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Building a local soccer pipeline

Carter Eckl
ceckl@nevadaappeal.com
Ricky Diaz
Courtesy

Douglas High junior soccer players Manuel “Mimin” Solis Diaz and Ricky Diaz have aspirations of playing soccer at the highest level possible.

Late last week, the two continued to see their work on the pitch pay off as both were selected onto Reno 1868’s first youth academy team to play in Tampa Bay, Fla., in May.

The 19 players were chosen through a Northern Nevada under-17 club team called Nevada United, which was ranked No. 1 nationally a season ago and currently sits at No. 3, according to Reno 1868 GM Doug Raftery.

As of now, the youth academy team is just an affiliation with Reno 1868, meaning the event in May is a starting point for the USL club interested in growing youth soccer in Northern Nevada.

“It’s not our own academy. We are sending a team from in-town out to Tampa to represent the Reno 1868 brand,” said Raftery. “It’s very much a starting point to see logistics, quality from other academy clubs around the USL and see how one of our local clubs can compete in it.”

In Tampa, the Reno 1868 academy team will compete against other USL youth academies, some of which have been active for years.

Expectations for the upcoming months

Mimin and Ricky Diaz will continue playing for Nevada United, but the club itself will begin to receive more instruction from Reno 1868 as well as training sessions with Reno’s professional players, classroom instructions displaying on-field tactics and showcases as they get closer to May.

The goal of sending Nevada United to represent Reno 1868 in May is to gain traction on continuing to build youth soccer connections in Northern Nevada.

Though it may be statistically unlikely, Raftery said he hopes that the youth academy will help develop a local player pool for his USL club.

“It’s not guaranteed by any means. It’s not common to have a lot of local players play for your club, but having this avenue of an academy structure would open those doors a bit more,” Raftery said.

Though the plans for the academy after May are still being worked out, the excitement for Mimin and Ricky stems from the opportunity.

The two Douglas players will be playing alongside club teammates, most of which play at competing Reno high schools during the fall. They’re also playing alongside friends they’ve made from playing soccer over the years.

“I think it’s just a great opportunity for the next step,” said Ricky Diaz.

“It’s just something I’ve been working for,” said Mimin. “To think the opportunity came with a local academy – and we’re from an area where soccer isn’t really big here – just to think that Reno chose us is crazy.”

The two have been playing soccer since they could first sign up at ages four and five and have traveled into Northern California and to Colorado for events in the past, but going across the country to Florida in May will be a completely new experience.

With the ultimate goal of becoming a professional player, both felt flying to the other side of the country will be the best example of what playing professionally is all about.

“We’re going to see what it’s like to be a professional because that’s what they do is travel around,” said Mimin. “We’ve always had parents support us, but over there it’s going to be solo. … Experiencing that is going to teach us a lot.”

Picking Nevada United

With Reno 1868 working through the process of its first academy team, Raftery said it couldn’t have worked out much better than having a highly competitive local club team takes the first steps toward building a connection in the area.

In fact, Nevada United coach John Zebrack – who will coach the academy team – already works with Reno 1868.

Raftery said that Nevada United was the first Nevada team to win the California-based club soccer league this past season.

“It was sort of a natural fit that already existed. There wasn’t too much piecing together,” Raftery said.

Though the team will only be representing Reno 1868 in May, Raftery feels the public could eventually see some of the U17 players sporting the Reno 1868 jersey professionally in the future.

“If there is quality, which I think there is, in the next year or two there could definitely be involvement if they stay local,” Raftery said.

The Reno 1868 GM said the youth club will also have the opportunity to sit on the bench prior to the professional team taking the field to learn what it’s like to mentally prepare to play professional soccer.

In the meantime, Mimin and Ricky are anxiously awaiting a chance to continue chasing their dreams and were thankful to Zebrack for the opportunity.

“Just to make an impact on them (Reno 1868),” said Ricky. “That’s what I want from the academy – to grow as a person and a soccer player.”