John C. L. Morgan stepped down as head coach of the Westbrook varsity boys soccer team at the end of the 2013 season, but he didn’t do so lightly, and he didn’t do so without a new, related endeavor in mind. Now, this brainchild is coming to life in the Rosevelt Soccer Club, a nonprofit, premier soccer option for boys in Westbrook, Windham, Buxton and Standish that should prove significantly more affordable than the few existing, for-profit outfits in Maine.

“The model we’re trying to develop is a sister-club model,” Morgan says, “in which town teams pool together players, resources, etc., to create more affordable off-season programming for its players.” The soccer off-season runs December-June; before that are the regular school season and playoffs, and after that, in the summer, are the school training programs.

Morgan left the Blue Blazes after just three seasons for familial reasons. The decision wasn’t easy for him, as he’d nurtured the struggling program, and seen it begin to succeed. Moreover, he’s clearly passionate about the game – and not only about how to play it and win it, but also about its connections to human culture at large (the club’s website, www.roseveltsoccer.com, features a substantial bibliography).

Ultimately, he felt that continuing at Westbrook High School would cheat himself of full involvement, do a disservice to his players and mishandle his home life as well.

“I’d done a lot of work with the youth program, and it was a situation where I had to decide between that and the high school job. And from this time of year to November, the high school program is a four or five or six days a week commitment,” Morgan says, “so I opted for the youth program.”

But departing the Blazes didn’t mean putting soccer behind him completely. Not by a long shot.

“As the high school coach, it was pretty apparent that what happened between December and June was really important to how programs performed in the fall. During the off-season, your better players are playing at a higher level of play than the high school season,” he said.

Morgan had found a way to continue contributing to the Blazes’ success without the heaviest commitment, coaching them directly.

He soon set to work establishing, with the help of co-conceivers Aaron Graffam, a youth coach and fellow board member for the Westbrook Soccer League, and Joel Costigan, boys varsity coach at Deering, the Rosevelt Soccer Club, named (in part) after Roosevelt Trail, which links the target towns.

“The hope is that this model will expand the pool of Maine’s youth players and make high-quality player development opportunities more affordable,” Morgan said.

Morgan stresses cost because playing premier soccer in Maine right now can be prohibitively expensive, running into the $1,800-$2,000 range – and that’s just the registration fee. All travel expenses are extra. But Rosevelt Soccer Club will ask participants to pony up just $750.

That fee, obviously open to a wider variety of families than the beefier, more intimidating sums charged by other premier teams, covers a lengthy list of items, all of which are spelled out on the website. Morgan himself still wishes it was lower, but it’s probably close to rock-bottom, he says. He even built the website himself (it’s simple, but clean, navigable and informative), an easy enough way to cut overhead, but not one that many for-profit sports clubs perhaps choose.

“It’s kind of disturbing when I say, ‘You guys, it’s only $750,’ and everyone’s pretty pleasantly surprised,” Morgan says. “From my perspective, it’s still too much, but compared to the other programming that’s available, it’s really affordable.”

Though the club is targeting Westbrook, Windham, Buxton and Standish, Morgan is quick to point out that any player from anywhere in Maine is welcome to try out. Provided a player earns his spot on the roster – both the U15/U16 and U16/U18 rosters are limited to 18 names a piece – and will undertake the required travel, he came come from the far-flung north, south, east or west.

“For premier soccer, if a kid wanted to commute from Fort Kent to come to our practices, that’s definitely allowed,” Morgan says. Nearby Gorham is not necessarily a target area for Rosevelt, as the city has strong involvement in premier programming already. But “strong involvement” doesn’t equate to “everyone,” and Gorham kids are surely welcome at Rosevelt’s upcoming tryouts.

The club is holding player evaluations on two consecutive Saturdays, July 19 and July 26, from 10 a.m. to noon, at Hannaford Field at the University of Southern Maine at Gorham. The first of those dates is for the U15/U16 team, and the second is for the U17/U18 team, but any player unable to attend the tryout appropriate to his age can, in fact, show up at the other tryout. Both sessions include a dribbling challenge, a receiving challenge, a turning challenge, small-sided games and full-sided scrimmages.

Interest in the club is already high, and for exactly the reasons Morgan hoped it would be. Mazin Ahmed, a Westbrook High School junior, is looking forward to the opportunity for a number of reasons.

“My dad was a professional soccer player, overseas,” he says. “And I’ve always wanted to play for a professional club.”

Participation in premier league soccer is one of the key ways high school athletes get noticed by prep schools and colleges, which of course can lead to bigger and better opportunities of exactly the sort Mazin hopes for.

“All the other clubs are far away from Westbrook,” Mazin says. “Having a team in Westbrook is a really good idea. I thought I’d have to give it a try.” He adds that, “probably my whole team, except for a few kids” are planning to try out for Rosevelt.

Baxter Nichols, who just finished up his freshman year at Bonny Eagle – with an ACL and meniscus tear, playing lacrosse – is so excited for the opportunity, he’s going to attend tryouts, though he won’t be able to touch a ball. “I’ve always played soccer. I’ve played since I was 4, and I’ve played year-round for five or six years, and it’s a huge part of my life. It’s great for me to be around soccer, even if I can’t participate, just to keep my head in the game and maybe encourage other people who aren’t able to play.”

Nichols, who should be back to full-strength for December – meaning he’ll miss his sophomore season at Bonny Eagle, but have a chance to stay involved with Rosevelt through the winter and into spring – has played club soccer in the past, but as the expense has grown, he’s backed off.

Last winter was the first winter he went without club involvement, which he calls “a huge drag.”

“It weighs heavy on you, when you can’t really do anything. Especially for people like me, who have been around the game forever. There’s pretty much no place for them to participate, even though they want to,” he said.

Of Rosevelt, he adds, “It’s great that they made it happen…It’s not ridiculously expensive.”

He knows a handful of other kids who are also interested in the opportunity Rosevelt presents, but of course, word is still getting out, and the outfit has to compete for athletes’ attention – winter is obviously when many fall-soccer players transition to basketball, track and other sports.

The interest that is on display makes Morgan optimistic about the direction Rosevelt Soccer Club might take in the future. “Hopefully, in the future, we’re able to go both boys and girls, and at a younger age level as well.”

Rosevelt’s schedule for the roughly 30-week stretch it will run includes at least two training sessions and approximately one competitive game per week. Morgan intends to play most of the club’s games in Maine, but anticipates also attending at least one out-of-state competition. He can be reached with questions or comments at [email protected]

LogoFrom left are Rosevelt Soccer Club founders Aaron Graffam, Joel Costigan, and John C. L. Morgan.


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