For the last 12 months, Barons head coach and technical director Matt Driver has been meeting with Newcastle officials to gain a working affiliation. The affiliation would allow South Jersey players to train and be evaluated at Newcastle as part of a program that would include the exchange of knowledge, methods, coaches, players and teams that could further the development of players in this region.
The Barons youth club is a nonprofit organization that fields girls' and boys' soccer teams in South Jersey. The club is affiliated with the Barons professional team, which has been in existence since 1996 and plays in Division 3 of the United Soccer Leagues. The professional league's season runs from May until September.
"This is like the New York Yankees inviting a group of youngsters to train with the baseball teams in the organization," Driver said. "It is a tremendous opportunity for these youngsters."
Four players each from the Barons' under-13 and under-14 teams will make the trip. The U-13 players are midfielders Andrew Ocbo of Atco and Chase Komer of Williamstown, midfielder/striker Billy Swetra of Egg Harbor Township, and striker Danny Arnold of Sicklerville. The U-14 players are forward Andrew Simmons of Blue Anchor, midfielder Jimmy Davis of Pittsgrove, midfielder/forward/defender Colin Martin of Sicklerville, and goalie Matt Cully of Mount Laurel.
"I think it's amazing that we get the opportunity to do this," said Cully, who is an eighth grader at Mount Laurel's Harrington School. "I hope to get a lot of good training and see what the competition is like in other countries."
The eight players will observe and train with teams in the Newcastle United youth system. They also will observe the Newcastle senior youth team (U-19) and reserve and first-team professionals both in training and in games. The youngsters will attend two of Newcastle's English Premier League games, against Sunderland and Liverpool.
Dan Christian, the Barons' director of youth development, said narrowing the list to eight players was difficult.
"On each team, we could have probably sent eight to 10 players," Christian said. "These eight were picked based on their soccer ability and how they act both on and off the field."
Driver is also hoping that he will be able to send some of his professional players to Newcastle and have some of the English players train and play for the Barons.
Driver has had a longtime association with Alan Irving, who is the director of the Newcastle United Academy.
"Alan Irving is considered one of the best youth coaches in the United Kingdom," Driver said. "We hope that we can develop a good long-term relationship with Newcastle. It will be good for our team and good for youth soccer in the South Jersey area."
Marc Narducci's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org