The most expansive youth soccer club in the world is based in Colorado.
Rush Soccer has gone from a quaint local club to a global brand in just under a decade. With expansion into new countries nearly every month, Rush Soccer is at an endless supply of players in hopes of discovering talent all over the world.
“There are great players in every nook and cranny,” Rush Soccer CEO Tim Schulz told TopDrawerSoccer.com earlier this year.
With 28 domestic clubs, 19 international clubs, and over 35,000 players all together, Rush Soccer claims the title as the ‘the largest youth soccer club in the world.’
It started in 2003 with just the Colorado club. One year later, the player pool doubled with the addition of Virginia Rush, and Rush Soccer expanded across the country rapidly.
In 2009, the expansion went international. Omar Sise, a coach with Georgia Rush at the time, brought up the idea of partnering with a club in Gambia.
“For Gambia, I already had my center which was then changed to Rush Gambia,” Sise told TopDrawerSoccer.com over email. “Yes, it’s quickly growing in Africa.”
Sise now holds the title of Technical Director – Africa for Rush Soccer. He has helped with the expansion into 14 countries in Africa. He said that not all are setup as well as Gambia Rush with a center for the players.
“We let each club run their own individual operation,” Schulz said. “We communicate how we work, and we also collect used equipment to help.
“It started off as a humanitarian effort,” Schulz continued. “It evolved into a coaching and player exchange – most of the players coming in one direction.”
That one direction is where questions have been asked about Rush Soccer.
With players from Gambia, El Salvador, and other affiliates across the globe placed into domestic teams (specifically on Development Academy rosters), there have been issues raised about the player exchange.
“There have been a minority that voiced their opinion about a player taking a position from a local kid,” Schulz said. “I think Rush is very clear that there are no boundaries. We take the best and play the best players.”
In 2011, U.S. Soccer Federation spent $3,427,084 on the Development Academy, according to documents released by the federation last month. But USSF has no problem with clubs using international players in the Academy that is so heavily financed with the goal of U.S. player development.
“If they are cleared through FIFA and USSF and of age and training full time with the club for the season, and they make the environment better for that team and add to the league, we only see positives there,” U.S. Soccer Director of Scouting Tony Lepore told TopDrawerSoccer.com specifically referencing Rush Soccer.
The criticism about the player exchange has come from Gambia, as well. Freedom Newspaper reported that Gambia Rush was under investigation for human smuggling in 2011. An allegation that claimed players were being left behind after arriving in the States. Sise did not wish to comment on the subject.
Rush Soccer through a spokesman issued this statement on the subject:
“Yes we are aware of the situation with Mr. Sise. Obviously allegations of human trafficking are very serious. A core value of our club is safety of our players so to hear of these allegations is troubling. While Rush Soccer does not support the alleged actions of Mr. Sise, we also do not control personnel at the local club level. If Mr. Sise is guilty of these crimes, the Gambia Rush leaders will ultimately be the ones to make a decision on how to move forward with him.
Human trafficking unfortunately is not a new thing in Africa. From the perspective of Rush Soccer in the Untied States, we monitor the actions of any international players (be they from Africa or elsewhere) that come to the US to play with domestic Rush clubs. The United States Embassy in Gambia has been involved in the investigation involving Mr. Sise and has since cleared Rush Soccer (USA) of any wrong doings and have commended the organization for our compliance.”
While much of the attention is on the foreign players that dot the rosters of Rush Soccer teams, it is actually a very small percentage of players at the clubs.
Based on last season’s Development Academy rosters, Colorado Rush had three of its 43 players on the full time roster as part of the player exchange. The ratios are similar are the other two Rush clubs that have Development Academy teams.
That may grow though, as Rush Soccer has publicly targeted the figure of 100,000 players in the club by 2018.
“We are right on schedule,” Schulz said. “Our plan is to build from the base up.”
That entails establishing ‘second division teams around the world,’ which Rush Soccer is hoping will eventually lead to a professional team at the top of their player development pyramid. The CEO made the analogy to minor league baseball with multiple feeder teams.
“It would be nice if it were in MLS,” Schulz said about the professional team. “But we aren’t stubborn.”
Rush’s ambition to grow from the youth game into a professional club is only part of the story. The club is already ahead of the game when it comes to incentivizing player development in the United States.
With affiliates across the globe, Rush Soccer is able to register players outside the U.S., loan the players to U.S. clubs to showcase them, then earn player development fees if a player is sold to any club outside the U.S.
USSF does not mandate player development fees, so MLS, USL-PRO, or NASL do not pay those fees to Rush Soccer if a club does sign one of its players.
“The rest of the world is rewarded for developing players,” Schulz said. “It is a problem that all clubs in the U.S. deal with. I hope the federation and the legal team figure out a way to get this to happen. I hope FIFA steps in.”
Libero Sports partner and co-founder Eddie Rock, who represents a few former Rush players, confirmed the unique situation and believed Rush was the only club to take advantage of player development fees in such a manner.
Earlier this year, Rush Soccer announced another groundbreaking move, as the club has now established a partnership with the French Football Federation. As part of the agreement, coaches from the French National Team program visited a few Rush Soccer clubs and shared their expertise with the technical directors.
Schulz called the best partnership to date since the formation of the club in a press release.
That was not Rush’s only involvement with France this past year. Lindsay Horan, formerly of the U.S. U20 Women’s National Team and Colorado Rush, signed a ground-breaking deal with Paris Saint-Germain in July.
Forward thinking and aggressive, Rush Soccer has made a name for itself by being outside the box of typical youth club structures in the world. Now, Schulz and the rest of the Rush Soccer board continue to pry and prod to push that envelope even farther.