by Ryan Bailey

The first players to represent Charlotte MLS on the field will begin training in July.

CHARLOTTE — Major League Soccer may be off on the horizon, but Charlotte MLS’ first crop of players will take the field this month with the commencement of the inaugural Academy program.

On July 27th, 32 players from the founding U-14 and U-17 teams will meet for their first training session.

“We can’t wait to get started,” says Academy Manager Dan Lock. “Over the past five months, we’ve been extremely productive in assembling our rosters and getting to know the local community.

“We’re excited to get the ball rolling and start making history. We’re ready to go!”

In preparation for the program, youth players have been following specific fitness plans, including soccer-specific running drills, bodyweight exercises, and individual ball work. Many players have also been attending training with their former clubs throughout June.

With COVID-19 preventing typical training routines and matches, the return to play will be a carefully managed process for the Academy and its coaching staff.

“Most of our Academy players have not played properly for over three months, so we’ll be using a phased approach,” says Lock. “The first two weeks will be more about connectivity between players as they get to know one another, and developing a base level of fitness through soccer-specific training.”

With an initial focus on getting the recruits acclimated, training will take place five days per week. The program will include field sessions, small and large-sided games, regular team meetings, and team-building activities.

Initially, soon-to-be-announced Head Coaches will be joined by an Assistant Coach, a Performance Coach, and a Goalkeeper Coach. The technical staff will also include a Head Individual Development Coach, responsible for producing bespoke plans for every Academy player.

“Each player will have their own individual training plan,” says Lock. “It will include specific activities to address areas for improvement, and goals they can build towards in their spare time.”

“These plans will lay out each player’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which we will track throughout the season,” Lock adds. “We will guide the players towards meeting those KPIs, but ultimately they will be responsible for owning them.

“They will be expected to grade their own performances after each game, with self-reflection forming a key tenet of their development.”

Dietary considerations will also be taken into account — the players will have access to a team nutritionist — and a strong focus will be placed upon mental and emotional development.

“It is important to prepare our players for dealing with adversity and setbacks (on and off the field) and we will work on methods to mentally prepare for games,” says Lock.

And, as a matter of course, the Charlotte MLS Academy program will take all necessary precautions regarding the Coronavirus pandemic.

“We will follow MLS’ Return To Play policy and will ensure our protocols are in line with state recommendations,” says Lock.

The program is preparing for the prospect of a mid-September start for competitive games in the 2020-21 season.

“We’d like to offer our sincere thanks to everyone who has supported the program and contributed to recruitment,” says Lock. “Our players and their parents have been very patient during this process, and we are grateful to those who are participating in the Homestay Program, which will house five academy players moving to the Charlotte area. We also extend a special thanks to all the local clubs for their support.”

With a long-term goal of graduating two academy players to the first-team roster every season, Charlotte MLS has positioned its youth program as a bedrock of the organization.

“We’ve been incredibly well supported by all departments at Tepper Sports & Entertainment,” said Technical Director Marc Nicholls. “The senior management team, and our support staff, have worked to ensure we are very well resourced as we take this first important step.

“It is very clear that the Academy will form an integral part of the club and its long-term success.”