Young Oklahoma soccer players achieved success with US Youth Soccer’s Olympic Development Program (ODP) this summer.
The process began back in November 2016 with state tryouts for boys and girls, birth years 2000-2005, which saw a record turnout of 419 players. 65 players were selected to represent Oklahoma on ODP state teams, which trained through the spring leading up to the regional competition in July in Alabama. US Youth Soccer is broken into four regions, and Oklahoma is part of Region 3 along with Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and north and south Texas.
For the men, Oklahoma had teams for birth years ’02, ’03, and ’04. Competition was held at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, and included five days of round robin-style tournament training and team play, followed by an additional four days (if selected) of tryouts to give players a chance to shine for the regional team staff.
For the women, Oklahoma had teams for birth years ’03 and ’04. There were also three individual Oklahoma female players that joined the Louisiana ’00/’01 team to compete. The girls’ event was held at the University of Montevallo located in Montevallo, Alabama, about 35 miles south of Birmingham. Their tournament and tryouts lasted five days.
Tommy Riley, Oklahoma’s Director of Player Development for OKC Energy FC, explains, “Players were there to test themselves against players in the region, and to be recognized by region staff.” The ultimate goal for a player at the regional competition is to be placed onto a pool team that will represent Region 3 in future events both within the USA and internationally.
The Oklahoma athletes performed very well at the competition and regional tryouts. “Collectively, 23 players out of 65 were placed in a pool for their respective age group,” Riley says. “On the boys side, we placed 22 players out of 43, which is the most Oklahoma has placed at this level in the last 5 years of records being available.”
The players who placed are: Abraham Covarrubias (’02), Salvador Garcia (’02), Matthew Howard (’02), Aaron Marquez (’02), Jacob Campos (’03), Ivan Cardenas (’03), Jacob Chapple (’03), Jared Estrada (’03), David Meacham (’03), Luis Menchaca (’03), Marco Romero (’03), Trindon Turner (’03), Bienjamin Wells, Rokas Pukstas (’04), Federico Palacios (’04), Daniel Gutierrez (’04), Kabl Kahkesh (’04), Kaleb Trussell (’04), Jared Orta (’04), Lawson Ford (’04), Chance Johnson (’04), Jimmy Cabrera (’04), and Olivia Vigil (’03) for the women.
“Oklahoma’s a small state compared to others in the region, but the quality of player has been high in Oklahoma,” states Brian Harvey, head coach for the men’s and women’s teams at Oklahoma City University, and an ODP coach involved since 1984 and currently working with the ’04 boys team.
The next step for these players will be potential selection and invitation to represent Region 3 by competing at an event in Arizona or Florida around Thanksgiving. Players at this event will be evaluated by National team staff, with the ultimate goal of being invited to their age groups national pool. From the national pool, players are evaluated to represent the United States at international levels of soccer competition. “If we look at the last national team that went to Brazil, about 72% had been involved in the ODP program,” explains Harvey. “I think that it’s a good experience for any young player, male or female, exposing them to players of high quality from other countries,” Harvey offers, “These are wonderful opportunities for young players to hone their game and experience a cultural setting.”
Eric Thornhill is currently the coach for the 2003 boys team for Oklahoma, and his involvement with ODP dates back to the late ‘90s as a coach, and as an ODP player prior to that. “The ODP program has changed a lot over the years, but I don’t think the intent has changed,” Thornhill says. “It takes the big fish from a little pond, and puts them in a bigger pond.” As Thornhill explains, the ODP program helps a player learn humility, while providing the player access to other coaches, and puts players front and center for scouts to see them locally and regionally. “ODP helps identify a player’s potential, because it is forward-looking above and beyond just pure talent,” Thornhill offers.
The ODP program is also used to identify coaches that will be an asset to the program. This has been a huge focus for Riley in his efforts to re-focus Oklahoma’s ODP. “Tommy has really worked to get the right coaches involved,” Thornhill states. “Tommy is a great recruiter. He’s honest, likable, and recognizes people who need to be involved.”
Harvey agrees, “On the grassroots level, Tommy Riley has been doing a tremendous job.” He also credits success to OKC Energy FC and the presence of professional soccer in Oklahoma. “The introduction of a professional team to the area has been as asset.”
Thornhill concurs, “There’s an affiliation with the Energy that has helped.”
As the select group of young athletes prepare for their next steps in Arizona or Florida this November, the team accomplishments this past July should still be celebrated. “Oklahoma showed up with a team that just goes out and dominates. We won most of our games,” Thornhill beams. “Oklahoma shined.”