It was around 11am as I pulled into the expansive parking lot for ESPN Wide World of Sports. I had come to see the Serie A giants of Italy, AS Roma conduct their morning training session. Having been to the United States senior team open training session in the same area, a decent amount of vehicles in the parking lost was expected. As I rolled around the corner and were greeted by multiple ‘traffic control personnel’ and yellow cones, my eyes couldn’t believe that almost the entire area was filled with cars. Could this many people be here to see the Rome club? I know Michael Bradley, our beloved American midfielder, stars for them now, but this place was packed.
As I walked up the grueling flights of steps to the fields, the reason for the extra people became clear to me. Almost all thirty fields were in top condition and covered in youth players battling for the ball. Thinking not too much, the speed walk continued to see some of the biggest soccer stars in Italy and the world. There was Totti, Bradley, Lamela, De Rossi... all the big boys. After their almost hour-long conditioning, they moved onto some finish with some excellent volleying drills to finish it off. But still, little did I know hundreds of the ‘small’ boys were taking part in something much more important for the future of Orlando and U.S. soccer.
The boys in maroon finished up their morning training session a little early. After getting the usual autographs and photos, I decided to make the drive really worth it and stick around to observe some of the youth matches going on around the corner. Right away an older man wearing AS Roma windbreaker gear caught my eye. This man was none other than the manager for the historic Italian club.
There was the moment when it all hit me. Kind of like the ball being drilled into my temple during pickup this past Saturday. He was watching a match at the Disney Soccer Showcase. How could I have forgotten about the #1 youth tournament in the country?! It’s a little embarrassing, to be honest. With the new contract signed by Roma to ESPN/Disney, they are now the main sponsors of this weekend youth showcase. Hundreds of coaches come to scout some of the top U15-U19 talent from around the nation.
I can not think of a better combination for United States soccer. One of the top Italian clubs (owned by Americans with a clutch American player on board) hosting the top youth tournament of the year, while their own senior squad trains in the background. And it is becuase of Mr. Walt Disney that Orlando is able to be the hotbed for this culmination of the ultimate soccer development environment.
Oh, and that match Zdeněk Zeman was watching? A heated Texas rivalry between FC Dallas and Houston Dynamo U.S. Development Academy squads.
Disney World: building Orlando into THE place to be for soccer.
What do you think Disney is doing for soccer in the Orlando area? Feel free to leave your thoughts in a comment below!