USL Experience players at Nippert Stadium / United Soccer League
There is no better way to experience the professional world of soccer than being part of that element one-on-one. Audiences and youth players might see the final product – the games, the goals, the bright lights and eventual trophy raising – but don’t necessarily have a sense of what it takes to get to that level.
Thanks to an incredibly successful USL Experience event, hosted this year by FC Cincinnati and culminating with being a part of a USL-record crowd of 20,497, an elite group of 70 Super Y League players earned the opportunity to get a taste of the pro lifestyle and the work to get there.
“This inaugural event was a massive success and achieved its goal of pulling back the curtain on what it is like to be a professional player in the USL,” said Gordon Bengtson, Executive Director, USL Academy. “Fundamentally, the USL Experience is about showing the top youth players from the Super Y League the professional opportunities that now exist in our country. These elite players are the future of our game, and because of the USL Experience, they now have a direct and comprehensive understanding of what it will take to reach their professional aspirations.”
MEDIA DAY AND INTERVIEWS:
As players made their way from all parts of North America into Cincinnati, one of their first experiences was the realm of being in the spotlight. Last Thursday’s Media Day included a photo shoot, giving participants the chance to show their personalities and photogenic traits. Having some quality on the soccer ball also was a prerequisite.
Another media-driven element of being a professional – interviews. Players went in front of the camera post-game to give their thoughts about matches, training and the overall experience.
TRAINING AND GAMES IN THE LIMELIGHT:
The players had a fabulous venue to train on at Nippert Stadium, providing a high-level platform that is FIFA-certified to showcase their skills. Their every move was also on display in front of scouts, including the U.S. Soccer Federation, as participants looked to make a significant impact as they work toward a bright future in the collegiate, professional and international realms.
USL Experience players had an in-depth look at the Nippert Stadium facilities, had lunch together at the stadium, met FC Cincinnati staff, including U.S. Soccer legend and FC Cincinnati Head Coach John Harkes, FC Cincinnati players and had an opportunity to watch the expansion USL franchise train, just to touch upon a few of the noteworthy professional lifestyle moments.
Harkes also spoke with players about the demands and sacrifice to make it to the pro level. Coming from a National Soccer Hall of Famer who has experienced the game at the top levels domestically and abroad certainly had an impact.
John Harkes with the USL Experience participants / United Soccer League
LIFE AFTER SOCCER:
Showcasing another facet of the professional game, USL Experience players had the privilege to listen to Louisville City FC President Amanda Duffy and FC Cincinnati CFO Sarah Huber – two former players who are now integral members of their respective USL franchises.
After all of their work on the pitch wrapped up, the USL Experience players were recognized at halftime of FC Cincinnati’s match against Louisville City FC. If they wanted a taste of a world-class and professional atmosphere, it couldn’t have been better as a rousing USL-record crowd of 20,497 was in attendance at Nippert Stadium, the same venue they played in earlier in the week.
PLAYERS’ RAVE REVIEWS:
Participants and parents had the opportunity to submit their comments about the USL Experience in a survey. Here is just a handful of some of the players’ remarks (names withheld):
“I was very lucky to have had this opportunity. It helps me remember why I don’t ever want to stop [and] why I need to start working harder.”
“It was one of the best experiences I have ever had. It was a great experience overall and it was great to be a part of it. Had great time with training, meeting new soccer players from all over the country and high-quality coaches.”
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience; great opportunity.”
“In all aspects of the event I felt like a pro – an experience that all kids should experience if they get the chance to.”
“This was definitely the best experience I have ever had, and couldn't be more thankful to be a part of it. Every day of it was unforgettable, and this is something I'm going to remember forever.”