An Interview with Berlin Football Academy
Berlin Football Academy is a Waterloo Region based premier soccer academy that places a big emphasis on player development and maximum exposure for youth players. Big thanks to Santiago Almada, Founder & Director of Soccer for the insights!
Q: Give us an overview of Berlin Football Academy & your mission for footy in Waterloo Region.
R: Essentially, what we aim to do at Berlin Football Academy is to bring local kids into a unique environment and make them understand that with the right mentality, along with a strong focus on academics and athletics, anyone can play at the NCAA/NAIA/OUA level.
We aim to find scholarships for all our players. We do this by working very closely with Next Level U Sports, which is a local recruiting company started by Cleary University alumni, Ryan Neceski. They have over 100 Universities and Colleges that will accept and offer players scholarships on their recommendations so by working together, we aim to keep our promises.
Q: Any plans to expand to other regions in Canada?
R: Right now, my focus is directly in the Kitchener-Waterloo Region. This region has constantly been neglected in Canadian sports as the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) teams tend to get all the coverage. I feel like there's so much talent in this region, and it's been proven when myself and other Waterloo boys such as Justin Ferreira, Noah Schneider, Jordan Veiga, Josh Almeida and Marc Hodges all ended up at Cleary University as well, after starting their careers here.
Q: Tell us about some of the challenges you faced getting started?
R: Trust me when I tell you that there have been lots of challenges. First, since it was a new program it was difficult to get players to commit, which is understandable. The local clubs hate competition so there was initially a lot of negative press about what we were doing. I had people discrediting my name, my experience, pretty much anything you might think could happen. Getting field time is tough too, as the local clubs get 100% of the prime field time from City of Kitchener and City of Waterloo.
But as the boys in the academy started winning and beating local teams, heads started turning and now it seems like other local teams are starting to realize that our program is legit and the opportunities are serious. That's why I appreciate the boys we had early on more than anything, because they trusted so much in the system that they were willing to leave the club/academy they were playing with and take a risk with us. I'll be forever grateful for that!
Q: Football has been getting much love in Canada recently, the climate is changing but there’s still a lot of work to be done. What are some of the gaps you’re seeing that need to be plugged?
R: I'm warning you ahead of time that this is a controversial opinion, but it honestly is true if you can put your opinions and personal beliefs away for a second and look at it objectively. If not, skip this question and read the rest of the interview!
The next points are where I think the problem with Canadian soccer lies. When I was playing through my last four years (U14-U18), we had L1 Ontario Youth Soccer League (OYSL), L3 Western Ontario Youth Soccer League (WOYSL), and the lower more regional leagues like L4, L5 and L6. So we knew that in order to be on the best team, you had to work your way up from L3 to L1 and win Ontario Cup. So we did that, we got promoted and in our first year (U17) we made the Ontario Cup Final, beating out the #2 Ajax FC and #4 OSU FORCE along the way. We played against Raheem Edwards' Erin Mills in the final. We lost, but we knew that we were the 2nd best team in Ontario after that game.
Canadian Soccer is shifting in a negative direction. They want everyone to play the sport, which I understand, but they want to average out all of the teams. I went to the South West Region District to apply for a team and they said we weren't allowed. I don't even remember exactly, but they said that there were already "too many local teams".
The problem is that the got rid of Ontario Youth Soccer League (OYSL), effective this year. There is only U18 OYSL and after that it's gone. This leaves the only provincial league to be Ontario Player Development League (OPDL), which is extremely expensive and not feasible. Those teams can also not play the Ontario Cup.
If you don't see a problem with that, then I think you're part of the problem. We shouldn't be okay with that, ever. We should be working to change that. It's great to have everyone play the sport but we shouldn't neglect the elite players by only giving them one option. That's why Canadian soccer fails to progress. We're too kind and we give kids participation ribbons and tell them they're capable of anything when it isn't always the case. We knew when we got promoted the L3, that we weren't at the level yet. No one told us "Wow you guys are so good" they actually said that we were going to go back down. We proved them wrong and then half that team got scouted to play University soccer. See a trend? I do. That's what Berlin is about. Quality training, good opponents, exposure and opportunity. But if you slack off and don't work for it, you won't get it.
Q: You had a Berlin Academy College Combine from April 21st-22nd of this year. What makes this different from other combines?
R: We have college scouts from all over coming. We're announcing them every Friday at 12pm leading up to the event. This has never been done in the region before and we're literally bringing opportunity to the region. It's open to everyone of whatever club team as we want everyone to experience what our guys are going to get all the time!
Q: Berlin Football Academy is all about professionalism, fair play, & respect. What are some additional traits that tell you that a player’s got what it takes to go pro?
R: It's not so much about going pro, I just want kids to feel like their athletics are going to bring them something. We invest thousands of dollars a year into kids and their sports. Imagine investing all this time and money and getting your kid a 15,000$ a year scholarship in return.
I'm all about return on investment (ROI). I want kids to feel like they're doing something for their parents with their hard work. That hard work pays off. And the final thing we teach is the following: just be a decent person. Don't talk about other teams, other players, coaches, refs or nothing. You can show your worth by beating them. Which is what we've been doing and will continue to do as we grow.