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En Route: Michigan's Soccer Factory

En Route: Michigan's Soccer Factory

Soony Saad is one of many talented youngsters who has developed under Brian Doyle's tutelage

Not many clubs in America are ambitious enough to ask a 12-year-old to learn about zonal defending, but that is exactly the reason why Derby County Wolves are so successful both in player development and results.

Derby County Wolves Director of Coaching Brian Doyle talked to on Wednesday about the club’s partnership with Derby County, the success of their Academy players at the next level, and where he thinks U.S. Soccer could improve.

In the third year of the partnership between the Michigan club and the English based franchise, both sides have taken advantage of the arrangement. The Michigan club, referred to as Derby County Wolves for the Academy teams and as Michigan Wolves for their other boys teams, has had their Academy teams subsidized by Derby County while being tasked to find potential players for the English club.

Derby County greatly benefitted from this partnership when they signed U.S. U20 striker, Conor Doyle, last summer after the striker spent two summers training there. Even though Conor Doyle did not play for the Michigan club, he played with the Texans academy, he took up an opportunity Derby County gave the American teams.

Brian Doyle, no relation, explained how it happened. “We sent out a CD to all the Development Academy clubs except the MLS ones. We told them this is what we are doing and if you have any players who would be interested in this opportunity to go to Derby County to let us know. We received half-dozen replies from players outside our club and Conor Doyle was one of those players.”

Brian Doyle also added that Conor Doyle was able to qualify for a work permit because his father was born in Dublin, Ireland. Conor Doyle is a rare combination of a player good enough for the first team in England and able to work there, but he is not the only U20 player who has had success in Europe recently.

Josh Gatt, a member of the Derby County Wolves prior to signing with Altrach SCR in Austria, recently transferred to Molde FK in Norway. While Brian Doyle said that it was the experience with Jon Spencer’s European tour that ultimately led Gatt to Europe, it is the training and coaching from the Michigan club that gave him the right tools necessary.

Gatt is just one of a few Derby County Wolves to head across the Atlantic for work. Doyle said, “We have had players leave the club and sign with clubs in Germany, Austria, and Norway.”

The success of his players can be traced to the emphasis placed on youth development at an early age in the club. Doyle talked about how he believes the importance of setting a good foundation for players at a young age is imperative to the player’s accomplishments later in life.

Part of that emphasis on player development at a younger age has been the emergence of a pseudo pre-academy league for the U14 boys at Derby County Wolves. “It was a good decision that we made. It makes the kids feel ready for the Academy at 16.”

He also added that lots of the triumphs of the club relies on the coaching. Another part of Doyle’s philosophy is making sure he has the right coaches with the right ages. The format clearly has paid dividends; Derby County Wolves coach Lars Richter collected 2009 Development Academy U16 Coach of the Year. 

The theme of trying to catch talent at a younger level is common for Doyle’s philosophy of improving the U.S. Soccer structure. Specifically, he talked about how the Olympic Development Program could change to have a greater impact.

“My recommendation to the (Michigan) state office is to lower the age of ODP to 10 years old. ODP is a valuable tool in U.S. Soccer’s development. No doubt about it. I just think if we made it younger, we could do a better job of finding players earlier. We could give them a really good experience earlier and I think that is very important.”

The ambitions of Doyle may seem lofty but his track record, with both successfully developing players (Gatt, Soony Saad, and Colin Rolfe) and on the field results (2009 U16 Development Academy National Champions), speaks for itself.

J.R. Eskilson is the Youth Soccer editor at You can follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer

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