USL PRO Feature
Thursday, November 29, 2012
When the Charleston Battery lifted the USL PRO Championship in September, among those who had contributed to their victory against the Wilmington Hammerheads, and throughout the season, had arrived at the club as a hopeful, looking to earn a professional contract through the club’s annual series of open trials.
This weekend, Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser and his staff will begin that process again as they welcome players that could include their next Taylor Mueller, pictured, Mark Wiltse or JC Mack III.
“We’re looking just for a player that, you know, maybe has missed the opportunity to be seen in college, maybe an international player that has just missed the call-in,” Anhaeuser said by phone this week. “Unless they do very well, we would invite them back in February when we do our MLS [Carolina] Challenge Cup, so obviously we’re looking for a player who can come in and compete at that level to come in with our players at the beginning of the season.”
Open tryouts are a fixture on the calendar for USL PRO teams as they try to find talent for the upcoming season. In addition to the USL PRO Combine, hosted by the league at IMG Academy in January, the teams will also search for players, using their contacts in the college game and scouting locally to try and find players that could make a difference in the professional ranks.
“It’s pretty extensive,” Pittsburgh Riverhounds coach Justin Evans said of his team’s process. The Riverhounds’ opening tryouts are set for December 6-7, with another session set for January. On top of that, Evans and his staff have been working hard during the college season to try and identify future Riverhounds.
“It’s getting those players on the radar and obviously doing our homework looking into those players,” Evans said. “Then hopefully also just being able to talk to them and figure out what they’re like as a person, how they’re going to jell with the team, how they go about their everyday business in training and in life, that’s where you can tell a lot about that stuff.”
One of the important facets of the partnership the Harrisburg City Islanders maintain with Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union comes with their joint combine, which will be held on December 18-19.
“There’s no doubt that tryout brings in the highest quality of players of all the tryouts we do,” Harrisburg coach Bill Becher said. “We typically do three a year, and the one we do with [the Union], there’s no doubt that’s the highest level of players that we see.”
Thanks to the Union’s involvement, the combine offers the City Islanders coaches a chance to see players that wouldn’t usually consider the City Islanders’ other tryouts in the offseason, expanding the club’s scouting opportunities. And with a roster that turns over regularly, thanks in part to players moving up the professional ranks, Becher’s time is spent looking for the best available players, with the specifics of filling needs on the roster a matter for a later point in the offseason.
“I think we’re a little bit unique when it comes to some of the other teams in that our roster changes over at about a 50 percent rate every year, so we’re always looking for the best available players,” Becher said. The majority of the kids are hoping to be seen by the Union, and we understand that. We look at it as here’s a kid that we may not get another chance to see, and we can bring them in and they can see what we do have and how we run our organization and it gives us an opportunity to talk to them while they’re there.”
Sometimes, players can come out of nowhere. For the Battery, one such example was Taylor Mueller, who played for the PDL’s Washington Crossfire and the University of Washington before coming to Charleston for an open tryout last year. After impressing Anhaeuser and his staff, Mueller made 16 appearances for the Battery this past summer, scoring once.
“It happens almost every season because there are so many schools, there are so many players,” Anhaeuser said. “For us it’s a way for them to have that opportunity to get in here, and in the end, what they’re trying to get is a contract and to play at the next level, and we’ve been able to offer that, especially for some of these guys, and they’ve done a great job for us over the past years.”
The Battery have established a pedigree for helping players advance to the next level, with former players Osvaldo Alonso and Alex Caskey starring for the Seattle Sounders in MLS this past season. The Riverhounds are hoping to do the same, and with a new soccer-specific stadium on the way, and coaching opportunities available in the club’s academy during the offseason, Evans is hoping the direction of the club will prove enticing for players looking to break into the professional ranks.
“If they look at Pittsburgh now, they’re talking about a soccer-specific stadium, which is something we haven’t had for a while, a home to play in,” Evans said. “It’s been nothing but positive things, and on top of that, the youth academy that we’re building, and the training we’re doing in Pittsburgh, has now turned into a place where players can make a living 12 months a year, playing during the summer and an ample amount of coaching to do in the winter with an academy that runs from September to March, so pretty much from when the season ends to when the preseason begins.”
For players hoping to make it to Major League Soccer, the open tryout can be the opening they need to begin their journey.
“We’re in such a large country with diverse backgrounds, there’s always a player that seems to sneak through,” Anhaeuser said. “That’s the reason we do it, because you do want to offer the opportunity for these players to get out there and give them the shot that they’re hoping for.”