LAFC kicks it up a notch

It was only three years ago that the Los Angeles Futbol Club was created by Don Sheppard, when he began recruiting local (including soccer players from Crescenta Valley and St. Francis) and distant talent in the Southland, ages 8-18, to form a competitive club.

Just this past December, a major dream was realized when the club inked a deal to become partners with Chelsea FC of the English Premier League.

“LAFC was created to provide an affordable option for skilled players to play top-tier club soccer,” said Sheppard, who is LAFC president. “We’ve been able to reach out to economically disadvantaged communities to recruit some of the best talent in the U.S.

“We are a young program and a partnership like this allows us to reach the next level on skill development, player participation and overall club exposure. We have a top-tier coaching staff and now with Chelsea our players will receive an international view of the game — something they may not have received otherwise.”

Heretofore LAFC Chelsea, which has partnered with the U.S. Development Academy since its inception, will do its job of developing American soccer players, ages 8-18, and prepare them not only on the soccer field, but in school and hopefully in life. The earlier LAFC Chelsea can get a kid into their program, the better.

“They’re very impressionable at that age,” said LAFC’s Vice President of Soccer Operations Teddy Chronopoulos. “[Our goal is to] add something that maybe they’ve never had. Maybe it’s the professional experience at coaching, maybe it’s a different training method; education, not only on the soccer side, but on the books side.

“When you get them at an early age, when they’re 13 or 14, you can instill a lot of good qualities, in the game and in their personal lives.”

Fifteen years ago, when Chronopoulos made the jump from the U.S. to Europe, he found himself playing for Panionios FC in Greece at the age of 22.

Now, for most people, this would be a frightening ordeal. A new country with its own language, its own currency, its own culture that’s completely devoid of anything recognizable to an American. But Teddy had help, a lot thanks to his father, who played in the Greek leagues and taught his son the language.

He played two years there and returned back to the States to have a solid career in Major League Soccer with the New England Revolution and other teams. When Chronopoulos retired, he met up with his old teammate at the Columbus Battery, Josh Henderson. Before he knew it, he was working at LAFC and rose quickly to the ranks of director of coaching for the entire organization.

“I’m here to provide the guidance that other people gave me,” Chronopoulos said. “There’s nothing that makes you feel better as a coach than when you see a kid you’ve coached for three or four years get to the next level and get a scholarship to a big university.”

That was the case with Carlos Alvarez.

Alvarez went through the LAFC system, was tutored in school, tutored on his SATs, and got a scholarship to University of Connecticut. He’ll be a freshman this fall.

In the coming years, they hope to produce many more like Alvarez and provide the opportunities for growth that kids otherwise wouldn’t have.

“We have a lot of kids that had no idea what college was until they came to us,” Chronopoulos said.

The benefits are still coming in and on July 21, LAFC holds its biggest event yet.

Chelsea FC, fresh off their FA Cup victory over Everton, and Italian league team Inter-Milan will play an exhibition match at the Rose Bowl on July 21. All net profits are going directly to youth soccer in the area.

For more information on LAFC or the exhibition match, visit www.LAFCsoccer.com.


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