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Youth Soccer: Empire Revolution camp in Hamburg looks to help bolster Southtowns soccer

Pictured above top, instructor Scott MacLean shows Allie George and participants at this week’s camp how it’s done during a drill. Directly above, Slade Merk (middle) and Alex George (right) go for possession of the ball in the same drill. (photos by Michael J. Petro)

The Southtowns of Buffalo may not be as affluent of a soccer area as its neighbors to the north, but Scott MacLean and Jim Harrigan are doing their best to help equal the playing field.

The two Southtowners, Harrigan, a teacher at Hamburg High School, and MacLean, an assistant soccer coach in the Lake Shore School District, have started a soccer training business called Soccer Home to train individual players, small groups and teams with a base in this region.

Although it’s still somewhat in a developmental phase, the two have taken the opportunity to hook up with Kevin O’Neil of Empire Revolution Soccer Academy, which is affiliated with U.S. Soccer and the New England Revolution of Major League Soccer.

The three ran a camp this week Monday through Thursday (July 15-18) mornings at Hamburg High School to teach boys and girls ages 7 to 13 the technical aspects of the game and introduce to many of them sport-specific fitness. The camps brought out children from the districts of Hamburg, Lake Shore, Orchard Park and East Aurora.

“This is kind of our market,” said MacLean, referencing he and Harrigan. “We’ve played and coached just about everywhere, but we’re trying to give back to our area. There’s a hungry market down here and we felt that there’s not enough coaching here and it’s not as affluent of an area yet. We’re trying to create something for them and get them playing.”

Harrigan said Soccer Home’s original objective was to reach out to teams and players in this area, so when O’Neil inquired about a joint venture, in the Southtowns, he thought it would be a win-win for both parties and even more importantly, the local soccer players who would attend.

“I think it’s nice being able to give back to the whole community of the Southtowns,” said Harrigan, who formerly coached Hamburg’s varsity boys team. “When you’re coaching at the high school, you’re primarily coaching those kids, but it’s nice to also be able to work with kids from Lake Shore, Orchard Park and East Aurora. It’s nice to see them progress and take back some of the things we’ve been working on here to their club teams and high school teams.”

O’Neil said he runs three camps like this during the summer, one also in the Northtowns and the other, for elite players, many of whom are already in the Empire program and other premier clubs. Through these sessions, he noted that the coaches are trying to develop more confident individual players by creating a better first touch and helping kids’ comfort level with the ball at their feet.

The affiliation with Empire Revolution helps bring validity to the camp since the organization is one of only 80 to be designated as a Player Development Academy Club. These programs now seem to be the path to get to the U.S. national team — it used to be through Olympic Development, according to O’Neil.

Players from the program sometimes get asked to train with the New England Revolution, while Bobby Shuttleworth, who came through the club — when it was Buffalo Premier and Buffalo United, is now a goalie for the MLS team.

“We want to develop as many of the players as we can, wherever they need to be, whether it’s premier, travel, club. Hopefully, you’re making an impact with a wider group than you were normally able to,” O’Neil said.
Eric Kushner gets in a kick while training at the Empire clinic in Hamburg.

MacLean, who grew up in the Lake Shore district and now lives in Hamburg, himself played for Buffalo Premier, before going on to compete with the University at Buffalo. He is also no stranger to coaching at the youth level, serving as the director of coaching for the Lake Shore Soccer Club and an assistant coach for the Olympic Development Program for the `97 boys.

MacLean was impressed by what he saw at Monday’s camp, even as the young players went through drills and competed in nearly 90 degree heat.

“I thought everyone was here to learn,” MacLean said. “They had wide eyes and everyone’s head was up, even when the heat got to them a little, but we took plenty of breaks and found ways to work through it. We could see them getting a little overheated at times. But they can see the goal at the end and they’re striving for it.”

MacLean and Harrigan have also been working with former Hamburg and University at Buffalo standout Casey Derkacz. Unfortunately, Derkacz was unable to attend this week’s camp as originally scheduled because of a conflict with a camp going at Slippery Rock College, where he’s an assistant with the men’s soccer team.

Soccer Home is looking to build on its affiliation with Empire by starting a program for youth 3- to 8-years-old in order to get them comfortable with the game and get a ball on their feet at an even younger age. MacLean envisions working 30 to 40 minutes per week with the youngsters and using some older players to help mentor and aid in teaching. He and Harrigan will look to start it in December after the fall season.

“Maybe we can get them juggling the ball (with their feet) by 5,” MacLean said with a chuckle.

“You can see the next (soccer star Lionel) Messi from there,” O’Neil added.

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