When you invite a collection of world class soccer coaches and scouts to your training ground, you don't get any do-overs. First impressions are very important.

Over the first six years of the Sigma FC International ID camps, Bobby Smyrniotis and his coaching staff have built a solid reputation for the academy largely working with a family of coaches they knew well.

However the 2011 edition of the camp was a slightly different story. An influx of new coaches arrived at the Hershey soccer complex in Mississauga this past July. They were mostly unaware of Sigma FC's standard of player development.

"That was the big thing this year, increasing relations with new clubs and universities," said Sigma FC technical director Bobby Smyrniotis, of the theme of the 2011 edition.

If Smyrniotis felt a little pressure, he hid it well. However, he conveyed the message to players ahead of time. "Focus and be the best you can be."




SIGMA FC Technical Director - Bobby Smyrniotis

Club Brugge Academy Coach - Jef Vanthournout


Looking back on the camp, clearly his words were taken to heart.

"For the most part, the response from coaches was very good. In the first week, we were very pleased with what the boys came out and did," he said. "The scouts were able to mark down quite a few players that have something for the next level. It was good to hear that our players are doing well."

The first week saw Hertha Berlin's chief scout Sven Kretschmer, SEG Germany's Maikel Stevens, Glasgow Celtic's David Moss, Real Mallorca's Arno Buitenweg, and Sparta Rotterdam's Ron Kouwenhoven in attendance.

U.S. college soccer coaches Dan Popik of Furman University, Mike Jacobs, from Evansville University and Marco Koolman, formerly of Boston College, and currently of the Spire Institute were also on hand.

The second week saw Benfica's U14 coach Ricardo Cabrita and Club Brugge's Jef Vanthournout arrive to bolster the coaching ranks.




Ron Kouwenhoven - Sparta R

Ricardo Cabrita - SL Benfica

Marco Koolman


Why would European clubs come to Canada, and the Sigma camp in particular, in search of talent?

Hertha's Kretschmer answered succinctly: "The headline is always quality," he said. "It doesn't matter where the player comes from."

It was Kretschmer's first visit to Canada and he professed no knowlege of Canadian youth soccer prior to the Sigma camp. His sole exposure to Canadian soccer talent came from seeing Kelowna B.C. native Rob Friend play on Hertha's first team.

"We're here to get an overview, we're not looking for a particular player right now. We like to get an idea about particular markets around the world, and that includes Canada," said Kretschmer.

"I have never even seen a match of Major League [Soccer], so it is very exciting for me to be here."

He liked what he saw at the Sigma camp.

"It is very well organized here, all the boys are having a lot of fun and are passionate soccer players. The camp organizers [Sigma], they are so passionate about soccer too, and so in love with soccer."




Mike Jacobs - University of Evansville

Sigma Camp players in action

Jef Vanthournout - Club Brugge


It was even more of a revelation for Celtic academy director David Moss. He spoke to the players at the end of Week One and admitted that at first, he was reluctant to come across the pond.

"I'll be honest with you, I was like this," he gestured, holding his hand up shaking it to indicate his indecision. "I didn't know if I should go or not."

"It was only Canada," he said tongue in cheek. "And I thought ... all the best players were in Europe."

"But to come out this week, I was fortunate to work with all of you ... I will tell you what, you've blown my mind with the standard you have here," he said.

"And you are not just good players, you are fantastic people. I was just saying earlier to Costa [Smyrniotis] you've done a great job on and off the field -- your professionalism and your manners in both have been great".

"Hopefully I will be invited back, and I can say that I definitely will stay in touch with Bobby and Costa and monitor your progress."




David Zonneveld - SIGMA FC

David Moss - Celtic FC

John Zervos - SIGMA FC


One of the most important aspects of the first week was the presence of the U.S. college coaches. Popik, Jacobs and Koolman held classroom sessions for the players where they explained the NCAA soccer experience and what it takes to be a student-athlete.

For Popik, the camp was a chance to build a stronger relationship with Sigma. He coaches at Furman University of Greenville, South Carolina. He's always on the lookout for programs that develop players the right way and prepare them for university.

"We look at making connections with coaches, and by that I mean coaches that we feel are credible," said Popik.

Furman University is the alma mater of U.S. international Clint Dempsey. Popik knows that to find the next Dempsey, he has to scour the world.

"We are looking at a wide range of kids. Recruiting is world wide, from Canada, to Europe, to South America. Everyone is looking for someone who can come and compete for their team.

"When we go out, we talk to coaches and make sure that these coaches have prepared their kids. If college soccer is the way they want to go, they need to fully understand the commitment that they are about to make."




Coach Jacobs in Action with 1994 group

Arno Buitenweg - Real Mallorca


Education was a consistent message to all the camp participants. Sigma alumni Emery Welshman, who was working at the camp as a graduate assistant, echoed that message. He has learned it first hand.

Welshman graduated from the Sigma development ranks and currently plays on the Sigma FC men's team in the summer. At the collegiate level, he has distinguished himself as one of U.S. College soccer's most dangerous strikers. He was the fourth highest goal scorer in the NCAA last season at Siena College. He transferred in the off-season to NCAA powerhouse Oregon State.

"Coach Bobby runs a really professional program. It really gets you used to the professionalism of college soccer. With all these prestigious coaches here, you learn from it, and it helps you for college, because every coach is different, and every coach brings a different flavour for the game," said Welshman.

The focus of the second week was development and was geared to a younger set of players, including many from Sigma's ETC program. Those players will be groomed to eventually to perform in front of the European coaches once they graduate into the full-time Sigma program.

The final week of the camp consisted of team preparations for the Score at the Shore tournament in North Carolina and a further look at selected young players. Older Sigma FC players returned to serve as volunteer coaches.




Philip Opassinis - SIGMA FC

David Moss working with the 1999 Group


It was three weeks of soccer education and development all under the guidance of Sigma FC coaches. Smyrniotis admitted it was a grind for the Sigma coaches, but one they relish.

"It's not the easiest schedule for everyone, but we build it into our schedule and plans. At the end of the day, the coaches know the players, and they can give their feedback to the foreign coaches and their insights on the players," explained Smyrniotis.

And that scout from Berlin, Sven Kretchsmer, who said he wasn't looking for any players.

He brought two members of the B2 squad - Chris Nanco and Cyle Larin - back to Germany for a closer look.

As he said, the headline is always quality.




SIGMA FC squad in Training