South Georgia Tormenta FC Academy standouts Stephen O'Hearn, Grant Hampton and Tristan DeLoach are emblematic of the club's approach that links the USL Academy, USL League Two and USL League One teams seamlessly. | Photo courtesy South Georgia Tormenta FC
Until two years ago, not many people thought of Statesboro, Georgia as a place where one of the most well-structured professional soccer pathways in the country could be built. But when South Georgia Tormenta FC set up shop there in January 2018, that quickly changed.
Tormenta FC is one of only a handful of organizations in the United States with its own academy program, pre-professional side in USL League Two, and professional side in USL League One, placing it alongside clubs like the Portland Timbers and New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer or North Carolina FC and Orange County SC of the USL Championship.
Last year, the club announced a 2019-20 pilot program with an aim to break down barriers for youth soccer in America. The program will fully fund academy participation for 54 players across the southeast in an effort to make soccer accessible to the best players in the region.
Many players who joined the academy at its inception have already broken through to Tormenta’s League One and League Two teams. This progression is a testament to the involvement of each squad’s coaching staff within the academy.
“The professional coaching staff often evaluates players at games and runs sessions for the academy players,” said Tormenta FC Director of Youth Soccer Operations Brad Nein.
“This promotes a direct link between our youth and professional programs. It’s important for us to develop academy players who are aligned with our first team to be able to continue infusing young players into our professional training and game play environment.”
16-year-old Grant Hampton appeared for Tormenta FC 2 in USL League Two last year, and is now a USL Academy signing for the club's League One side this season. | Photo courtesy Cameron Koubek
“One of the things we’re going to start doing even more this spring is that our [League One] staff and our League Two staff are going to be more involved in the youth academy,” said John Miglarese, Tormenta’s Vice President of Player Development and Head Coach of the League One team. “I’m going to get direct feedback as the manager on how Player X did in training on Tuesday night. We’ll be able to track their development and decide if they’re ready to be thrown into the deep end.
“I think for us it’s important to have my assistant coaches involved in youth academy training on a regular basis, and me being visible at that training as well so I have a finger on the pulse of what’s going on with our kids.”
Tormenta recently signed a trio of academy products to academy contracts with the first team: 17-year-old midfielder Tristan DeLoach, 16-year-old midfielder Grant Hampton, and 16-year-old goalkeeper Stephen O’Hearn. DeLoach is returning for a second year as a USL Academy signing for the club having made one appearance in League One last season, while Hampton played in four games for Tormenta 2 in League Two.
16-year-old goalkeeper Stephen O'Hearn can also appear for Tormenta in League One this season after signing a USL Academy contract | Photo courtesy Tormenta FC
The efficiency with which promising academy players are identified and promoted is due in large part to what Miglarese calls, “a complete value-based system from the top down.”
“We want our six-year-old kids embracing the same values we promote in our first team, and that’s also on the technical side in terms of some of the ideas we want to implement,” said Miglarese. “From the youngest of ages, we start to see it come to fruition played out in the first team as well. We’re trying to bring in more of our academy kids into our League Two team, and we try to sign multiple players on academy contracts to our League One team. That provides that kind of buy in and that connectivity that we want in the community.”
Those values are based on a unique academy curriculum created by Tormenta’s Technical Director Jeremy Aven, which moves from a foundational program between the ages of eight to 14 and adds in complex tactical ideas from ages 15 through 19 once players have established technical proficiency.
“The technical focus allows players time with the ball to work toward mastery through this portion of their development,” said Nein. “Focusing early on a technical base allows for greater success when young players are given the opportunity to participate with the League Two and League One teams.”
Products of that program, including Hampton and O’Hearn, will compete at February’s USL Academy Eastern Conference Regional Event. For players who have already begun integrating into a professional setting, the event will offer a chance to test themselves against other elite prospects at their age level.
“The most exciting piece for me about competing in the USL Academy event in February is to be able to participate against other USL clubs and see where our group fits in against organizations throughout the eastern United States,” said Nein. “I’m excited that the Tormenta academy is involved in this uniquely professional experience for youth players.”
For more information on USL Academy and the USL Academy Eastern Conference Regional Event, visit www.usl-academy.com or search #USLAcademy on Twitter.