Local HS soccer players reaping benefits of new Academy

Corona del Sol High School in Tempe will take a hit this year in its boys soccer program – but it could be seen as a contribution to the sport as a whole.

Three players from Arizona are among the 19 standout players from across the United States who will become the first group in the new soccer residency program at Grande Sports World in Casa Grande.

Two of those players were on last year’s 5A-I state championship team at Corona del Sol, goalkeeper Matt Bersano and midfielder Casey Phillips.  They will transfer to Casa Grand High School for their senior years, to be able to participate each day in the afternoon training sessions at the facility.

The third Arizona player is Tyler Wilson, a goalkeeper at Buena High School in Sierra Vista.  All 19 players in the program will attend either Casa Grande High School or the city’s new high school, Vista Grande.

There is another residency program that is also similar to the U.S. national youth soccer residency program in Florida, located in Minnesota.  But the Arizona academy is the first soccer residency program in the U.S. that is associated with a Major League Soccer Team, the Real Salt Lake (RSL) in Utah.

Still another local high school soccer player has benefited in an indirect way from the development of the Arizona Academy in Casa Grande.  Cole Nagy, a freshman last year at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale was invited to join the Under-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla., a result of shared information between the academy coaches and scouts.

The RSL-Arizona Development Academy was approved and selected to join the U.S. Soccer federation’s youth development program after vying with hundreds of organizations, becoming the 78th team in the program.  It began operation in 2007.

The Academy is hosted in Casa Grande at the Grande Sports World’s 45-acre campus adjacent to the Francisco Grande Resort and Golf Course.  The facility includes six professional-quality soccer fields, a 58,000 sq. ft. performance center, locker rooms, weight room, and class rooms.

A total of 23 other players from Arizona have also joined the RSL Academy, but are not included in the residency program.  The residency program will have an Under-16 and and Under-18 boys team that will travel to national and international events during the school year.

Since the Real Salt Lake pro team is located in Utah, it is somewhat surprising that Arizona was awarded the development program.  The size of the market had something to do with it, but more than anything, the idea seems to have been to provide a way to keep more players in the U.S.   In the past, many of the best players have gone on from college to play in Mexico.

But the choice of Arizona seems to be working out well.  The residency program wasn’t expected to be operational until next year, but the first group is moving in for the 2010-11 school year.

And next year, the program hopes to be able to provide on-site schooling.

Soccer is alive and well – and thriving – in the middle of the southern Arizona desert.