Ever since he was 4 years old, Kerry Alexander Sarmiento has dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player. After stints with the now-bankrupt Italian Parma and Argentine Vélez Sarsfield, he is trying to make his dream a reality.
Kerry, 14, is enrolled in Inter de Milan’s South Florida youth academy. Inter is one of Italy’s most successful club teams.
“I liked what Inter offered us,” said Leider Ángel, 42, Kerry’s mother. “I like how they treat the kids and teach them to become good professionals, along with how they provide guidance professionally and personally.”
Like Kerry, millions of children around the world dream of becoming professional soccer players. More than 100,000 of these youngsters live in Florida, where prominent international soccer clubs are establishing their academies.
“This area is a natural door to the soccer fans and players from Latin America,” said Daniel Rotsztain, director of Boca Juniors’ South Florida soccer academy. “The interest for soccer is growing in the United States with the increasing migration of people from [South America].”
Boca Juniors, which already has 180 players in its youth system, three months after opening its doors, is one of five foreign professional clubs with academies in South Florida.
The others: Inter de Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, F.C. Barcelona and Juventus.
According to FIFA, 18.7 million youth players have registered with clubs worldwide. The United States is home to 3.9 million of them.
“The sport itself [soccer] is a bit mainstream now,” said Sam Snow, coaching director of U.S. Youth Soccer. “There’s more of a general acceptance of the game nowadays.”
And professional soccer has reached a larger audience as well.
The overall attendance in the Major League Soccer, the highest level of soccer in the United States and Canada, increased 12.7 percent to an all time high of 7.3 million fans in 2015, compared to 2014’s numbers provided by the entity’s end-of-the-season report.
Lena Gil is director of PSG’s South Florida development academy. The professional team has won the French Ligue 1 three times in the past three seasons. Ligue 1 is currently ranked as the sixth-best league in European soccer.
Gil said interest in the sport has been growing on every level, but the region’s talent pool needs to be polished.
“The level of training has to be raised,” she said. “There’s a huge untapped market in South Florida because soccer wasn’t a huge sport in this country.”
Talent isn’t the only requirement for prospects to join these academies.
Along with going to school, the players have to train a minimum of two hours every day and play weekends.
“We teach the kids to be good people,” Rotsztain said. “A very good player has to respect the team, teammates, and be able to help one another along with being studious and disciplined in school.”
The academies encourage the youngsters to travel, meet and train with professional players and others just like them.
Kerry has already traveled to three training camps in foreign countries.
He first traveled to Italy to train with Parma in 2014, followed by a trip to Spain with the U.S. Men’s Youth National Team. This year, he traveled to Argentina to train with Vélez Sarsfield.
Next year, he will again travel to Italy, but this time with Inter’s academy.
“The purpose of this upcoming trip is to meet with recruiters,” Ángel said. “I hope Kerry can be admitted into a championship, get a contract or even earn a college scholarship.”
PSG’s Miami academy claims to have direct contact with some universities in this country along with links to European and MLS clubs.
Like PSG, Boca’s academy stresses the importance of the players continuing their education.
“It’s crucial that these players respect their educations and continue having good discipline on and off the field,” Rotsztain said.
These connections provided through the academies can help players reach their goals, whether it be to become a professional or get a university scholarship.
“Is there a positive influence from the foreign professional clubs having a piece of the American pie?” Snow said. “Yup, there can be.”
Snow said there is a growing trend of MLS teams using homegrown talents.
An example is FC Dallas, which played in the MLS Eastern Conference Final with 20-year-old academy-grown goalkeeper, Jesse González.
“FC Dallas, out of all the MLS franchises, have done the best job in developing homegrown talent,” he said. “Orlando City [Florida’s only MLS team] can do the same by utilizing South Florida’s talent pool for their team.”
Snow believes Orlando City could use the thousands of registered players in South Florida to strengthen its team.
“Overall, you have seen the quality of soccer improve,” Snow said. “They [soccer clubs] could get some good players here.”
▪ Where: 16601 N.E. 15 Ave., North Miami Beach, FL 33162
▪ Price: $1,600 per year.
▪ Phone: 305-975-0316
▪ Website: www.sdgsoccer.com
▪ Where: 1101 Brickell Ave #800 Miami, FL 33131
▪ Price: $1,600 per year.
▪ Phone: 1800-399-9665
▪ Website: www.fcmiamicity.com
▪ Where: 3700 N.W. 11 Place Lauderhill, FL 33311
▪ Price: $2,250 per year.
▪ Phone: 954-652-2100
▪ Website: www.fcbescola.fcbarcelona.com/Florida
Inter de Milan
▪ Where: 9501 Sheridan St., Cooper City, FL 33024
▪ Price: $1,700 per year.
▪ Phone: 954-336-6407
▪ Website: http://interacademyflorida.com/
▪ Where: 301 S.W. 8 St., Miami, FL 33130
▪ Price: $1,200-1,700 per year.
▪ Phone: 305-502-0827
▪ Website: www.jssflorida.com/