in both the Liverpool and Celtic academies, a professional career that spanned over a decade in Europe/Australia/US, two MLS titles (including Man of the Match with two goals in the 2006 Western Conference championship) and an ‘A’ coaching license.
The program starts for the U9 age group and goes all the way through U18 for both boys and girls.
When presented with the opportunity to join forces, LTYA president Chad Wilbanks said the decision was a nobrainer.
“The partnership is fantastic,” Wilbanks said. “Having a relationship with a professional athletic organization such as the Houston Dynamo and Liverpool FC only strengthens our program for all sports in a growing community.”
And he felt it was significant that the academy felt like Lake Travis was the right area to call home.
“I think they recognize that Lake Travis is a close-knit community, a community that values its kids, a community that likes to win, and at the end of the day, sports bring a community together,” Wilbanks said. “We have a fantastic, fantastic high school athletic program, and this, in a lot of ways, will help build the farm, so to speak, for future high school athletic success.”
Some other highlights that come with the program’s professional affiliations include hosting an MLS preseason game in Austin with the Dynamo, giving Dynamo Juniors an up-close and personal look at training and game preparation from professionals, coaching symposiums for all Dynamo Juniors coaches with professional staffs, MLS Showcase tournaments operated solely for MLS Academy programs and the opportunity to travel to Europe with the Dynamo Academy for exhibitions with top club academies like Glasgow Rangers, Celtic, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Chestney, who has coached in the Lake Travis area since 2003, couldn’t be more excited to see a club emerge with what he feels is sound philosophy.
“It’s created a buzz. I’ve never had so many meetings, probably in my life, than we’ve had in the last three or four weeks,” he said. “I’m a huge fan of the San Antonio Spurs. And in many ways, the Spurs are a great comparison for the Liverpool Way and their style of handling things. Humility and teamwork are the cornerstones.”
On the field, Chestney broke down what he envisioned as the most visual difference to parents going forward.
“The tip of the iceberg, is that with our training sessions, it’s much more technically based. The goal is that our training sessions will increase ‘x’ amount of touches for the kids. The main focus is on development,” he said. “If you go and look at our games on the weekend versus other clubs, I think you’re going to see lots of passes between players instead of long passes down the field from the defenders to the biggest kids up front. That’s not a style we’ll be OK with.”
Chestney also admitted that a program like this shows how opportunities for young soccer players have changed in the last 20 years.
“I think the most exciting part is to be a kid now as compared to what I had available to me as a kid. This is so much bigger,” he said. “This is such a big opportunity. On a soccer level, all of this is a big testament to what has transpired in soccer not just in our country but in our community.”
Inaugural tryouts and Elite Camp are coming up, and prospective parents and athletes can visit www.dynamojuniorsct.com for more information.