When Patrick Roux and his son, Tevenn, left for England last week, they were going on more than a vacation. They were the first ambassadors from Huntersville-based Strikers Soccer Center to visit the camp of the Everton Football Club.
Strikers announced a partnership with the Liverpool-based English Barclays Premier League club last week, allowing local soccer players and coaches to work with and learn from players and coaches from one of the sport's highest levels.
"It's a dream to play in the English Premiership," said Ian Steedman, CEO of Strikers. This partnership will show local players that the dream is attainable.
Everton currently has two American players on its roster, Landon Donovan and Tim Howard, which Steedman said is great for kids to see. Everton is ninth in the Premier League, the top soccer league in England.
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"This affiliation between us and the already very successful program Strikers has established will allow players even further opportunities to fully maximize their potential," said Tosh Farrell, head of international football development at Everton in a press release.
Everton Professional Academy will host two camps over the summer in Huntersville for any interested players. In addition, the partnership will give players and coaches access to the educational soccer program devised by Everton for their younger players.
The program covers everything from skills training to diet and exercise regimens for young players. It's great for local athletes because it's both age appropriate and proven to work, said Steedman.
Players are not the only ones that will reap the benefits from the partnership.
"It's going to be great for coaches," said Steedman. "It's really good input from a third source."
For Everton, the partnership helps by giving them a larger pool of players to look at for their club.
"It's a great opportunity from the Everton perspective because they get to look at some kids that they can integrate into the program," said Patrick Roux.
There are about 75,000 young athletes playing "upper-level" soccer just in North Carolina, said Steedman.
"As many talented players play in America as anywhere else," he said.
The idea for the partnership came when Andre Diouf, a Strikers player, wanted to go to England last winter to work with the Everton Academy, but the trip fell through.
Steedman's family ran a club, Clydebank, in Scotland for 25 years before coming to the U.S., giving him many soccer connections in the United Kingdom. He continued talking with Everton manager David Moyes and Farrell even after Diouf's trip was canceled, which led to the two organizations working together.
Patrick had already planned to take his son, Tevenn, to England when he learned about the partnership with Everton. It is Roux family tradition for each son to go on any trip they want with their father when they turn 10, Patrick said. Tevenn's older brother, Cheyne, 14, decided to go to England and see a few Premiere League matches. Tevenn, 10, wanted to do the same.
Now because of the partnership Tevenn will get a chance to visit the Everton club and meet with some of the players and coaches. He will also see two matches (Chelsea vs. Arsenal and Arsenal vs. Liverpool).
"(The trip) has just tied in perfectly," said Steedman. "(The) trip is just a phenomenal thing for a kid to do."
Patrick said that he likes the program because it not only gives young American players a chance to see professional players, but also to compare themselves to English players their own age.
"It will give them a lot of confidence, and (show them) that the skill sets they have are equivalent," he said.
The most important thing to Steedman is to increase the participation and passion for the sport in the area by showing local athletes what soccer is like in England and at its highest level.
"It's the best way to inspire the kids," he said.