Jimmy Walker envisions a new partnership between a local youth soccer club and a world-renown professional English club as the catalyst for a homegrown player to reach the sport's highest level.
The Sylvania-based Pacesetter soccer club has entered into a partnership with Aston Villa from the English Premier League.
“It's huge for us,” said Walker, the executive director of coaching at the Pacesetter club. “The agreement will serve as a potential scouting network between top American players and Aston Villa, with the hopes of one day seeing a local player in the English Premier League.”
Walker said the Aston Villa Football Club is one of the oldest and most successful “football” clubs in England and was established in 1874.
“They have had a massive history,” he said.
Walker said this summer Pacesetter plans to take two teams over to Birmingham, England, where Aston Villa is based.
“That will be really cool,” Walker said. “It's going to be good. The academy in Aston Villa is rated as one of the top five in the world for producing young players. They will show us their coaching education and all of the stuff in their curriculum.”
One Pacesetter player already earned the opportunity to see firsthand just how passionate English fans are about their national sport.
St. John's Jesuit soccer player Camden Buescher spent 10 days in November with the Everton Football Club in a similar partnership through Pacesetter.
“It was something I've never seen before — how much love there was for the game,” Buescher said. “It's on a whole other level. The fans and the people in the city are so passionate. That is why they are the best at it.”
Buescher, who lives in Holland, was “discovered” last summer by a scout at a camp run at Pacesetter by coaches from the English Premiere League.
“He liked how I played and wanted me to go over there,” Buescher said. “It was a big boost. It was a great opportunity that not a lot of kids from the United States get.”
Unfortunately, Buescher re-aggravated an ankle injury just two days into the trip.
“That was a big set back,” he said. “But it was a good experience.”
Buescher, who has already received interest from college programs including Michigan State and Northwestern, said the Pacesetter program is invaluable.
“They have developed me into the player I am,” he said. “All the coaches have been a big help. My ultimate dream would be to go overseas and play.”
Pacesetter features boys and girls from the ages of 8 to 20. The club, founded in 1980, has fielded teams that have competed at state and national tournaments. Many alumni have gone on to play in college.
Twenty six boys and girls that grew up playing at Pacesetter and who are now seniors earned scholarships this year.
Walker said along with Buescher, Northview senior Joe Wendt have particularly bright futures. Wendt, a goalkeeper who earned all-state first team honors, will play at the Air Force Academy.
“It really is exciting,” Walker said. “It's the highlight of the job to see kids move on to the next level.”
Another former Pacesetter player, forward Adam Montague, recently completed his junior season at Michigan State and ranked second on the team in scoring. The St. John's Jesuit graduate tallied five goals and had six assists.
“Adam is an exceptional talent,” Walker said. “He is 6-foot-4 and he's a freak of an athlete. He also has good work ethic and attitude.”
Walker, who is in his sixth year with Pacesetter, said seeing his former players go on to successful college careers is fulfilling.
Walker said the partnership with Aston Villa was struck initially last spring. The English club sponsored a new Pacesetter Super 20 team, which was comprised partially of former local high school standouts. The Pacesetter/Aston Villa Super 20 soccer team reached the national championship game of the Super-20 League.
“The success of the original agreement with our oldest boys' teams was a building block,” Walker said. “This year we talked about the whole club being a partner. It's a bigger move for the club.”
Walker, who played for Austin Villa from age 14 to 19, said his father Jim Walker also coached there.
Paul Faulkner, Aston Villa's chief executive, said the new venture is really exciting.
“The club already has strong links with the U.S.,” Faulkner said. “We hope that an association such as this could pave the way for other American players to join Villa in the future.”
He also said it's an opportunity will serve as an avenue to promote the Aston Villa brand in America and grow its fan base here.