Munich, Germany, might feel like a world away from Buffalo, New York. The former is home to FC Bayern, six-time UEFA Champions League winners and conqueror of the German Bundesliga 27 times, including the last five.
Buffalo, on the other hand, has produced only two Major League Soccer players, Eric Dade and Bobby Shuttleworth, and hasn't been the sole home for a professional soccer team since the 2001 folding of the Buffalo Blizzard.
FC Bayern's youth academy system is among the best in the world, and its tentacles cover all parts of the world in an attempt to uncover talent that can help sustain domestic dominance and push the club back to the top of European soccer.
So, where's the connection?
This is where Buffalo comes into play, as Global Premier Soccer (GPS) - chosen as the official FC Bayern American outpost in 2014 - now boasts 27 total boys and girls teams in area, developing players with the same structure and playing style as the German greats while raising the standard of American soccer.
For our third stop in the "Know Your Premier Club" series, we sat down with GPS New York General Manager Brian Patterson to learn about the philosophy behind player development, opportunities made available through the affiliate German club and specifics in how GPS-NY operates.
When introducing the club, Patterson is quick to emphasize the acronym CARE, which breaks into communication, accountability, respect and exceeding expectations, the four principles instilled in players for value on the field and off.
For Patterson, these traits create the bond of a club, which tends to unite rather than divide. "Our retention rate is high," explained the Irish native who played for Canisius College under Jim Hesch. "Once they get in, players rarely want to leave. All players - those who want to play in high school or [advance to] college - have a place."
GPS doesn't set its aims low - the goal of the program is to develop a World Cup or Champions League-caliber player on the boys side, or a World Cup or Olympic-level player on the girls' side.
Related: The GPS mission statement: "The mission of Global Premier Soccer is to be a leader in the development and growth of soccer across North America and beyond. We will establish an identity of excellence as we pursue our pathway to success on and off the field, with our primary focus being the development of players and people. We will produce players who can compete at the highest level of soccer throughout the world."
COMMITMENT TO STRUCTURE, CONTINUITY
The defining characteristic of GPS is the program's structure. The players learn one system of play from 7 years old until they're through with high school, a 4-1-4-1 formation where, from a young age, kids learn each position on the pitch and its inherent responsibilities, then find the slot in which they best fit.
For example, GPS players learn how the role of a No. 6 differs from that of a No. 10 - both central midfielders with different missions - or how a No. 2 and a No. 7 should complement each other on the right wing. The Xs-and-Os approach breeds smarter soccer players who are fully aware of their individual roles within a larger team framework.
Global Premier Soccer's staff setup differs considerably from Empire and the Western New York Flash Academy. For many of the GPS youth teams, aspiring coaches with European licenses - at least a UEFA B License or higher - are recruited to GPS locations throughout the United States.
Present examples include Ryan Louis (England), Dani Munoz (Spain), Aitor Fuentes (Spain), Lloyd Miller (England) and Fabio Felix (Portugal); many live with host families in the Buffalo area.
Not all GPS-NY coaches are foreign transplants, though; locals like Buffalo State's Mark Howlett and Nick DeMarsh, Canisius women's assistant Lew Potter, Niagara assistant Mike Meyer and Hamburg High School coach Tony Schiappa have taken the helm of older sides, helping mostly high-school age players prepare to compete at the college level - a symbiotic relationship that aids those coaches' own recruiting.
The GPS staff education is intense, as GPS-NY directors take part in a regular conference call with FC Bayern Junior Team manager Wolfgang Dremmler, from which the biggest takeaways are then disseminated to the GPS coaching staff. At various junctures, staff spend 10-15 days on a technical visit with FC Bayern's youth academy.
In Munich, the Bayern academy creates and sends two training sessions each month as an example to local coaches, while an FC Bayern staff member is on site roughly 20 to 25 days each year.
JUNIOR PROGRAM/EARLY DEVELOPMENT (3-8 years old)
Just like with Empire United and the WNY Flash Academy, GPS works with local town clubs to help inspire the youngest of players. The academy connects with YMCAs and recreation organizations in Orchard Park, Grand Island and Lancaster/Depew, offering a coaching symposium, general curriculum and more assistance free of charge, while creating a youth pipeline to GPS. The premier club also works closely with soccer-specific Delaware Soccer Club.
In the Early Development tier - the 6-8 end of this age group - games are 5-vs.-5, and the skill emphases are dribbling, kicking and controlling the ball. During these three years, GPS players train either two or three times each week, for an hour apiece, from September through June.
Given the scope of Global Premier Soccer - there are teams in Rochester (Rochester FC) and Syracuse (GPS-Syracuse), too - the teams of 8 to 10-year-olds get together on four dates each year, with each squad playing two games each day.
JUNIOR PREMIER (9-12 years old)
This is perhaps the most important stage of the youth player's development, and it's also the tier to which FC Bayern Munich youth academy coaches pay the most attention.
At the local level, GPS touts that it will have a fall game schedule; in fall 2017, the U-10s through U-12s will compete in the Great Lakes Alliance, Pre-NPL league, a new opportunity settled in late January. This past year, GPS-NY squads from U-11 to U-19 competed in the Thruway League - you can see their results and rosters here.
Local and regional tournaments are another major feature of the Junior Premier program (and extend into the early stages of the older age group), as the NY Invitational (U-8 through U-14 in Batavia), the GPS Golden Goal Invitational (U-8 through U-14 in Fort Ann, NY, near Glens Falls) and the MLK Day Cup (U-8 through U-12, various WNY locations) are examples.
Training is twice weekly for these squads, both boys and girls; Epic Center is the primary indoor facility for GPS, while outdoor fields used include Buffalo State College's Coyer Field and Westwood Park.
More specifically, GPS players in the U-9 and U-10 Junior Premier age groups play 7-vs.-7 matches, adding individual defending and finishing into their arsenal, while U-11 and U-12 compete 9-vs.-9 and learn combination play, movement without the ball and switching the point of attack.
One success story from the local GPS ranks is that of Leo Christiano, who at age 9 was invited to participate in the FC Bayern Junior ID Camp in Munich. Here's a look at that story:
FC BAYERN ID PROGRAM (11-12 years old)
This FC Bayern-instituted American identification program is another distinguishing trait of GPS - intended to recruit the cream of the American crop for FC Bayern's academy - but it's open to only the top players in one age group.
For the 2017-18 season, players born in 2006 or 2007 can attend, by coach invitation only. Although the Bayern ID program is run by Global Premier Soccer, it's club neutral, meaning that top players from other local premier clubs are welcomed to attend.
The programs are once a week for up to six weeks, held in both the fall and the spring; the cost for the invited players is $85 per six-week window. The top two players from these sessions, from both the boys and girls sides, are then invited to an all-expenses-paid residential camp in Munich.
In their short history of affiliation with FC Bayern, GPS-NY has sent nine soccer players - five boys and four girls - to Munich for training.
PREMIER (13-19 years old)
Global Premier Soccer encourages players to compete for their respective high schools, which means their fall slate is light. GPS-NY squads will join the Great Lakes Alliance in the National Premier League for the first time, with a season beginning in November 2017 and running through April 2018, with a two-month break in January and February.
Division foes will be from New York West, Ohio and western Pennsylvania. The GLA schedule intentionally accommodates players who also participate in high school soccer. As a whole, GPS players are expected to play around 45 matches each calendar year.
League play and the travel required will occupy much of the spring, although Global Premier Soccer NY competes in State Cup and also hosts the GPS-NY College Showcase, which hosted games at Nichols School and in Rochester on a weekend in April, in front of a group of local and regional college coaches.
Three GPS-NY teams were crowned State Cup champions, and now advance to regionals.
GPS NATIONAL TEAMS (13-19 years old)
While the FC Bayern ID program is the first step in GPS' Elite Player Pathway, acceptance into the GPS FC Bayern Youth National Teams - separate from the United States youth national teams - is the second.
Players from GPS programs across the country are invited to perform at regional Elite Training Centers, and if they stand out in that environment, they'll be entered into the GPS National Team pool. These teams, comprising the best GPS players in the United Stats, compete in some of the world's elite tournaments - such as the Dallas Cup, the SuperCupNI (former Milk Cup) and the Foyle Cup, both in Northern Ireland, and the Surf Cup in San Diego.
Nino Marino and Jake Westadt are the two oldest boys to compete for a GPS National Team, while Lexie Aquilino is the oldest girl. Eighteen players, in total, from GPS-NY are listed on these organization-specific national teams.
For ages 11 through 18, the annual cost is an $1800 player fee, including both league and tournament play, plus a competitive fee ranging from $200 to $250, and uniform costs of $250 to $275. Global Premier Soccer offers parents sheet detailing the costs of involvement in advance.
For the 2017-18 season, tryouts for boys and girls will be held between July 8-16 at either Erie Community College North Campus or Nichols School. Further details can be found here.