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Arsenal brings big opportunities to Mercer County with Arsenal Soccer School

The Arsenal Soccer School opened camps in Mercer County, a first for a Premier League team in the United States. (Martin Griff/Times File Photo)

The Arsenal Soccer School opened camps in Mercer County, a first for a Premier League team in the United States. (Martin Griff/Times File Photo)

Mercer County, and the surrounding tri-state area, has some new guests this year.

And if all goes well, 2014 may be remembered as the start of a new era for local soccer.

Arsenal Soccer School made its initial foray into local camps last week on the campus of The Peddie School, and the Gunners are spending about six weeks bouncing around New Jersey, New York City, and Connecticut, to bring their philosophy of play to some of the area’s children. The five-day camps, which are run by Arsenal academy coaches, teach the campers to “play the Arsenal way.” It is a big step for the club, which sees America as a place to spread its knowledge, and maybe even find a player or two. The Gunners currently have Gideon Zelalem, a German-born player who had moved to Montgomery County, Maryland, and will most likely break into the Arsenal first team this year.

“It is good to be associated with Arsenal, and be linked with America,” said Arsenal coach Marvin Johnson. “Because this is the first time that a club with the status of Arsenal have come over here. We just thought that we would give kids a chance from anywhere to play soccer. We have invited kids from all different areas to this camp here at Peddie, and we thought that we would have attracted the right sort of people. It has worked out very well. A lot of clubs have a certain way that they want to play the game. Arsenal want the players to express themselves when they are on the pitch, and to not be afraid to make mistakes out there. At these camps, we are trying to do the same thing. The main thing with any soccer camp has to be that the kids enjoy themselves, so when they go home to their parents, and tell them how much fun the camp was, and they learned something along the way, then we can be happy as well. It is so much easier to learn if it is fun.”

The Gunners could not have picked a better year to start their American foray into soccer camps, as they have finally broken their nine-year trophy drought with a 3-2 win over Hull City, to win the F.A. Cup. Combine that with the three-month stay atop the standings in the Premier League, and it was a pretty successful season for Arsenal. That success has come as well with many players from its academy, which also gives the club an edge when it comes over to the U.S. Some of the same coaches that trained the players in the current squad are over here working with the youngsters at the camp.

“I think it is good for the kids that are in the knowledge that we like to promote home-grown talent,” said coach Patrick Gavaghan. “We try to get the youngsters in and nurture them in the right way. I think the campers see that and they think they are part of the system. They are learning Arsene Wenger’s philosophies, and they feel a part of it, rather than some of the clubs that only buy in their players.”

The camps are timed perfectly with a July 26 friendly match with the New York Red Bulls team, in which former Gunner Thierry Henry plays.

“The camp has been received very positive in New Jersey,” said coach Nathan Eno. “In fact, there are players from much farther away from here. They know what they are going to get when they come out to an Arsenal camp. The local kids have really embraced the training, which is great. Our technique is that we train at high intensity, and much quicker, than some of their club coaches. There has been a massive spike in the learning, in just a week, so clearly these kids have really picked up the training very quickly. We are going to open a school in New York, in line with the Red Bulls, hence the reason for the preseason friendly.”

“These programs are very comprehensive,” said Eno. “If you come to one of these soccer schools, you are going to leave a better player than when you turned up. The ones that pick it up the best are the ones who listen, as well as watch. Sometimes, the best thing that you will pick up from a camp is one piece of advice, or something that one of the coaches say during the training. Arsenal have such a strong youth system, and it is because these coaches out here, and the others, that train our young guys. These coaches are working with the same players that will be in the Arsenal first team in the coming years. We filter down the same philosophy, from the first team, all the way down to the U-6 kids. We play a mini version of what the first team does.”

The website has more information about future camps, and any other questions. The school will be back in New Jersey, in Montclair, starting July 11.

• There is another European football heavyweight running a camp in Mercer County in two weeks. Reigning Champions League winner Real Madrid will be at The Hun School from July 21-25, and it will look to impart the same kind of knowledge and training that its academy players train with as well. La Cantera, as the academy is called, will bring some of the coaches that work every day with the youth of Madrid.

To find out more about the camp, go to for information.

• Terrible news for Brazil, as Neymar will miss the rest of the tournament with a broken vertebrae. He seemed to hurt it by celebrating the second goal for the Selecao, before taking a knee to the back late in the match, which left him unable to get up, and taken off the field on a stretcher.

Maybe if the referee had some control of the match from the beginning, and handed out some cards in the first half, it could have been different.

James Rodriguez was hacked down each time he touched the ball in the first half, and no punitive action was taken. I had even mentioned to The Director that the Colombian players would attack Neymar as retribution for all the fouls the Brazilian team committed, and now those words look prophetic.

Brazil must now face Germany without Neymar and Thiago Silva, who is suspended.

More importantly, it has to play with Fred and Hulk as the attacking options, and both of those players look like they won a competition on a cereal box to play in the Brazilian team.

Oh, how it could have been different if Diego Costa picked Brazil instead of Spain.

• Join me, and The Director, next Sunday at Dacey’s Pub, for a World Cup Final party. Festivities start at 2 p.m.

Contact Sean at Follow him on Twitter @theprodigalsean

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