We call ourselves ‘Villarreal USA’, and that is an homage to fans of the club living here in the states. What some people may not know, however, is that Villarreal as a club has invested deeply in American soccer, as well as football around the globe. In this series of articles we will cover the different academy setups with official Villarreal affiliation all over the globe. You can see the first article in our series, about Villarreal Nebraska, here.
I am North Carolina born and bred. I have lived here nearly my entire life and its home. The fact that Villarreal has an academy partnership here in my home state gives me a connection between home and a beautiful community club nearly 4,000 miles away. Villarreal Force began in the 1970s as Fayetteville Soccer Association as one of the original five clubs of the North Carolina Youth Soccer Association. For our overseas readers, you need to understand, a consistent soccer organization in the United States that reaches uninterrupted back to the 70s is very rare. We have had soccer longer than that here, but the history of the sport in America is so rocky that most organizations lived and died without ever making it to their 40s.
In 1994, Fayetteville Soccer Association changed their name to Fayetteville Soccer Club, and in 2017 they first received an email from Villarreal. I was surprised to learn from Todd Abbey, Force Director of Soccer, that getting these sorts of emails from European clubs is a common occurrence, but Villarreal was different: “We received an email from the International Department at Villarreal in August of 2017, and after a lot of research, conversations and a first hand view with a trip to Spain to make sure this wasn’t just another European Club looking to use an American organization as a marketing ploy, we decided to join their club as an american academy affiliate.”
Hearing this from Todd makes me proud. I am consistently in awe of the ways that Villarreal sets itself apart from other European clubs in their ability to focus on people. When Villarreal enters into a partnership, the focus is not money, it is about combining with organizations that share the values of the club and improve the lives of the people in their communities. Organizations like Fayetteville Soccer Club see that the club cares about them and their young people, and that makes these partnerships work.
An example of this is the constant contact between partnered clubs and Villarreal, as Coach Abbey explains: “We have communication at all times through messaging, and at least one video conference per week. As an organization we have invested in technology to video training sessions and matches that their staff in Spain constantly looks at and helps our staff with better ideas and education.”
Fayetteville, NC, is a military town. Home to Fort Bragg Air Force base, the population can be somewhat transient. Speaking to the Fayetteville Observer back in 2017, Coach Abbey pointed out the complications this causes for Villarreal Force:
A hundred percent of the kids that leave our club are soccer players, but not 100 percent of the kids that move to Fayetteville are soccer players, so we’ve come to the realization that our club needs to be more about providing an avenue to develop players and make them better.
Player development is a recurring idea at Villarreal Force, especially with Coach Abbey. Again, for our international readers, this may seem completely unremarkable. However, in the world of American youth sports this often is not the case. A lot of times what happens is a young talented player gets tied with an organization who promises to get him a college scholarship or help him go pro and they are not really investing in making the player better they just want to be along for the ride his talent provides. I would expect an organization partnering with Villarreal to be different and I’m not disappointed when I look at how they do things here in North Carolina.
When an organization is all about branding and self-promotion, you will see the number of tournaments they take their kids to each year go sky high, nearly every weekend for large portions of the year. Coach Todd shares with us that of the seventeen Villarreal Force travel teams from age eight to nineteen, they only average three to four tournaments per year. That means that the rest of the time they are with the club they are working on player development.
This entire philosophy is summed up really well by Coach Todd as our interview comes to a close: “At this point, all we really are focusing on is our players and their futures. Our club is ‘Player Development’ at it’s core. Success is viewed in many different ways rather than just on wins and losses. We are excited to continue our relationship with Villarreal CF long into the future.”
I want to thank Todd Abbey for taking the time to answer some of our questions. Good luck to all the teams at Villarreal Force this season! You can find Villarreal Force online at www.fscforce.com, on Twitter @villarrealforce. and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/villarrealforce/