In the world of soccer, there are many determining factors to a person’s talent. It can be background, upbringing, development, skill and talent, or even age that can set a player apart from the rest.
There are factors that either work to a player’s advantage, or highlight their disadvantages. One however that stands out regardless of there being talent or not, is age.
In today’s competitive soccer market, clubs and teams look to development leagues for younger talent. This so that they may flourish and evolve while on their team. There are arguments that clubs don’t just do this to further develop the players, but to eventually sell them on to other teams.
In the United States, the fast growing Pro Development League is the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL). It has 400-plus teams targeted for the 2021-2022 season, and has even teamed up with Mexico’s Liga Premier and Liga TDP to create UPSL MX.
United Premier Soccer League Logo. (Credit: UPSL website)
Even though UPSL is a league for many age groups, it gives young players a great opportunity to develop their skills and get noticed by coaches scouting for bigger clubs or leagues.
Although you often here the phrase “Age isn’t anything but a number”, age actually does matter when referencing the longevity of a soccer player’s career. The average peak age of soccer players is 26 to 27-years-old.
Most aspiring soccer players begin their journey into the sport at a very young age, and develop over the years through playing in local recreational soccer teams or on their school teams. This the case of 19- year-old Potros FC Winger James Kaan Vann.
“I was 4-years-old when I started to play the beautiful game, the discovery for me felt like a whole new meaning to life, it brought me happiness I couldn’t even describe and showed me what passion was,” said Vann. “I started to play for clubs when I was in 4th grade and I played recreational soccer through 8th grade. I also played on the varsity soccer team at my school from freshman to senior year and at Reinhardt University for a season.”
James Kaan Vann #24 for Potros FC. (Photo Credit: James Kaan Vann)
The young Turkish player admits that it was his family, mainly his grandfather who introduced him to the beautiful sport and coins one of his favorite soccer moments to be when the Premier League Club Chelsea FC won the Champions League title in 2012.
Like most aspiring young players, Vann has followed a developmental path working towards achieving his goal of becoming a professional footballer.
“What motivates me to play soccer is hopefully one day being able to become professional footballer like my grandfather did, and show everyone you can really do anything when you have a good work ethic,” said Vann. “I want to become the best player I can be with every day that passes, and to one day play in Europe and make a name for myself.”
James Kaan Vann ( yellow jacket) pictured with Potros FC after their game. (Photo credit: Potros FC via Instagram)
Vann’s introduction to soccer is quite similar to that of his teammate Sebastian Ramirez, who at 19-years-old has already played two seasons with Potros FC and one in the UPSL.
“I was also 4-years-old when I was introduced to the world’s most beautiful sport,” said Ramirez. “Both my grandpa and my dad introduced me to it, and along with my uncle they all prepared me for my first game. The passion and love for the sport is something I cannot simply explain.”
Sebastian Ramirez playing for Potros FC against FC Matata on 11-28-2020. (Photo Credit: Maria Vanessa Angel)
The UPSL is a semi-professional league that is filled with people from all ages and walks of life, some including young players like Ramirez and Vann, others such as older players who at one point were professionals. This combination of young and upcoming talent, and wiser developed players take the competition within the league to another level.
But what is going to set these two young players in the long run? The possibilities.
Potros FC team manager Christopher Uranga states that these two young players have a lot going for them as both are skilled and versatile.
“Sebastian and Kaan are similar style of players, they are quick skillful wingers with an attacking mindset,” said Uranga. “But they have a high work rate to where they can both attack and defend.”
When asked about how these two young players and what they bring to the team Uranga had loads of positive things to say about their talent and work ethic.
“Sebastian has cemented his position on the squad over these past two seasons through hard work and versatility,” said Uranga. “He has played in the defense, midfield, and forward positions for us and offers energy that is tough to rival.”
Sebastian Ramirez as captain for Potros FC during their match against Seas Jamaica United FC 11-21-2020. (Photo Credit: Maria Vanessa Angel)
Ramirez himself admits that he has no set position on the team.
“Every game I’m playing somewhere different,” said Ramirez. “I can play right-wing, right-midfield, left-wing, left-midfield, center-attacking-midfield, right-back, left-back, or striker it just depends where I’m needed.”
As for Vann, who is new to Potros FC and to the UPSL Uranga states that he sees a lot of potential in him due to his work rate and speed.
“This will be Kaan’s first season with Potros, he’s been with us for a month and has already shown a lot of improvement and quality, particularly with his speed and dribbling down the wing,” said Uranga. “We will be looking to utilize his strength during the season and time will tell if he can be a difference maker for us, if not this season we see Kaan as a long term option for Potros.”
These two talented young players are very aware of their skills and what kind of hard work it takes to excel in the league. They admit that although UPSL is in the fourth-tier of the American League, it still packs a lot of competition and a decent amount of exposure.
“It’s the highest level of football I’ve ever played so far,” said Ramirez. “You are always playing against someone who is or was a semi-pro player, professional player, or an academy player. As for exposure, there are coaches around the country or even from around the world who are always watching our league! So yes, there is definitely a lot of exposure.”
Although this is going to be Vann’s first season playing in UPSL, he has long heard from friends who already play in the league that he should join and that it is one of great competition and opportunity.
“What drew me to the UPSL is that I have friends to play here, who said it is a great league and that I should really get in it and show myself,” said Vann. “UPSL is beneficial to young players because it helps everyone get into a good mindset of working hard and knowing that if you are playing bad you don’t deserve to start, but if you are playing great every week you’ll make a name for yourself in the team sheet.”
If one thing’s for sure, it’s that these young players coming to or continuing in UPSL are very aware of what they need to do to have what it takes to grow in the league. They know that this is a league where they can not only continue to develop their skills, but perhaps be seen by coaches in teams at higher levels, and that their dreams of playing at a professional level can come true.
For now, both Ramirez and Vann agree that they want success for their team Potros FC in the upcoming 2021 Spring UPSL season.
“I hope to work hard and win in our UPSL division this year,” said Ramirez. “We have a great team this year and I only hope we can play as brothers and do something special this season.”