PHOTO COURTESY- ROBERT WIEDMEYER
Original article by By MIKE FITZGERALD – Shaw Media Correspondent
Soccer academy out of Naperville, Niles focuses on development, fundamentals
Zachary Bargas of Plainfield started playing for Olympiacos Soccer Academy two and a half years ago, and he immediately noticed a difference between his new team and his old club.
“The practices are a lot harder, and we’re learning new things every single time out there,” said the 13-year-old who plays on the club’s U-14 team.
That is what Yiannis Kosmas, a native of Greece, was looking for when he and his wife, Angela, met with officials of Olympiacos F.C., the most successful professional club in Greece, four years ago to pitch them on the idea of setting up a soccer academy in the United States.
Kosmas convinced the team to open its first and only academy in the United States in the Chicago area. Now, two and a half years into the venture, the Olympiacos Soccer Academy has a presence in both Naperville and Niles.
“I always thought it was tough to find the right club and the right coaching for my kids,” Kosmas said. “That’s what started my passion to create a club that would teach the fundamentals to the kids, and the best way to do that is to combine the actual player development with the ability to give kids the opportunity to play at the highest level possible.
“Olympiacos has played in the Champions League every year for the last 17 years. They play at the highest level. Angela and I talked about what we could do to bring that type of academy training here, and we sat down and put a proposal together.
“We flew to Greece and presented it to Olympiacos. They loved the idea because it gave Olympiacos a presence in the United States, and they knew the United States was an untapped market with a lot of talent here.”
What separates the Olympiacos Soccer Academy from other clubs is its focus on player development and fundamentals.
“I tell parents that if they are bringing their kids here because they want to win all the time, we are not the right club for them,” Kosmas said. “We are the club that teaches kids how to play soccer.”
“We didn’t win a single game in the winter season because we played against high school players. The ball moved so much faster, but now because of that, the game has slowed down for us, so now we know where to move the ball and why to move it there,” Bargas said.
Olympiacos has five teams that play in the Northern Illinois Soccer League. There are approximately 60 kids in the program with half playing in Naperville and half in Niles.
Kosmas said several kids from the Plainfield area play on the teams in Naperville. The tots program features 55 kids ages 3 to 6 who are taught basics with an emphasis on physical fitness and building self-confidence.
The coaching staff is headed by Niko Mirtsekis, a former professional player in the Champions League and national team member in Greece; Mario Dukovac, who coached at University of St. Francis; assistant USF coach Bert Badertscher; Jamees Kriticos; Dan Nguyen; Shannon Baker-Javaras; and Kosmas.
“Coach Niko has taught us things that will help us in the future,” said Bargas, who has a younger brother, Caden, 8, who plays in the program. “He focuses on things we have problems on. He’s a professional soccer player who has played at the highest levels,”
Olympiacos also offers its players a chance to train overseas at the Olympiacos academies in Greece.
“We receive our curriculum and our direction from the parent club,” Kosmas said. “We offer our kids an opportunity to experience the whole international atmosphere, not only from a playing standpoint but also from a cultural standpoint.”
Olympiacos team members and parents also participate in philanthropic activities. In January, parents and team members visited the pediatric unit at Edward Hospital in Naperville, bringing gifts for the patients and a large donation for the unit.
Olympiacos F.C. will travel to the United States to play Liverpool F.C. on July 27 at Soldier Field as part of the Guiness International Champions Cup. Kosmas said around that time there will be a three-day scouting event and camp that will allow the academy’s players to be seen and trained by members of the Olympiacos F.C. staff.
For information about the academy, visit www.olympiacoschicago.com