This week, from 9 to 11 a.m. and then from noon to 2:30 p.m. on fields adjacent to the YMCA in Bonita Springs, 20 soccer players aged 16 to 25 have been practicing under the guidance of coaches such as Chris Andrews, a native of Torquay, England.
Andrews and the other coaches work for Torquay United, a soccer club that scouts talent ages 8-17.
As part of League Two, Torquay United is in the fourth-highest league in the English football league system, with the Premier League being at the top.
“We’re not Manchester United,” Andrews said, referring to the English Premier League club. “We’re not Liverpool. We’ve got to build into it.”
In baseball terms, think of League Two as the Class A Florida State League, with the Premier League being the major league.
The players might be good enough for the big-time, but they first have to get discovered and pay their dues.
The coaches are giving the players, including a handful of local ones, professional-level evaluations. The players and coaches were brought together by Estero resident Mike Hunter, a native of Carnoustie, Scotland.
“In the last 15 years, soccer in this country has grown dramatically,” said Hunter, whose son Aaron, 14, plays local youth soccer. “Soccer has built a solid base in this country. The game is changing.
“Right now is the offseason for these coaches. The season ends in May and starts up again in August. This gives them something different to do.”
Players at the tryouts came from the University of Oklahoma, Webber International University in Babson Park and several high schools, including one each from Fort Myers, North Fort Myers and South Fort Myers High.
All of the players somehow connected with Hunter, who has lived in the area for 10 years, played professional billiards, been involved in golf course management and maintained his ties and love for soccer.
“It was just luck,” said Chris Hamilton, a goalkeeper who graduated from North last week when asked how he heard about it. He plans on attending FGCU, unless his tryout leads to a professional soccer opportunity.
Stephen Millage, 19, graduated from Fort Myers in 2008 and has been attending FGCU and playing club soccer since then.
“It’s great having European coaches here,” Millage said. “The approach is totally different. Growing up 24/7 playing soccer I’m sure has helped.
“I think it’s perfect timing that the World Cup is going on. We come and train, and then we go watch the games.”
Aspiring soccer pros
– This week, 20 soccer players aged 16 to 25 have been practicing under the guidance of five professional-level coaches from England and Scotland.
They will be given professional evaluations and four options:
– 1. They could achieve their dream of a professional soccer contract.
– 2. If young enough, they could be enrolled into a youth-level program under the umbrella of a pro team in England.
– 3. They could earn a college scholarship.
– 4. None of the above.
The coaches are grading the players on a vast array of skills including their speed, athleticism, vision and awareness.