The Search for Talented Youth Soccer Players in America
Updated: U.S. U16 and U17 Boys’ National Team former head coach Shaun Tsakiris is now the proud Technical Director of Los Gatos United in Northern California.
Diane Scavuzzo caught up with Tsakiris in a one-on-one interview with the two-time Coach of the Year to get his thoughts on what he looks for when recruiting players and on the Surf Cup tournaments.
One of the most respected youth soccer coaches in America, Tsakiris left U.S. Soccer in December 2018.
Tsakiris became the U16 National Team coach in January 2016 and then took over the U17s. Before becoming a Youth National Team (YNT) coach, Tsakiris was the Development Academy coach at Northern California’s De Anza Force, where he earned recognition as the U.S. Soccer Development Academy National Coach of the Year and West Region Coach of the Year.
A graduate of UCLA, Tsakiris has been responsible for developing for America’s future. Confident and relaxed, Tsakiris has always been highly revered and is genuinely dedicated to growing the game of soccer in America.
Now, Tsakiris turns his attention to the Saratoga youth soccer landscape and pledges to continue to make a difference in American youth soccer. After years of traveling with U.S. Soccer, his new role as Technical Director of Los Gatos United gives him the chance to work in the community he loves and also spend more time with his family.
SoccerToday Diane Scavuzzo’s exclusive interview with Shaun Tsakiris:
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you think of Surf Cup as a youth soccer tournament for recruiting talent?
Shaun Tsakiris: It’s clearly one of the best youth soccer tournaments in the country.
Behind the DA Showcases, Surf Cup is still a great tournament.
Diane Scavuzzo: How would you compare the level of play between the Surf Cup and the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Showcase?
Shaun Tsakiris: The U.S. Soccer Development Academy (DA) has created a pathway and a level that is higher.
While it is clear that the level of play is not as high as it used to be, I think there is always going to be a place for a tournament like Surf Cup.
Diane Scavuzzo: Did players at Surf Cup catch your eye?
Shaun Tsakiris: Absolutely. I am always looking for top players.
Diane Scavuzzo: Where do you scout?
Shaun Tsakiris: As the YNT Coach, I went to all the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Showcases and to the important youth tournaments.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you identify elite youth soccer players in a country as big as the USA?
Shaun Tsakiris: It’s all about creating relationships with scouts and coaches throughout the country as the size of the United States makes it difficult to look everywhere to go look for top talent.
Diane Scavuzzo: Are youth soccer coaches occasionally overly exuberant when describing their players?
Shaun Tsakiris: That is why scouting sometimes is a relationship based business. If you trust a coach, that makes all the difference.
The soccer community is pretty small. You learn who you can trust.
Diane Scavuzzo: When you scout youth soccer players, what do you look for?
Shaun Tsakiris: I like to use the term footballers. How much do they love the game?
Is the player strong tactically, how well do they understand the game?
The question usually us, “Do they really want to become professional soccer players and understand what it takes?”
We can always develop athletes – we want to develop footballers.
Diane Scavuzzo: If you change one thing in youth soccer today, what would it be?
Shaun Tsakiris: Youth soccer players are not creative enough. Youth soccer has become so structured, the value and art of creativity has suffered.
I think we’ve created more good players and less special players.
It is our responsibility as coaches to help our players develop the creative aspects of the game.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you believe the better quality youth soccer players are in the MLS Development Academies?
Shaun Tsakiris: Yes, that is the funnel we have created and the direction for most of the top players. And not all the MLS DA’s are equal either.