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FC Alliance takes pride in youth soccer

Pooling most of the Knox County area’s top youth soccer talent and coaching in a recent-years merger, FC Alliance prides itself on being the complete youth soccer club — and one of the two largest clubs in Tennessee.

Formed in 2008 by a merger of Smoky Mountain Soccer Club and Impact USA, with a majority of Knoxville Football Club Crush players and personnel later joining Alliance, the club features its most basic levels — newly formed U-5 to U-10-12 Recreation level — to its Premier Black and Red (travel competitive) U-13 to U-18 level. Along with its U5-to-U18 Academy Instructional level and Academy Select/local competitive U9-to U18 level (both more competitive and intense than recreational without the travel and intense training of Premier), Alliance features between 1,500 and 2,000 boy and girl participants.

What sets FC Alliance apart from many other clubs includes how it selects coaches.

“Basically, what we look for. … ‘Is someone a good teacher?” said Filip Leander, a Travel-Competitive level coach and Alliance skills director, one of four Crush directors “and 20 some coaches” who jumped onto the Alliance train.

“That’s how we’re a little bit different, because a lot of soccer clubs are like, ‘Oh, wait a minute, you played for North Carolina? You’re the perfect coach.’

“But you know what, that person may not be a very good teacher,” Leander added.

Coaches “have to show us a lot before we give them a high-level team,” Leander said, adding that process includes a lot of observation.

Leander said some clubs, “not necessarily our direct competitors, they put their most inexperienced coaches with younger teams.”

“What we do is we find people who are successful in specific areas … that person specializes in developing an 8-year-old,” Leander added. “And the 9-year-old coach specializes in preparing a player for the 10-year-old program.”

Also, “The coaches are accountable for the players,” Leander said.

Never give up on a struggling young player.

“The thing that we’ve learned is that the best players at U-18 are not necessarily the best players at U-9,” Leander said, adding an “awkward kid” at age 9 could, with proper training, develop a “soccer IQ and skills” to become exceptional.

Josh Gray, Alliance Premier U15-U19 Director and a club coach, said, “There isn’t a part that doesn’t gear to any specific kid. We kinda take pride in that. … We look more to what the social aspects of the sport do also. It’s not just about competition, it’s about all aspects.”

However, “Our top teams, for the most part, are serious regional contenders … they can be pretty successful at some high level tournaments,” Leander said.

“There’s going to be a team that’s going to go to the type of events that college coaches are going to see.”

Premier/travel competitive high school girls club season, statewide, runs from December to June; the boys from June to January.

Recreation seasons run in the spring and fall, as do Academy Instructional and Academy Select/local competitive seasons.

FC Alliance players “alumni” include Tennessee Lady Volunteers among “a long list of kids, SEC, Big Ten, ACC, they’re all over the place,” Leander said.

Also, Notre Dame University soccer freshman Luke Mishu, former Knoxville Catholic High School star, played under Leander and current Alliance coach John Craven for eight combined years.

Current Alliance high school talent includes rising seniors Dalton Guzman, who helped Hardin Valley Academy win a Class AAA state title, and Josh Holt, whose done the same at Christian Academy of Knoxville at the Class A/AA level.

Training is offered year round. “A lot of our players train 12 months a year,” Leander said.

Alliance’s GAP training program for girls “fills in the time between your normal club season” in Tennessee during which TSSAA high school soccer is being played, ages eighth grade through high school, “mostly for kids who don’t have high school programs,” Gray said.

Many GAP players are among the best Alliance has to offer, adding GAP can improve a player’s “college opportunity” for a major NCAA Division I program scholarship.

That’s because many of FC’s more talented GAP players hook up with regional and out-of-state elite teams in search of recognition for college scholarships playing nationwide.

“Over Labor Day weekend, we have seven girls going to play in Atlanta [Ga.] … at Atlanta Cup,” Gray said. “They’re playing with a team we have a partnership with, Darlington Academy of Rome, Ga.”

However, Gray emphasizes GAP “recruits no one to that program; we tell them we want them to play high school soccer. I think it’s important socially that they play high school soccer.”

Gray said it’s against TSSAA rules to play any form of club soccer while playing with a TSSAA high school team. “Tennessee’s the only state in the southeast [among 16] that doesn’t allow kids to play both at the same time,” Gray said. “No matter how much we want the kids to play high school soccer, some just aren’t going to.

“For those who don’t … we’ll offer them training.”

FC Alliance coaches and staff also run recreation-level programs “for the younger kids” in surrounding counties, which Leander said also run in spring and fall. Top players at those levels have been invited to play for Alliance Premier teams.

In addition to statewide club seasons, “In the summer we run a summer league, where [play] is optional,” Leander said. “In the winter we do an indoor league” at the Hardin Valley location, at Cool Sports, Home of the Icearium in Farragut and Johnny Long Training Academy off Hardin Valley Road.

Outdoor Alliance sites include Alliance Park in Karns, U.S. Cellular Complex off Lovell Road, Johnny Long Training Academy and Academy Park off Watt Road in Farragut.

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