In June 2008, Chelsea Football Club announced the start of an unprecedented initiative to partner with America's top youth football clubs.
Chelsea is well underway with building a network of top youth clubs across America to develop Chelsea Soccer Schools, a new Tournament called the Chelsea Sevens, coaching clinics and exchange programmes.
The Chelsea youth super club network will comprise top regional clubs across America, affiliated with U.S. soccer organisations like U.S. Youth Soccer, U.S. Soccer Club, Super Y-League and the U.S. Development Academy.
The American youth club initiative will lead to the first Chelsea association with the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy.
The first relationship formed was with one of the largest and most successful youth football clubs in the U.S, the Capital Area Soccer League (CASL) of North Carolina. This was followed by partnerships with LAFC of Los Angeles, Matchfit of New Jersey and more recently, the Baltimore Bays, Le Jardin of Hawaii and Sereno in Arizona.
In March 2009, the Baltimore Bays, recently named number one youth soccer club in the country by Soccer America, announced a formal partnership with Chelsea that will benefit youth soccer players throughout the state.
'The Bays partnership with Chelsea will continue to enable us to impact elite athletes in the soccer community and will help all soccer players who are interested in learning and improving their game,' said Kevin Healey, president of the Baltimore Bays club.
'This is a real partnership. We're not simply using the name. Our players will have greater opportunities to learn and maximize their potential as a result. It really says a great deal about our local talent pool when we attract the attention of a world renowned Club like Chelsea,' added Healey.
The Capital Area Soccer League (CASL) was founded in 1974 as a not-for-profit organisation. The mission of CASL is to provide instructional and competitive youth soccer opportunities that enhance the character, community and love of the game. Integrated in this is the building of self-esteem, self-confidence, team work and respect for others, as well as all the inherent benefits of physical exercise.
CASL includes approximately 9,000 registered youth soccer players, making up nearly 800 teams, totalling 20,000 players, coaches, officials, parents, volunteers and supporters.
The American youth club includes girls and boys ages four to 19 in the Greater Raleigh, North Carolina area and hosts multiple tournaments throughout the year.
CASL chief executive Charlie Slagle said: 'From their young Academy players to the first team super stars, Chelsea are one of the elite clubs in international soccer. For them to devote time, resources and energy to our young players and dedicated coaching staff truly shows their commitment to the game here in the US.
'We work very hard to be one of the top full-service clubs in the country and to be selected to form an affiliation with a club of Chelsea's standard is very gratifying, it shows people understand that what we are doing is having an impact beyond our local community.'
LAFC, a three-year-old club and academy based in Simi Valley, California, was the third US youth club to partner with Chelsea.
As a result of the partnership, LAFC Chelsea will offer more scholarships for young athletes with financial hardship. LAFC provides kids across Southern California and throughout the country with the opportunity to play competitive soccer regardless of ability to pay club membership costs.
LAFC includes over 50 boys and girls' teams with 800 players from ages eight to 18. In 2008, the academy placed five players on US national teams and Olympic Development Program rosters.
LAFC president Don Sheppard said: 'LAFC was created to provide an affordable option for skilled players to play top-tier club soccer. We've been able to reach out to economically disadvantaged communities to recruit some of the best talent in the US.
'For a world-renowned club like Chelsea to recognise our mission and be a part of it shows the calibre and quality of their organisation and their commitment to develop US soccer.
'We are a young programme and a partnership like this allows us to reach the next level on skill development, player participation and overall club exposure. We have a top-tier coaching staff system and now with Chelsea our players will receive an international view of the game - something they may not have received otherwise.'
Le Jardin Soccer Academy (LJSA), Hawaii's leading youth soccer club, became the fifth soccer program in Chelsea's network of youth clubs across America.
The partnership further extends Chelsea's commitment to developing soccer at all levels in the US by bringing youth tournaments, special training sessions and exchange programs for players and coaches to Hawaii's elite soccer teams.
Chelsea's Chief Executive at the time, Peter Kenyon said: "Chelsea's youth super club network supports grassroots soccer development in the US. Our newest partnership with Le Jardin Soccer Academy extends that support to one of the elite clubs in Hawaii, providing training and support for young talent critical to the long-term development of the sport in America. Grassroots programming is a central element in Chelsea's commitment to develop soccer, combined with successful visits to America from our first team, such as this summer's preseason tour and win in the World Football Challenge."
Le Jardin Academy Head Master Adrian Allan said: "A main goal when we started the academy three years ago was to become the school of choice for students who want to earn soccer scholarships and be professional players. This partnership propels us to achieving that goal. For a club like Chelsea to come in and partner with us shows the quality, professionalism and drive of our academy. This allows us to offer an even higher level of training to young players across the islands."
Match Fit includes approximately 400 registered youth soccer players, girls and boys aged from four to 19. The academy is based in Central New Jersey and extends to New York and Pennsylvania.
The Match Fit Academy Football Club is a non-profit educational and training organisation dedicated to providing the best instruction and character-building experience for youth soccer players. The academy identifies players with outstanding potential and places them in a learning environment designed to encourage personal development.
As a result of the partnership, the Match Fit Academy side is now known as Match Fit Chelsea and will host Chelsea-sponsored tournaments, training sessions with their coaches and player and coach exchange programmes.
Match Fit director of operations John R Calcaterra said: 'Partnering with Chelsea gives us the opportunity to not only stimulate the development of youth soccer in the Tri-State area, but across the entire country.'
'Chelsea wants to develop the game and are opening themselves up to the sharing and collaboration of curriculum. This is a monumental partnership in the history of American youth soccer.'
Sereno Soccer Club is one of the leading soccer education and training organizations in the U.S. They are perennially ranked the #1 youth soccer club in Arizona. Over the past 30 years, the club has produced 46 Arizona State champion boys teams, 80 Arizona State champion girls teams, nine regional champions, three national finalists and one national champion.
Sereno Soccer Club became the sixth soccer program in Chelsea's U.S. youth super club network.
As a result of the partnership, Sereno Soccer Club will now be known as Sereno Chelsea Soccer Club and will host Chelsea sponsored tournaments, training sessions with Chelsea coaches and player and coach exchange programs.
Chelsea FC chief executive Ron Gourlay said: 'Our super club network is designed to create long-term growth and sustainability of soccer in America by supporting elite youth clubs that provide the best soccer instruction and experience for local players. Sereno Soccer Club has been doing that for more than 30 years and this partnership will assist them in taking it to the next level and expanding their reach.'
Sereno Director of Coaching David Robertson expressed his enthusiasm for the partnership: 'We see this as a positive step forward for our players and coaching staff. Getting access to the Chelsea FC Youth Academy programming and coaches will help us to ensure that our training programs are world class. We're excited to give our players access to Chelsea FC coaching through Sereno-Chelsea sponsored events, camps and clinics right here in Phoenix.'