Blueprint For Success: How the Valencia CF Academy Arrived in Seattle
Since 2016, Valencia CF (VCF) – one of the premier clubs in Spain with a deep history of success that includes six La Liga titles and eight Copa Del Rey trophies – has been engaged in the Seattle youth soccer community through its partnership with Eagleclaw Football Club. VCF chose to partner with Eagleclaw based on its solid track record of conscientious development of players and coaches, as well as an organizational structure and club leadership committed to working the way a professional club’s youth academy should operate.
The relationship between VCF, the VCF Academy – Seattle and Eagleclaw is direct, meaning there is no intermediary. The VCF Academy – Seattle is a direct extension of the VCF Academy in Spain. The lines of communication run directly from the directors and officials in Seattle to the directors and officials at the Valencia CF Youth Academy in Spain. Forging this kind of relationship and making it a reality is not something that can be done in a few weeks, months or even a year. It requires the right combination of vision, character, effort, proven results delivered over a long period of time, and considerable trust.
The origins of the relationship between Valencia CF and Eagleclaw date back to 2013 when Eagleclaw evolved from being a private club with just one team to a more public club developing many teams. Executive Director Joe Campos reached out to his contacts at Valencia CF hoping to bring their proven model of talent identification and development to Washington state. Discussions began and a proposal was made, negotiations ensued but the timing was not ideal for either side.
Eagleclaw then began exploring and developing its own curriculum, delving into the origins of the successful Spanish philosophy of Positional Play, or Juego de Posición. This extensive research led to the Netherlands, specifically the Dutch professional club AFC Ajax and its legacy of Total Football. Joe began working with Mr. Bob DeKlerk, a former Ajax Academy coach, former manager at Toronto FC and later the assistant coach at Atlanta United. Working with Joe, Mr. DeKlerk became very familiar with Eagleclaw and the club's ambitions and way of working. He visited Seattle in 2015 for a coach development program and gained firsthand knowledge of the club.
Joe developed for Eagleclaw a fundamental Positional Play curriculum and training methodology grounded in the ambitions of Dutch Total Football but based on the evolution of that philosophy in Spain. This embryonic Positional Play curriculum became the foundation of Eagleclaw's training and playing philosophy.
In 2016, Mr. DeKlerk, recognizing Joe's continuing interest in Valencia CF and devotion to Spanish Positional Play, introduced him to another Dutchman by the name of Bram Verbruggen. Bram was a consultant to Valencia CF, which by then had renewed interest in identifying and developing talent in the United States, particularly in the Greater Seattle area. He proposed Eagleclaw to Valencia CF as an ideal partner. Valencia CF was immediately receptive and plans were made to explore a relationship between the two clubs through incremental collaborations.
The first collaborations between VCF and Eagleclaw were modest and intended to ensure the two clubs would be able to work together despite the geographic distances and time zone differences. Paso a paso! Step by step! Bram was the point person for managing and guiding the budding relationship. In 2017, Eagleclaw hosted the first edition of the Valencia CF Summer Academy at Starfire Sports. Two VCF Academy coaches traveled to Seattle to lead the program and work side-by-side with Eagleclaw coaches. One of those coaches was Manu Ruz, a former first team player for Valencia CF and currently the lead scout for Valencia CF’s first team. The program was an unqualified success with over 100 players attending the club-neutral program.
The next step in the development of the relationship called for Eagleclaw FC to send two teams to Spain in April 2018 to train at the Valencia CF Youth Academy and compete in a tournament hosted at the VCF Academy facilities. This event was also extremely successful. Eagleclaw teams performed well in training and tournament matches against high-level Spanish youth club teams. The visit also allowed Eagleclaw coaches to develop more personal relationships with the Valencia CF Academy staff.
Three months after returning from this successful trip to Spain, Eagleclaw hosted the second edition of the Valencia CF Summer Academy. This time, nearly 150 players attended and three coaches from the Valencia Youth Academy traveled from Spain to lead the program and train the players. Among them was Jose Luis Bravo, currently head coach of Valencia CF’s Juvenil B academy team, as well as Natalia Garcia Montero, currently head coach of Valencia CF’s Feminino B, the women’s reserve team, and VCF Academy coach Rafael Maicas.
In 2019, Eagleclaw teams again traveled to Valencia to train at the VCF Academy and compete in a tournament. This time, three teams traveled. It was during this trip that officials from Valencia CF Academy , including VCF Academy Director of Operations Luis Martinez, met with Eagleclaw’s Executive Director Joe Campos to create a new program focused on forming a limited number of teams only at certain ages and identifying and developing talented players with the potential to play at a professional level in Spain. The result of these meetings was the Valencia Discovery Program (VDP).
In May 2019, the first VDP tryouts were held in Seattle and again coaches from Valencia traveled to Seattle, – including Manu Ruz and Toni Navarro, an experienced VCF Academy coach who is currently the 2nd coach for Valencia CF's U19 academy team – to conduct the tryouts and form the inaugural teams.
In the summer of 2019, Eagleclaw hosted the third annual edition of the Valencia CF Summer Academy and, again, three Academy coaches traveled to Seattle for the program. Natalia Garcia Montero again returned to lead the camp along with VCF Academy coach Fernando Martin Carreras. As with previous iterations, the program was extremely successful, with over 100 players attending.
In February 2020, VCF coach Toni Navarro traveled to Seattle to oversee and direct Valencia Discovery Program tryouts for high school aged boys.
During the COVID pandemic lockdown of 2020, Valencia CF Academy coaches worked extremely closely with Eagleclaw coaches to create meaningful content and experiences for Eagleclaw players to keep them fit, engaged and as current as possible with their training. Valencia CF provided educational content, online seminars and Zoom meetings with Valencia CF Academy players and staff. All of these efforts, coming during a period of unprecedented crisis, demanded innovation and real engagement, further solidifying the working relationship between the two clubs.
In 2021, Eagleclaw hosted the fourth edition of the Valencia CF Summer Academy. This time, due to travel restrictions, Valencia coaches were unable to travel for the camp. To solve this problem, Valencia CF created an entire curriculum customized for the situation and held virtual sessions with Eagleclaw coaches to study Valencia's game model and training methodologies in the context of the camp curriculum. In addition, Valencia CF coaches participated in a pre-camp Zoom meeting with parents of registered players to explain the objectives of the camp and how it would be organized and conducted by Eagleclaw coaches with support from Valencia CF. This effort represented an important new growth stage in the working relationship between the two clubs.
In February 2022, VCF academy coach Vicente Roch traveled to Seattle to direct and oversee Valencia Discovery Program tryouts for high school aged boys. During his visit, Vicente also conducted education seminars for Eagleclaw coaches, deepening their understanding of the Valencia DNA.
In April 2022, Eagleclaw teams again returned to Spain, including the M06 Valencia Discovery Program team and the M09 Talons. Both teams engaged in intensive training sessions at the VCF Academy training facility as well as friendly matches against Valencia CF Academy teams and teams from Torrent FC, Unión Imposibles-Betero CF, and the Valencia CF Academy - New York.
Then, in April 2022, after six years of close and trustworthy collaboration, Valencia CF proposed to establish an official extension of its youth academy in Seattle. The objective of the VCF Academy – Seattle is to go beyond the VDP program and create a direct pathway to Spain and Valencia for top players. Coaches from Spain will come to live and work in Seattle to identify, recruit and develop talented youth players according to the same philosophies, methodologies and best practices employed at the VCF Academy in Spain.
Players are recruited from Eagleclaw FC as well as from other clubs and programs in the Greater Puget Sound area. VCF Academy – Seattle players and coaches wear the same uniforms as Valencia CF personnel in Spain. Players at the U16-U18 levels are expected to travel to Spain once a year to train at the Academy for in-person observation by VCF Academy coaches. VCF Academy – Seattle coaches are also expected to travel to Spain once per year for education and training with the Academy coaches in Spain.
The official VCF Academy – Seattle is staffed by extremely experienced Eagleclaw coaches who have earned the distinction of being recognized as Valencia CF Academy coaches. Additionally, in the fall of 2022, the first coach from the VCF Academy in Spain will relocate to Seattle in a full time capacity to serve as the Director of Methodology as well as the primary liaison between VCF Academy – Seattle and the VCF Academy in Spain.
Ensuring proper linkage between the VCF academies in Spain and Seattle requires close coordination between leaders on both sides and working relationships that, in many cases, are close personal relationships. In Spain, the key leaders are Sean Bai (General Director of VCF Academy), Luis Martinez (VCF Academy Director of Operations), Marco Otero (VCF Academy Technical Director), Borja Eroles (International Sport Development Manager), Joan Aguado (International Sport Development- VCF Academy Administration), Lorenzo Martinez Rodriguez (Sport Business-Academy Programs), Ramon Mompó (Technical Responsible - VCF Academy Programs) and Vicente Roch (Technical Coordinator - VCF Academy). These leaders interact daily with the Seattle leadership, especially Joe Campos (Executive Director - VCF Academy Seattle), Matthew Olson (Director of Coaching - VCF Academy Seattle) and Kayla Mehring (Director of Member Experience - VCF Academy Seattle).
On May 2-5, 2022, VCF Coach Ramon Mompó will travel from Spain to Seattle to oversee and direct the inaugural tryouts for the VCF Academy Seattle.
With the advent of the VCF Academy – Seattle program, Eagleclaw’s Valencia Discovery Program has been sunsetted. Eagleclaw FC continues to thrive and will now become the direct pathway for players to the VCF Academy – Seattle and to the Valencia CF Academy in Spain. Eagleclaw players and coaches also benefit from continued access to VCF training methodologies, coaching education and a direct dialogue with VCF Academy coaches. This is what we mean when we say Eagleclaw is “powered by” Valencia CF.
(Originally published at www.ValenciaCFAcademy-Seattle.com)