Marcos Mercado has seen firsthand the growth of youth soccer in Sacramento.
At age 16 he was among the first to play in Sacramento Youth Soccer and part of the newly formed California Youth Soccer Association-North and United States Youth Soccer organizations that started in 1974.
“My card was No. 51, and I always remember it said ‘U.S. Youth Soccer,’” said Mercado, a 1975 Encina High School graduate. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh, a national card, a national group.’”
Today there are more than three million registered players in the USYS, including more than 162,000 in Northern California.
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Mercado has helped grow the sport locally as a longtime coach and, most recently, as director of the elite San Juan Academy. It has sponsored cream-of-the-crop U-16 and U-18 teams.
For the development of the most elite area youth players, Mercado was the first to see that the next step would better be handled by Republic FC, the visionary second-year USL team with Major League Soccer aspirations.
“It’s been a burden of $200,000 to run an academy of two teams,” Mercado said. “And some other clubs didn’t buy into it. Now we’ve got everything under one roof, and where all the clubs are buying in.”
Republic FC announced at a news conference Tuesday an ambitious growth plan that includes the launch of U-14, U-16, U-18 U.S. Soccer Development Academy teams that will begin tryouts in early May and start play in August, possibly at Bonney Field and Cosumnes River College.
The goal is to develop players for the U.S. National Team, Republic FC and, according to Republic FC president Warren Smith, “to grow the sport in the Sacramento region.” Republic FC coach Preki’s system of play will be the model throughout the organization.
Smith also said the club is committed to forming a future Premier Development League team for college-level players and plans to keep a team in the USL when it becomes an MLS expansion franchise.
“We’re trying to act like an MLS club now, and as you know MLS clubs have the responsibility of running academy programs,” Smith said.
Rod Underwood, Republic FC’s head assistant coach last season, will be the academy director and Jeremy Field, a longtime area coach and former Sacramento Knights and Jesuit High School player, will be the academy manager.
Benjamin Ziemer will coach the U-18 boys, Brian Willey the U-16 boys and Simon Elliott the U-14 boys. Gene DuChateau will be the goalkeeper director. All have extensive coaching experience.
Mercado and the leaders of a half dozen of the area’s largest youth club programs were present to lend their support to Republic FC’s academy program, which picks up player training and travel fees for what is essentially a year-round commitment.
But Underwood said Republic FC will be reaching beyond just the largest clubs.
“We want to make sure we get into every community, from the under served in the inner city, the Latino community, the Asian community,” Underwood said. “We want the best players in every community.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.