Albany-based youth soccer club Black Watch Premier created a tie with Major League Soccer last year, and has now partnered directly with one its teams, the New York Red Bulls.
Black Watch and three other clubs have been selected to participate in the New York Red Bulls Academy Affiliate Program, which is part of the MLS Academy Affiliate Network.
“It is amazing what we have been able to develop in the last five months,” Black Watch president and CEO Steve Freeman said. “We are opening doors for our players.”
Black Watch was selected in August to join the MLS Elite Youth Development Program and had some of its boys’ teams compete in MLS Next league games in the fall.
“This piece is different,” Freeman said. “Think of the [national] soccer landscape where you have so many youth soccer clubs, and the top 130 were with MLS Next. There are roughly 24 MLS academies and we’ve partnered with one of them.
“We have positioned ourselves to be a destination for high potential and high performing footballers in a 2 1/2-hour radius.”
The Red Bulls Academy Affiliate Program will offer unique player development opportunities and talent identification programs for youngsters with goals of reaching the highest levels of the sport who are members of Blau Weiss Gottschee, Ironbound Soccer Club, TSF Academy, as well Black Watch.
“Going through the interview process — it was a long process — I wondered every day if this could be real,” said Freeman, who also coaches the CBA varsity soccer team. “Red Bull accepted us, and MLS approved it. This is everything I could want for our club.”
“We are pleased to be able to announce Black Watch Premier as one of the founding members of our New York Red Bulls Academy Affiliate Program. We look forward to working with Steve Freeman, his staff and the organization as a whole to not only provide a professional pathway for their current top prospects but to also work closely together on continued coach education and shared best practices,” said Sean McCafferty, the New York Red Bulls Academy director, in a release announcing the partnership. “One of our U17 Academy high potential players Nicholas Rabiu is a product of BWP. We look forward to working with Steve Freeman and his staff to ensure they continue to identify, recruit, and develop more players of Nicholas Rabiu’s level. We want to increase the number of top talents coming into the club and more importantly the depth of talent at those key development age groups. This will be the foundation for long term success.”
National soccer team scouts as well as MLS scouts will be evaluating the Black Watch soccer players at the various events.
“Black Watch Premier is a newcomer in our scene and a future force to be reckoned with for sure,” said Red Bulls Academy scout Fouad Kawtari in the release. “New York Red Bulls are excited to be part of their journey and to establish a strong partnership for player development and talent identification in upstate New York. Having BWP onboard will give us a greater range within the whole state of New York since they operate multiple outlets. This is invaluable in itself in terms of how many players’ we will be able to reach with this partnership in place. Moreover, the club has a strong leadership team with big dreams on fulfilling its players professional level soccer aspirations.”
Black Watch Premier, which has beefed up its staff to include Dr. Cristina Fink (director of mental performance), Pierre Barrieu (director of sports performance), Russell Payne (liaison to US Soccer), Doug Lemov (director of teaching) and Trevor Gorman (technical director) will be creating the BWP Football Academy to work directly with the New York Red Bulls.
In September, Black Watch Premier announced plans to build an athletic complex at SUNY Schenectady that will include indoor and outdoor soccer fields.
“We’re trying the best we can to provide the best environment for our players,” Freeman said last summer when his club was picked to be part of the MLS Elite Youth Soccer Program. “We want to be better tomorrow than we are today.”