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The Evolution of the Sporting KC Academy

Academy Director Jon Parry talks about all the changes at the SKC Academy.

Thad Bell

Sporting Kansas City Head Coach and Sporting Director Peter Vermes has made it no secret what his goal is for his club. He dreams of a day when all 11 starters on the field are players that have come through the pipeline from the SKC Academy up to the first team.

A key figure in trying to make that dream a reality is Academy Director Jon Parry. In a recent interview on the Sporting KC Show Parry provided a lot of interesting information about the evolution of SKC’s Academy.

Parry has been Academy Director for 11 years, which is the longest tenure of any academy director in the league. Parry said the next closest director is about seven years on the job and after that it’s just five years. By Peter Vermes’ own admission, for the first five years of the academy they were just figuring things out so having someone so tenured and experienced has to be an asset.

As the director of the academy Parry oversees “everything.” While directing the academy he has also been a coach, but in January 2018 Parry stopped coaching entirely to focus on other duties. Now he spends time observing trainings, still helping with trainings and of course he watches a lot of games.

On March 1, 2019 Sporting KC hired their first full-time domestic scout, Josh Duffy. He isn’t alone in his scouting as Parry indicated he spends a lot of his time scouting players too. “Basically [it’s] like being the general manager of a team,” Parry said in describing his role with the academy.

Part of the time scouting is spent in Sporting KC’s Homegrown territory. Currently that territory is the entirety of three states: Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma (Parry specifically mentioned some “special talents” coming from Oklahoma in the near future). But the real territory that teams are starting to focus on is the unclaimed territory that doesn’t belong to any MLS teams (here is a chart from a few years ago showing each teams territories).

The “unclaimed” territory has already led to big moves for Sporting KC as they’ve signed players like Gianluca Busio (who they beat out some big clubs for) and Jaylin Lindsey from North Carolina as well as Swope Park Rangers players Felipe Hernandez and Will Little from Tennessee. Parry indicated they still want to find “75-80 percent” of their kids from local areas but it’s that last 20-25 percent that the entire league is fighting for.

The issue with territories may become a non-issue as Parry indicated, “[MLS] keeps mentioning the territories are going to be lifted which we are huge proponents of.” Sporting KC already have a head start with scouting players out of their territory and the club has mentioned they are already preparing for the day that MLS decides territories are a thing of the past.

Parry mentioned that “we feel like we have a lot in the pipeline.” He went on to list two more North Carolina signings that are in the process of relocating to Kansas City. Thomas Mancuso from the North Carolina Fusion Academy and Luke Riedel.

When players move to KC, they need a place to stay (if their family doesn’t relocate with them, which doesn’t always happen). Sporting KC explored just building dormitories to house their out of state academy kids, but it just wasn’t personal enough. Instead they rely on host families to give players a home away from home. There are quite a few requirements to be a host family but in the interview with Nate Bukaty, Parry and Bukaty advocated extensively for others to considering joining the ranks of families taking in players who may be the next Busio or Lindsey.

As Sporting KC continue to develop their academy, they are potentially looking to expand. “We start at U-12 and I’m pushing Peter [Vermes] to start at U-9,” stated Parry. “Because I think it makes a big difference the stuff that we’re doing with our technical trainer Michel Ribeiro.” If you haven’t heard of Ribeiro, he’s just another thing SKC are doing to try to get ahead of the other teams in MLS.

As Parry mentioned, the SKC Academy starts at U-12 and it stretches all the way to the U-19 level. The academy is full funded (i.e. free) and according to a recent Sports Illustrated report the teams spends $1 million annually on the academy. Below is a portion of the team’s response to SI’s questions:

“In addition, Sporting Kansas City has established Centers of Excellence for younger age groups to funnel top local talent into our academy. SKC also has 14 Academy Affiliates across a nine-state region in the Midwest with dedicated pro pathway programming (e.g. directors trip to SKC preseason, all-star player experiences, competitions, in-market visits, coaching education, etc.) for 15,000+ players and coaches.”

In the team’s answer to SI, they go on to advocate for other ways they are trying to stay ahead of other MLS clubs.

“Also, Sporting Kansas City has spent significant funds on youth facilities and infrastructure, including a new $20 million, 12-field, 52-acre youth complex that opened in 2017, with plans for future development in the years ahead. A recent study showed that Kansas City has produced the most professional players of any mid-size metropolitan market (population of 2.5 million or less).”

Overall, the academy and their potential to impact the future of Sporting KC continue to progress. They are up to eight coaches and a growing staff to support the system. For more information on the teams, schedules, tryouts and how to be a host family, head over to SportingKCAcademy.com.

The full interview with Jon Parry starts at around the 28:38 mark if you want to gain a deeper insight in Parry’s role or hear the whole thing for yourself.