En Route: The SuperElite Summer Tour

Jon Spencer and U.S.F.C. help young Americans realize their dreams and potential
In his third year with the program, technical director Jon Spencer (not to be confused with Portland Timber’s manager John Spencer) has made a name for United States Football Club’s SuperElite summer tour in the soccer world.

With two American players already signing professional contracts in Europe due to experience with the tour, Spencer and U.S.F.C. have found themselves in the spotlight of American soccer news.

The purpose of the tour is to give some of the best young American players an opportunity to train in Europe for a few weeks. “Our SuperElite system is a process that helps players progress throughout their career,” Spencer told Goal.com in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

Last summer, Spencer had 19 players take advantage of the opportunity to train with some of the best coaches in Europe and play against some top-flight clubs.

The experience helped Michigan native Sean Cunningham, the defensive MVP of that tour; gain European exposure, which subsequently led to a professional contract he signed this January with Molde FK of Norway.

Two summers ago, Josh Gatt used the same experience to launch his career in Europe with Austrian club SCR Altach. Spencer explained that a club like SCR Altach is ideal for the SuperElite program players. “SCR Altach have a similar mindset for trying to help a player progress.”

The Austrian club and U.S.F.C both focus on developing the player and spending the time to work with the player. “There are many players going over (to Europe) all the time, but there are very few (clubs) who want to spend the time to work with the player and help him develop.”

Gatt transferred to Molde FK weeks before Cunningham signed with the club. Spencer believes both players have a bright future at the club and should be pushing for minutes on the first team almost immediately.

Spencer attributed his time in Germany as helping building these connections with clubs for either recommending players to or competing against during the tour. “I lived in Germany for five years. I was able to build a number of contacts across Europe. I have been fortunate to have some good contacts.”

Discovering the talent for the tour is a lengthy process for Spencer, who is very selective about who he invites onto the teams. “I have been tracking players on an 18 month to two year process at this point. Some players jump in later than others as far as identifying what their potential is though. “

The potential is a major part of the formula for Spencer and the SuperElite brand. “I spend a lot of time trying to identify the players with the right profile for being able to progress.”

He emphasized that it is not about the current level of talent at this point but the potential for talent in the future. “Some players don’t have the whole package today, but it is about seeing the full development arc.”

Multiple players who perhaps could have been considered fringe youth national prospects have quickly rose to prominence after the SuperElite tour. Gatt’s play with his Austrian club drew some attention from U.S. U20 coach Thomas Rongen.

Another member of that 2009 SuperElite tour who may be playing with the U20s this summer is Kelyn Rowe. Thanks to a superb rookie season with UCLA, Rowe burst onto the scene late in his youth national career, but has impressed the U20 staff in his limited time in camp. 

Spencer’s scouting career began with U.S.F.C in 2008 after his playing days in Germany were over.  It is obvious speaking with him that the passion he brought to the game when he was lacing up his boots is still evident today when he is mentoring young players.

“Our main goal is to see soccer develop in America. We’re excited that we’re able to help players who want to pursue European opportunities.”

It is not solely about what happens on the field for U.S.F.C. or Spencer. “The focus is getting the kids the experience to be able to develop and grow as a person and as a player.” He made sure to mention that the players were there for the cultural experience of Europe as well as the playing aspect.

Now with the success of two professional players on the resume, Spencer is optimistic about the 2011 tour. “We are excited about this year’s tour because we are able to show the results and progression of our guys.”

He is realistic in the fact he knows the players from the tour will go in different directions after the tour ends, “Some kids will be given European opportunities, some kids will be going to college, and some kids will be going back to their Academy teams.”

Overall, he wants to make sure, “the kids will be able to experience something special” both on and off the field.

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

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