The first question for Arsenal Football Club’s Junior Academy Director Ed Ellsworth was pretty straightforward: how on earth is it possible that the Pittsburgh iteration of Arsenal chose to be blue, and not red?
Ed gave a hearty and polite chuckle. Then he fumbled, and searched, and eventually replied: “I have no idea.”
Even though he may not know how the club picked their colors, Ed knows a heck of a lot about soccer and how to get kids to play it right. Despite donning blue and gold kits, the local edition of Arsenal certainly aspires to be like the London-based global juggernaut in the way the game is played.
“We want to play uncompromisingly beautiful football.”
Arsenal FC are one of the elite boys and girls clubs in Western Pennsylvania soccer. They aspire to train and educate footballers that are technical, confident, and neat with the ball.
Once upon a time, the club was a humble local organization, known as ‘Beaver Valley Soccer Club’, and later became ‘Pine-Richland Soccer Club’. But over time they grew, moved a bit further east, and expanded into a more competitive club. But almost 20 years ago, three coaches with vision and drive combined forces – Dan Brower, Mark Taylor, and Ed Ellsworth- and the modern Arsenal was born.
Arsenal puts heavy emphasis on strong coaching. Six of their coaches carry US Soccer A, B or C licenses, which represent hundreds of hours of training and experience. Mark Taylor has the even more difficult-to-obtain UEFA B license. Ellsworth proudly told me, “We have the most licensed staff in Western Pennsylvania, bar none. We had 6 to 10 coaches this last year get their D, starting on their pathway to get their C and B licenses. This is very important for us as a club. It’s easy to speak about rhetoric, it’s very hard to put those principles in practice. And we can only do that through education.” Arsenal’s philosophy of excellence starts with strong coaches, who know how to create strong players.
Creating those players starts first with a focus on dribbling skills, and evolves into the more advanced elements of passing, movement, and finishing.
Ellsworth explains, “At the younger ages, it’s about the one v one, and giving the player the tools to be able to solve the 1 v 1. After players dominate the one v one, we want them to create the 2 v 1. And that is, almost totally, the foundation of the club. We want our players to be great ball strikers. We want our players to be able to keep the ball with a purpose. We force all of our players, whether mature or a little fella who is behind in physical traits, every player is expected to play the game the same way. Not as robots, but we want them to move the ball, we want them to share the ball, we want them to create overloads.”
That clear sense of structured development has helped Arsenal to create some fantastic players. Duquesne University defender Ryan Landry was an every-game starter this past season for the Dukes. Cole Rosenberger was an Division II All-American this year for Johns Hopkins University. Patrick Sullivan jumped from the Fort Pitt Regiment to Swedish club Grythyttans IF, and is now off to join a team in Australia. All three are Arsenal FC products.
Ellsworth emphasizes “That success comes from coaching education.”
Arsenal’s training grounds are in and around Fox Chapel and North Allegheny County, but players come from all over the Greater Pittsburgh area to be with the team. And Arsenal wants to make sure that the quality of the training experience is well worth the commitment of time and money. Ed says, “Cole (Rosenberger) drove 4 hours roundtrip from Indiana, PA. The Moon family drove their son all the way from Fairmont, West Virginia. If you’re that player, you better have a product that is worth traveling for.”
Arsenal is a so-called travel club, meaning their boys and girls teams play regionally in PA West Classics, the higher tier of the Western Pennsylvania club structure. The best teams from year to year qualify for the US Youth Soccer National League’s Great Lakes region, a highly competitive tier of exceptional soccer talent. The various age-level teams are always in the mix for trophies around the area. “Our 2000 (players birth year, aka the U19 team) boys won their second state championship this year. The 02s won recent PA Classics tournament, but many were ‘playing up’. The 03s lost in the state final to Beadling, who went to the national final.”
In fact, Beadling and Arsenal are often a matched pair in the local area in terms of competition at each age level – our own youth Tottenham-Arsenal derby of sorts, if you will.
“Beadling is the club we compete with the most. We’ve driven them to be more successful, and they’ve driven us to be more successful. It’s been a healthy competition for sure.”
Of course, all that travel and coaching education comes with a significant price tag. But Arsenal is a not-for-profit organization, and the club extends scholarships to cover training costs for players that need them.
“We don’t put a dollar sign by a kid’s face, we want to put a soccer ball by a kid’s face.”
And then Arsenal will help those kids to put that ball in the back of the net, time and time again.
Club Name: Arsenal FC
Contact: Ed Ellsworth, email@example.com
Ages/Genders: 4-18, boys and girls
Location: North Allegheny County; main field at Shadyside Academy in Fox Chapel, PA
U8: $120 for Fall or Winter season; U10: $250 for Fall or Winter season
Full year programs (includes training, league costs, local tournament, and Winter indoor season):
U11: $2,325; U12, U13, U15: $2,425; U16, U19 $2,125
Website: Arsenal FC of Pittsburgh, www.arsenalfc-pgh.com