Youth soccer players compete in a popular sport where they often idolize the current star athletes of the world, hoping they will be in the same shoes when they grow up. Although these players often have a concept of where they want to end up in the sport, they are often unaware of the day-to-day responsibilities (as well as the sacrifices) that are expected to be fulfilled by a professional athlete.
In an effort to teach young players of these demands, the inaugural USL Experience took place in Cincinnati, Ohio in April. This event was hosted by USL’s Cincinnati FC organization. Players learned firsthand about what it is like to be a professional athlete. Upon arrival, players engaged in their very own professional media day, where they completed a photo shoot and they became involved with on-camera interviews. These players also had the opportunity to train in a world class venue at Nippert Stadium, while playing in front of different coaches and national team scouts. Towards the end of the event, players who participated in the USL Experience event got the chance to attend and watch a professional USL soccer match. There were over 20,000 fans in attendance and it gave the players a glimpse of what professional soccer environments are like in the sport.
There were five female Junior Rough Rider players who were chosen to attend this inaugural event. These players included 14-year-old Brianna Jablonowski from Centerport, New York; 15-year-old Karlie Stolls from Hewlett, New York; 14-year-old Alexa Vegada from Plainview, New York; 14-year-old Sydney Urban from Rockaway, New York and 14-year-old, Kenar Gelman from Merrick, New York. In addition, Rough Riders Vice President, Meghan Frey, also attended the innovative event as a goalkeeper instructor. Meghan, as well as all of the participants, reflected on their experience in a recent interview and stated the following:
“At the USL Experience, everyone had the same mindset, where they wanted to give 100% and perform at their absolute best. Everyone had the same goals and it was a great environment to be in because I learned so much from the other players around me and I was able to take all that I learned from this experience back with me to my club team.” – Brianna Jablonowski
“The environment was definitely much more professional. Being treated like a professional made me realize how much more that I want to pursue this sport. I also realize that as time goes by, I feel that I will be ready for the next step in my career. Getting the chance to spend a couple of days at this experience was awesome as you don’t get this type of opportunity often and being in that environment definitely proved that all of the hard work that I have put in was worth it. It was overall an incredible experience as I was able to work with amazing coaches such as Peter Mellor, who has trained Hope Solo and Tim Howard. Getting the chance to work with him and be a part of this event was an eye opening experience and significant moment in my career so far. Being in a stadium where there were over 20,000 fans in attendance made me realize how much more I want to compete at the highest level. This experience provided me the outlet to learn from all of the coaches, I met some great people from all around the country. I think that it has also made me become more driven and motivated in wanting to continue to improve as a player.”- Karlie Stolls, U15 Player.
“There were differences that I noticed between this experience, in comparison to my club team. On my club team, I know all of my teammates and I am familiar with what we do at practices and games. At the USL Experience, I was able to meet new players and I had to find different ways to interact and figure out their style of play. It was nerve wracking at first, but once I got to meet the other players and learned more about them, it became easier and it was overall a really fun experience for me. Overall, I thought that the environment was very professional. We traveled as a team on buses and ate meals together. Everything was done as a team, where we dressed the same and completed almost all activities in unison.” – Alexa Vegoda, U14 Player
“This experience was something that I have never done before. Getting the chance to play and be coached by unfamiliar faces was an unbelievable experience. It was a challenge but I think that myself, as well as the other players stepped up to it because by the end of the experience, we became friends and we still talk to each other today. Looking back on this experience, it is pretty cool because you realize that you have passed all of the stages and you have technically beat other players to be in the position that you are in. Putting in all of the work that I did and getting notified that I was one of the players within the pool was definitely rewarding. I do think that it makes me work harder in general though along with my teammates because they want the same opportunity and experience that I took part in.” – Sydney Urban, U14 Player
“I definitely enjoyed this experience overall. At the USL Experience, there were a lot of different players. Everyone’s style was different. I wasn’t as used to playing with these players like I was with my club teammates. This experience allowed for me to meet new friends, while also learning how they played on the field. I also was able to take in a lot of information from the coaches. The stadium itself that we trained at made me feel like I was a professional athlete. The entire week, we were treated as if we were professional athletes. The very first day, we had a full out photo shoot, completed interviews and played soccer tennis. At the very end of the event, we also got the opportunity to attend a professional game where we were recognized at halftime by the large crowd in attendance for the game. Going over this experience, I could say that I never realized that the Super Y League could offer this type of experience. Being chosen for this particular event had me feeling thankful for the opportunity. It definitely showed me that hard work can definitely pay off and that I need to keep pushing myself. It also taught me that there are great players from all over the country who are trying to accomplish the same goals as I am by training and working hard every day.” – Kenar Gelman, U14 Player
“Being at the USL Experience was great because as a coach, going in you are working with a bunch of other coaches who were selected from clubs throughout the country. I got the chance to talk with these coaches from the different clubs and learn about what they do. I also got the opportunity to work with Peter Mellor, who is well known within USL as well as within the landscape of Professional and National Team levels in the United States. It was an honor to work with him as I was a goalkeeper coach for the camp, so I worked alongside him for the week. Obviously being a goalkeeper myself, I have worked with a lot of individuals, but to be able to work with someone like Mellor who is involved at such a high level is truly rewarding. I spent a lot of time almost using him as a mentor throughout the week. We went through our session plans together, we trained the kids on the field, we analyzed the professional team that we were able to watch while at the event, and we also gave verbal and written evaluations to all of the players in attendance. Right there, it was really refreshing for me to experience this and to come back with a new outlook within coaching, specifically in goalkeeper training. Apart from that, seeing the professional franchise at Cincinnati FC was also valuable. Businesswise, it was great to see that US Soccer has grown to a point where USL, a second division professional soccer league, has over 20,000 spectators in attendance at a game. Overall, it was a really refreshing and educational experience for me.” – Meghan Frey, Vice President of Globall Concepts and the Long Island Rough Riders
Check out the link below to see some of the social media coverage that took place at the inaugural event: