Nomads continue to impact youth, pro soccer
Paul Caligiuri. Eric Wynalda. Frankie Hejduk. Steve Cherundolo. Marcelo Balboa.
Those five US internationals all have one thing in common: Each played youth ball at Nomads Soccer Club in the suburbs of San Diego. Led by English transplant technical director Derek Armstrong, the club has quietly produced some of the best players to have ever donned a US jersey.
But Armstrong, who coached and played at various levels in the UK before coming to the US in 1980, takes just as much pride in helping players get into college as he does in developing quality players.
“We’re very proud of putting people into the college system and giving everyone an opportunity to achieve what they can achieve,” Armstrong told MLSsoccer.com. “It isn’t just the professional player. We’re proud of everybody.”
Back when Armstrong was hired as director of coaching in 1980, he was one of the first youth coaches in the United States to be paid – a big moment in the development of the game in this country. Since then, the club has produced a staggering list of alumni. Some, such as Hejduk and Cherundolo, played at the club at a very young age. Others, such as Balboa or Wynalda, spent time at Nomads during their college years.
Armstrong attributed the success to the consistency of the club’s leadership. He’s been there since the beginning, and much of his staff has been around for a similar length of time.
In his 30 years of service, he’s witnessed change across the landscape of youth soccer. But he pointed to two specific instances that have really shaken things up: the emergence of US Club Soccer and the formation of the USSF Development Academy.
"Everything else has crawled along," he said.
The creation of the USSF Development Academy in 2007 forced changes for Armstrong, too. At the time he was also head coach of UC San Diego. Because of the increased demands of the new system, he retired from his college coaching post — a job he had held since 1983 — so he could focus on the Nomads' involvement with the academy.
Compared with some of the other clubs competing in the Development Academy, Nomads is small. Armstrong said this year’s expected roster is no more than 500 players. Recently, the club decided that in order to remain competitive in the U-16 and U-18 levels, it would need to develop players from a young age in order to create a pipeline to those two squads. With that comes the need to find more players, and a roster of 500 is one of the biggest the club has ever had.
“We’ve decided on a policy these last 12 months, with the advent of the academy, we have to have the pipeline coming through from the early stages," he said. "To be competitive at that level, it all depends on how good we are with our development.”
That pipeline has produced alumni currently playing in MLS – Gabriel and Michael Farfan in Philadelphia, Eric Avila in Dallas and Hejduk in LA among them.