Another day passes, another American soccer club partners up with a European counterpart. But I didn’t want this one to just pass. Because this time it is Rush Soccer. Once a tiny club in Colorado, Rush is now 33,000 players strong with 20 clubs across the nation (that’s not a map of democratic states up there, but states in which Rush has a member club). Former national team player Tim Schutz, who has coached and played at just about every level of the game, is the president of Rush. Oh, and they want a MLS team under their brand.
If you didn’t know before, it’s quickly appearing to be a youth soccer world of “Rush against them.” After the jump President Schutz takes a phone call to make sense of the mother of all clubs.
When did you begin working with the Rush soccer club?
I was involved with the Rush since I was 30. I started in 1991, so I’ve been with the club 17-18 years now. I quit playing professional soccer after 10 years. At that time I wasn’t that sure what I wanted to do—I thought a natural transition would be to get involved in the coaching industry.
I’m guessing at that point the Rush was just a Colorado club?
Correct. At that time it was called the Columbine Soccer Association, and I’ve been with this club ever since. The Columbine club was formed back in 1974. I was their first hire in 1991 and kind of grew in the position. And then when you speak of the partners across the country we started that in 2003, branching out.
The first thing I was drawn to when going to the Rush website was the shear size of the club when you add in all the affiliates. Could it be described as a franchise of sorts—do the affiliated clubs buy in to the Rush?
That is correct. I would maybe call it a partnership instead of a franchise, but yes, if a club is interested in partnering with us, and the Rush with them, then we send a licensing agreement which brings them into the fold.
Rush is approaching 40,000 players in its system. How do you assess a team that wants to affiliate with you?
There are four criteria. One is the history of the club. Has it been around for awhile? Is it established in its own community? Two is the size of the club. Three is the size of the city that it could grow into. The fourth is probably the most important. The people that run the club—the characteristics, the traits, the skills they possess.
Would Rush and has Rush ever recruited or gone after a club for affiliation that did not first express interest to Rush? Do you scout clubs in this way? If you have done this, has a club ever turned Rush down?
No, we have never gone out and actively recruited clubs. Most of the inquiries about the Rush Expansion is done by word of mouth. Some clubs have viewed our web site and followed up with phone discussions and even in some cases we would fly out and present something to them.
How much interaction is there between the various clubs and central command if you will?
It is hard to compare with anything else going on right now because it is a unique structure. I would have to say the interaction is pretty significant. We have monthly conference calls with all the technical directors or leaders of the clubs. There are constantly e-mails going out, and annually we get together at a Rush Summit. We also get together at the NSCAA, the coaches association.
Did anything need to change with the Rush when USSF announced is development academy, or like other clubs, did Rush teams simply apply to be included?
Our program is quite different from the academy. When the academy was formed it didn’t affect us at all. Right now we have three teams that play in the academy, which are Colorado, Virginia, and Texas.
So Rush is not a league at all? They don’t get together to play? That is not one of benefits to the kids in terms of competition given the enormous footprint of Rush?
Good question. We don’t; it’s not a league. We did have the Under-12s this past year get together and play some games. You could call it a tournament, but it was a learning and educational tool, a coaching tool. And educational week. It was unique because it was not one specific category—more a broad stroke. What we do is—the main part of the partnership is to try to make that club become better and hopefully become #1 in their state. We want to create a large base so that we can have a feeder system into elite teams creating all-star teams that could participate within the rules of tournaments in our own country or participate in overseas travel. And our long term goal, we would like to have a MLS team or a professional women’s team that we would call the Rush and have our own feeder system.
You mention there the one thing that sort of blew my mind from perusing your website. You want to become a MLS franchise. It would clearly be a first in this country, but a youth team building into a professional team- that’s obviously the reverse of how we, how MLS, has imagined it would go so far. What is your time line, where would you want the team, how do you see that playing out in your growth plan?
There has been a initiative in MLS for each team to have a boys youth team that competes in the academy league, so our premise is the opposite. We want to form a huge base, a pyramid, that is slowly building the structure—making hires, marketing directors, a front office staff, a travel coordinator, a general manager. We want to build an infrastructure and maintain it. The goal is clearly to have a MLS team, but where we put it, we don’t care. It doesn’t have to be in a partnership city, it could be in any city. Our goal would be in 2015 to have an investor that has the same goals and objectives in mind. This is out desire and we are pushing towards it.
The Rush has such a strong Colorado background and root system. But that couldn’t be a destination, right? You wouldn’t want to absorb a present team?
I’m not going to rule out any city. Say Colorado would be interested in adopting the Rush clubs across the country and immediately they would have the infrastructure to select these players. Our goal for this MLS team is to have only Rush players on it. What Chivas does with their Mexican heritage, not allowing anybody with the Mexican nationality in the program. This would be the same concept except that only Rush players would be on the team. Currently I think we have 13, maybe 14 Rush players in MLS, so it is certainly not far fetched.
Are you taking that so far to eliminate any internationals and not use the Designated Player rule if those players weren’t Rush graduates?
I think we would probably internally with our rules and regulations allow some quote-unquote foreign players. And that foreign player in our mind could be American. So it wouldn’t a foreign player as much as any non-Rush player. I think that would be wise to do something like that from a marketing standpoint. To have 2, 3, or 4 non-Rush players. And of course that would be our own internal policy.
Have you had discussions with Don Garber or the MLS front office about your interest?
Nothing at the moment. We are not ready and at the moment; we have too many steps to take before we engage in conversations.
But the current progress toward that goal is moving forward?
We are growing. Every year we are reaching our benchmarks.
This being American soccer, many people feel that the game is coached too much from an English style and perspective. Does Rush even have a style of soccer in your mind?
From my being out on the “streets of the game,” I have not heard that English soccer is implemented into our American style. I would say our Rush style is a clean game, a passing game. There is extreme intensity. A love, a passion, a desire. From the coaching standpoint we want to encourage that passion and intensity and deliver an atmosphere where you have that. We believe in a lot of coaching. We don’t sit on the sidelines and remain quiet. I think there are a lot of short cuts we can give players—a lot of places the idea is to sit back and let them play, let the game teach them. I think the game is the best teacher, yet allowing bad habits and not helping a player get to the top faster is naive for us.
One of the principles put forth with the development academy was to limit games, control the importance of winning and losing to some degree, in hopes of getting clubs to focus on teaching and not so much the wins and losses. I had the opposite youth experience. Bad coaches, good teams, win at all costs. Every kid wanted to be on a winner, but often it was the best recruiter, not the best coach who was successful. With the immense size of Rush, how do you as president deal with that dilemma? Does the size help alleviate those issues or make it easier, or even make those issues more important to keep tabs on?
I don’t think there is anything wrong with winning. I think competition is healthy. I think it is ingrained in us. I think human spirit thrives on competition. For instance, why does a child want to compete at 2-3 years old in racing his father to the mailbox and back? Why does every game have a winner and loser or why do you compete as early as 4 or 5 in board games, Shoots And Ladders? There is nothing wrong with that. Winning and losing is part of the American lifestyle. Now, having said that, can learning take place during winning? Of course it can. I also think there should be times and places where players and teams and clubs show up to teach in noncompetitive environments, meaning repetition in training, repetition in scrimmages and friendlies. So there is no score kept at that particular time so that other types of learning can take place so that they can ultimately apply the winning at a future date. There is a fine line between taking away the score and development and skills and techniques. 40 games a year by the academy is a very healthy number, however, there is no problem throwing in an extra 20-30 games throughout the year as friendly games or controlled scrimmages where coaches can start and stop competition. I’m OK with 40 games, but I wouldn’t limit it to those as long as any added on are not competitive.
After coming to my attention a few times in the past, Rush was again in headlines with your new affiliation with Monaco’s professional club. It seems every month another youth club or MLS team is partnering with a foreign club, mostly European. It gets a quick news blurb and everyone forgets about it. Can you break down for me what it means to Rush, its players, and then Monaco, and just how far can something like this go?
We’ve been interested in partnering with a European club for a long time. Monaco approached us not more than two months ago. I think there is a great partnership that we just established and hope to grow over the years. Their interest in us is a player or two from our player development. They would like a few players that could come over and compete with their second team and ultimately their first team. In the short term in means a team or two from Rush going over to Monaco to train under their tutelage, see the culture, see the environment, and allow theses players to go home and aspire to get back there as professionals.
Now I know there are a lot of clubs across the country that are partnering with these European clubs. I’m not so sure I would want to partner with them due to their goals and objectives. Most of the clubs coming over from Europe are looking to expand their market and their brand. That is OK, but that is not our interest to help another club to expand their brand. We are first and foremost interested in a player or two going over there, which is Monaco’s interest. Now Monaco also is interested in expanding their brand, just as we are interested in expanding our brand out to Europe. That is not arrogant to say; why can’t the Rush expand out to Europe? And say we are here, we have some good players. It is not just one-sided.
Do you see that partnership going so far as to give Monaco some sort of first dibs on players coming through the Rush system?
Yes that would be our intent. Obviously we have some labor laws here that prohibit some of that type of action; Europe has different laws that I am not versed in. But I know we can not mandate a player go play in Monaco but that will be our effort to push that player to play for Monaco. That will be our discussions with that player to entice him or her that this is a relationship and this is what we are hoping they would consider.