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WashingtonSpirit.com caught up with Spirit Academy – Maryland Director Santino Quaranta for a Q&A on the inaugural season of the U.S. Soccer Girls’ Development Academy, the league’s college and Youth National Team showcase opportunities, and his long term vision for the Spirit Academy heading into next season and beyond.
Learn more about the Spirit Academy programs in Maryland and Virginia at WashingtonSpirit.com/DA.
Q: With the first season of the Girls’ DA under your belt, what are you most looking forward to about next season?
A: “I think that we’re all really excited about our retention of players and our pool of players that have had a year in the DA system. The one thing that happened initially was there was a lot of hesitation, there was doubt about the DA. But what it shows is that top players like Jordan Canniff and Leyah Hall-Robinson really value what they’re getting in the organization. It shows it is the best environment for the kids.
It’s important that people understand that retention of players, with so many options for players like these types of kids, is huge. It’s important to know that the DA is the best option for the top players. Maybe two players of the U-18/19 age group were in that actual age range. And there was lots of success with U-17 players. We only lost two games in the spring, so shows the vertical integration with the club.”
Q: How much of a role have the Girls’ DA National Showcases played in helping players continue their development and gain exposure to college and Youth National Team coaches?
A: “My top goal as a director and someone who oversees these groups is to get the players off to college and prepare them to possibly become professionals. These showcase and playoff environments, they are a bonus and they’re a chance to get players exposed to collegiate coaches, but also exposed to players around the country who are being provided with an environment that’s similar to ours.
These players around the country are being coached in an environment that is similar to ours, and that’s what is attractive to a lot of people. Everytime we go to a showcase, we’re all constantly communicating with each other, all clubs, to enhance the player pool and to enhance the model. When you have all the directors working together, we’re trying to enhance everything we do as a group. We’re working with teams like Penn Fusion and FC Virginia to be sure we compete for players, but we’re also in this to improve the model. It allows players and parents a chance to benefit, and to go into a Division I school prepared for that level.
When you achieve a curriculum, we all win, and that’s what the model is. We’re creating a platform with the best.”
Q: What have been the biggest positives for you this season in the first year of the Girls’ DA with Spirit Academy-Baltimore Armour?
A: “Just working alongside Jim Gabarra and Tom Torres has been great. There’s been some ups and downs. Whenever you start something of this magnitude and start something of this size there’s going to be some bumps in the road, but the coaching staff in Virginia and Maryland and the with oversights of Jim and [Spirit President] Chris Hummer, we all have a vision. We’ve accomplished so much in such a short amount of time against a lot of odds. We’ve laid out things for parents in a way that makes sense, and the Spirit and U.S Soccer have been nothing but supportive.
Giving these players the chance to dream to one day be a professional. Trying to give players that dream to reach the pro level, and other clubs don’t have that opportunity. Other players don’t have the opportunity to train with professionals, including the likes of Mallory Pugh, and that’s really rewarding. We’re building up players to play with the first team one day.”
Q: What will be the biggest areas of focus for improvement next season, within the club, and around the league?
A: “Quality of players. On the field enhancement is always first and foremost what we’re trying to do. The one thing we’re looking to do is have more players integrated into the National Teams, and that’s what we strive to do. The on the field product will get better. We’ve seen teams compete and make the playoffs, and now that players have had a year in our system and what they’re trying to do, the attitude in what we expect, we’re building off that to create a more team-like environment that’s geared toward making the playoffs.
Also, having younger groups come in, it gives us another year to start to develop players into the field. We’re able to get these kids at 12 or 13 years old, or even younger, which will allow them to grow into academy players when they reach the U-15 level. Our playing style will be the same across the board.”
Q: What do you want the soccer community to know about the Spirit Academy program in Maryland, in terms of the plans, goals, and philosophy of the club?
A: “The plan is to create the best coaching staff that we possibly can. We feel that we have the best teachers in the game, we have professionals that have played at a high level that understand what it takes to get to the next level.
Our mission is to develop world class players.
We’re creating players that understand the atmosphere of the DA. It’s seven days a week, and we’re looking to create players that love the game. We don’t want it to be a burden, we want kids to have an experience that they remember for the rest of their lives.
In this modern day environment, people would leave if they did not understand that. People are bought into it, and they understand that this is the best environment and the best learning environment possible.”