It’s all about fit.

It was during a summer tryout for the ‘05 girls PA Olympic Development Program (ODP) — the first tryout for a higher-level squad — that it was clear it was finally time for more.

Emily had been playing soccer for her local recreation program, 2 hours outside of Pittsburgh, all of her 12-year-old life. She had technical skills. Physically, she was able to keep up. But mentally, there was still room to grow her soccer IQ. Emily knew it. Her parents knew it.

Having a brother in Cup soccer, who previously played for Hotspurs, Emily was ready to make the jump to Cup soccer herself — and the 05g white team was the perfect fit.

The start.

Emily has always been a goal-setter. It’s something she regularly sits down to do each year — and on an ongoing basis — with her dad.

First goal – make the State ODP team.

The second goal, upon receiving her offer for the 2005g white team, was to become a starter.

The third goal that went on the list was to move on to the blue team the following year.

In one year, Emily did just that.

“We gave Emily the opportunity to try out for a Cup soccer team a year earlier,” said Steve Graeca, Emily’s dad. “Emily didn’t want to commit at that time. And that was OK. I was coaching her in our local program, and she was having fun and competing. But she’s seen her brother compete at the higher levels. And she was excelling in our travel program, so it was just a matter of time for her.”

“When we saw her at the ODP tryout, competing and holding her own, we knew it was good timing to enter the Cup level, but again, it was Emily’s decision,” Graeca continued.

Making that first ODP team and seeing the level of players in the Pittsburgh area gave Emily the motivation to kick her game up a notch.

The White team.

“When I first tried out and joined the team, I was nervous,” shared Emily. “I didn’t know anyone, and I was worried that I wasn’t as skilled. But, all of the girls were welcoming from the start. And Coach Scott really emphasized that we practice like a game, giving us the focus as a group to train well.”

Currently, the 2005 Girls white is competing in the top division in PA West.

“When I first saw Emily, I knew she was a nice pickup for the white team, and an all around decent player,“ said Coach Scott Arnold.

“As we got to know Emily, we saw all of the upsides based on her competitiveness, coachability, and commitment, as well as her overall athleticism.

The white team was a perfect fit for her to develop, and she thrived.”

“A top priority for our entire program is to develop players,” said Club Director, Coach Tom Ovenden. “Players only get better when they play. Being on a white team gives players the right platform to compete and can speed up the development process for certain players, while helping to build confidence.

“We want players playing,” he continued. “We want to place players on a team that’s a strong fit for where they’re at in development. We strive to constantly develop all players, which means not sitting on a long bench, but playing in games with the team that’s best for them.”

“When I joined Hotspurs, the white team was a good fit for me,” said Emily. “The game was faster than I was used to in the in-house league and travel soccer I played in back home.”

“My soccer IQ needed to be caught up before I could achieve my next set of goals.”

Emily would go on to be the captain of the ‘05g white team in the spring season, starting every game.

The blue team.

Emily Graeca of our 2005g blue team at ODP National Training in Florida (Jan 2019)

As offers came out for the U14 season, Emily had earned a blue offer. With that came expanded goals.

  • Make the ODP Regional Pool
  • Become a starter on the ‘05g blue team
  • Make the ODP Regional Team
  • ‘05g blue team win the PA State Cup

Having a year under her belt of Cup soccer, Emily also recognized and embraced the opportunity to expand her training.

“After school, I attend Speed and Agility training, working on my strength and speed,” said Emily. “I also focuse on more technical training and just playing around the house — trying to get as many touches as possible on the soccer ball.”

“I have goals, per training, that I use for benchmarking where I’m at.”

“I’ll try testing out a new move, or using my left foot more, as my own goal outside of what the coaches have us working on.”

Coach Scott added, “Emily is self-driven to improve to become the best player she can be. She’s extremely coachable and focused, and absorbs coaching instruction to integrate it into her game immediately.

Her mindset ensures she excels in our training environment that emphasizes playing at high intensity, attention to details and standards, and decision-making within our game model.

Additionally, Emily works on her game outside of organized club practice. She seeks honest feedback from her coaches to identify areas to improve, and then she works on them!”

Currently (April 2019), Emily has made the regional pool and national camp training for ODP and frequently starts for the ‘05g blue team. The other two goals on her list are still in process.

Opportunities to develop.

“It was really easy to transition from white to blue since we were training with the same drills, coaches, and style of play,” explained Emily. “While there wasn’t a ton of opportunities to play with the blue in games, I did get to train with them last year.”

In our club model, we have 1-3 teams per age group — blue, yellow, white. (Yellow currently exists in the foundation phase only.) The system is set up to allow players to develop while setting them up for success through competition that is fitting for their development.

Our blue teams compete in a higher division/league than our white teams, however, there is no self-imposed limit to the level any team plays at. As a club, we are aiming to have our blue teams at the national level, and our white at the regional level. For example, the ‘05 girls blue went from the PA West division 1 in the 2017 fall to competing in the top division of the USYS Regional League Great Lakes Conference for the 2018 spring season (and currently). And the ‘05 girls white compete in the top division of PA West with the plan to also move to the regional league in the near future. .

Emily is just one player who found a fit with the white team, and as she developed found a fit with the blue: “I try to come out of every practice very tired. I tried, and try, to really focus on what the coaches are saying,” shares Emily. “I knew it was possible to move up to the blue if I stuck with it.”

With this mentality, we’re certain Emily will continue to do great things.

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