BY DAN SHALIN | Contributor | @danshalin

Local youth soccer club built on solid Greek foundation

After playing and coaching at several amateur soccer clubs and organizing large soccer tournaments, Niles resident John Kosmas turned his attention to youth soccer development.

Though the Chicago area is filled with youth soccer clubs, Kosmas said he observed too many youngsters playing the game incorrectly.

“Kids today, even older kids in the area, are lacking in how to properly play on the field,” Kosmas said. “Simple things, like how to pass the ball and how to position themselves on the field. They are lacking that. There is a pure skill-development gap that we’re seeing in the area.”

Kosmas came to the United States 33 years ago from Greece, where the powerhouse professional soccer club Olympiacos is known for its youth academy. Kosmas wanted to model his organization after this academy, which teaches the game based on sound fundamentals and strong character.

Three years ago, Kosmas and his wife, Angela, traveled to the team’s base in Piraeus, just outside Athens, where they presented their idea for Olympiacos Soccer School Chicago to representatives from the club, which already had 40 soccer schools throughout Greece and Cyprus, and one in Sydney, Australia.

Olympiacos officials liked Kosmas’ proposal and made Chicago home to the club’s first North American outpost (they have since added a school in Toronto).

Last season, Olympiacos Chicago operated youth teams at U8 and U9 levels out of Park Ridge and U8 and U12 squads out of Naperville. A program called Thrylos Soccer, for children aged 3-6, is held in Park Ridge.

Kosmas continues to plot the club’s expansion.

Olympiacos Chicago has been working with Maine East to become the official feeder program for that school’s soccer teams.

During this growth, Kosmas said the club has stayed true to its mission of stressing player progress over results.

“I’m not afraid to tell parents, that if they are here because all they want their kid to do is win, then we’re not the club for them,” he said. “We develop kids. We’ll win, but we’ll lose some games.”

Kosmas continued: “If a kid is 17 years old and college coaches are scouting his game, they are looking at the skills of that player. They will not come up and ask, ‘What tournaments did he or she win?’ ”

This skill development is achieved, Kosmas said, through constant teaching.

“We will stop training sessions many times to let players know what they did wrong and show them how to do it right,” he said. “At the beginning, this can be frustrating, but eventually they get it and we see how much better they get.”

Training sessions are based on curriculum developed by the pro club in Greece.

Should talented youths emerge in the Chicago club, Kosmas’ relationship with the officials overseas will ensure those players are on Olympiacos’ radar screen.

Though making it as a professional may be a long-shot, children in the program will have a chance to learn from a talented former player in Niko Mirtsekis, whom Kosmas hired to be the program’s director of coaching. Mirtsekis played for Panionios, AEK Athens and Iraklis, and once for the Greek national team.

“John is very passionate about this game,” Mirtsekis said. “He’s always been interested in trying something new and more appealing than what is out there. That’s how he came up with the idea (for the club). He loves the game and he loves the club and he’s trying his best to make the club a lot bigger and successful, too.”