How Barcelona, Villarreal and other European clubs are competing with MLS for America’s top talent

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FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Yurem Linares arrived with his father moments before soccer practice. He walked up a steep dirt path to the field, past an overflowing trash can and the bottles and cans that had come to rest around it. It was a warm evening in June, almost the end of the season. Linares had been waiting for this day. After practice, he’d learn if he was one of five players picked to spend a week in the youth program at the LaLiga club Villarreal, on Spain’s east coast.

Yurem and a few hundred other players, some as young as 6 years old, were enrolled in Villarreal’s Virginia academy, except it wasn’t an academy at all. There was no administration building, no locker room, no dedicated field. Instead, sessions were held several times weekly at public facilities and high school fields like this one, Mason District Park. The annual fee for players was $2,000. “We’re trying to get it down to $500,” Bo Amato, the owner and executive director of the club, said.

Nearly 14, Yurem looked slender and insubstantial. He stood just 5-foot-3, but as soon as he began to kick a ball, his talent became evident. Nick Flores, who coaches Linares’ academy team at Villarreal Virginia, watched with approval. “He’s little, but he comes on like a monster,” Flores said.

Villarreal is hardly a famous club. Since its formation in 1923, in a city of 50,000 inhabitants near Valencia, it has never won a championship in Spain’s top division, although it did defeat Manchester United in last season’s Europa League final. In the United States, its following is negligible. Nevertheless, since 2018 when Villarreal Virginia opened, it has established ties with youth teams across North America — 10 in all. Many other clubs — including some of the world’s most popular, like Barcelona, Juventus and Liverpool — had…



Source : espn

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