FC Edmonton Academy technical director Jeff Paulus and his staff continue to scout and identify Edmonton’s best U-15 talent at the club’s week-long FC Edmonton Academy Combine this week at Clarke Stadium.

Players in the U-15 age group are assessed and evaluated through training and inter-squad matches, with the top 2003-born players being offered a contract to be a part of the next generation of the Academy. At the end of the camp, Paulus will be looking to select players to join the U-16 academy for next season, where they’ll be brought in to a new environment and train four times a week with the best players in the city on a regular basis.

The trialists are evaluated over four sessions, testing not only their technical skills, but their endurance and mental strength training at a high intensity against the best players in their respective age group.

“The first day we put them through an offensive session,” Paulus said. “The second day is a session focused on defending and the last two days are inter-squad games on full-sized fields. There are a lot of nerves early on, which is why the first two days we just do training because it allows them to settle in and learn how we want them to play and what kind of habits we want to see them play with. So far it has been great, the quality is high and the kids are fantastic.”

The scouting process begins through the Alberta Soccer Association (ASA) when they host their winter training programs. From there, players who earn a spot in the provincial program get an automatic invite to the Combine for a chance at at cracking a spot in the Academy. Paulus also consults technical directors from various clubs, who then recommend players that should be invited to the combine for further assessment.

“Sometimes coaches see different things in a player, so we make sure to keep tabs on all of the players who are in the provincial program,” Paulus noted. “Me being the only full-time academy staff member makes it a bit of challenge to scout, so I also take recommendations from technical directors at other clubs for recommendations on players and that has been very successful over the years.”

Most of the players compete in the local leagues such as the Edmonton Minor Soccer Association (EMSA) and the Edmonton Interdistrict Youth Soccer Association (EIYSA), where their development begins at a young age. The academy relies on local clubs from both sets of leagues to develop and work with the players in order to provide them a platform to take their game to the next level. Through minor soccer and the Academy, the club already has a number of success stories including defenders Allan Zebie and Marko Aleksic in the current first-team, Shamit Shome’s signing with Generation Adidas last season and being drafted to the Montreal Impact, and most recently Amer Didic, an Academy product who signed a first-team contract with Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday.

Without local coaches and clubs, the Academy wouldn’t be able to have the impact that it does in advancing young, Canadian players to the collegiate or professional levels.

“It’s vital for us to work with these clubs and programs because we don’t bring them in until the U-15 age category,” Paulus said. “So the clubs in turn have to work with the kids’ technical development because we get them late. That relationship with ASA is fantastic, we are on the same page and we have the same ideas when it comes to developing players. That’s becoming more and more seamless as we kind of mature with our academy.

“For the clubs, it’s vital we recognize the work they’re doing with these players. Even with our players, we talk with them and we want them to recognize the value of club football and to thank the teams they played on because without the clubs, a lot of these boys wouldn’t have the opportunity to join our academy.”

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