Fort Campbell | August 9, 2018
Fort Campbell High School sophomore Alexei Royar has been participating in the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program since 2015 through the Alabama Soccer Association. Every summer he travels to Alabama University, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he stays in the dorms for about a week and plays with and against the best players in the region under the tutelage of college-level coaches.
The U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program is designed to identify players who consistently perform at a high caliber. The players are pooled by age group and could potentially be selected for the U.S. National Soccer Team.
“I got started in [ODP] in Northern Virginia. A couple of my teammates were talking about it and I just got interested,” Alexei said. “They were saying how it helps you develop individually as a player so at the time I wanted to see what higher level coaches thought about me and thought that I could improve in my game.”
Alexei said once he made the ODP team he enjoyed the opportunity to play.
“I get to see a variety of playing styles and I get to work with the best of the best players from across the nation as well,” Alexei said.
This year the ODP camp was July 8-12.
“You have games in the morning and then they have pool games at night for the region pool,” he said. “You normally get assigned a region coach for each team and he watches to decide if you’re good enough to play in the region pool.”
Alexei was selected to play in the region pool games enough to stay an extra three days for region training.
“It was exciting because I didn’t expect to get picked,” he said. “At the moment it was exciting, but I also knew in the long run I was going to have to keep working harder and harder.”
Alexei believes playing for a state team is a great experience because he is trained by some of the best coaches Alabama has to offer. Playing at the region level; however, is something else entirely.
“I’m getting coaches from Florida, South Carolina. And they’re mostly college coaches as well. And then I’m playing with the best of the best kids from those 13 states,” Alexei said.
If selected for the region team in September, Alexei will play in an interregional tournament in Bradenton, Florida, in December. From there, the team will travel to Spain to play in an international tournament.
“I think I have a good chance because Alabama Soccer Association has kind of prepped me for this and I’ve had wonderful coaches,” Alexei said. “It’s just a wonderful environment to play in.”
Alexei wants to use soccer to get into college, but he also hopes to try out for the Olympic team because that is the “best of the best.” If selected for the ODP region team, he will be able to try out for the Youth National Team after returning from Spain.
“They kind of base it off how you did there,” he said. “They’ll have another pool and they’ll select the best of the best from the nation.”
Kevin Laux, Alabama Soccer Association technical director, coached Alexei last year.
“He’s a great kid,” Laux said. “He’s a very good player. He’s very athletic. He’s a very feisty and aggressive player and has an exceptional work rate which, at times, seems to be a bit of a lost art.”
Laux said last year Alexei just missed making the region pool, but he came back strong this year.
“So having him come back and respond to that disappointment by continuing to fight and compete and come back and make it this year is a great example to his teammates of what is required to make it to the next level,” Laux said. “A lot of kids faced with that kind of challenge and disappointment they balk and blame everyone else and they don’t do what is necessary to make it to the next level. That’s certainly not Alexei.”
Laux said because Alexei is such an aggressive player, left back is an ideal position so he can both defend and move the ball forward.
“Everyone wants to play in the attacking positions and no one wants to play as an outside back,” Laux said. “If you’re good at that and you’re willing to defend and move forward a lot then you’re not really going to come off the field.”
Although Laux does not like to make predictions about any player’s future, he said Alexei has potential.
“He’s got the tools to go pretty far, it’s just kind of up to him of how hard he wants to work, how much he wants it and then if on the right day the right person is watching,” Laux said. “He’s certainly got a good chance to play at a pretty high level in college and from there who knows.”
In addition to playing in the ODP, Alexei competes in the Tennessee Soccer Club. His mother, Mary Lou Royar, drives the sophomore to practice in Franklin, Tennessee, three days a week. “They play regionally so … it’s good competition,” Alexei said. “I’m playing with some great players and I’m getting coaching experience from a coach from Scotland so it’s like the whole package.”
Alexei started playing recreational soccer at age 4 through Morale, Welfare and Recreation Youth Sports and Fitness at Fort Hood, Texas. Over the years he has traveled across the country and played on club teams everywhere his Family was stationed with his father, Brig. Gen. K. Todd Royar, acting senior commander of the 101st Airborne Division and Fort Campbell.
“Because of the military I’m getting to play all across the nation, and I’m getting coaches from not just America, but overseas as well,” he said. “There would be some clubs where I’d get a coach from Scotland or I’d get a coach from Ghana or somewhere overseas and their style of play’s a little different.”
Because the club is in Tennessee the season conflicts with the FCHS Falcons’ soccer schedule, which follows Kentucky’s sports seasons.
“It’s a little different because here I’m playing regional and in the past clubs I’ve played for we only played in state,” Alexei said. “Here it’s opened my eyes, I guess, to clubs across the region.”
Alexei also believes it is important to set goals before a new season or camp.
“If you’re able to set a goal you want to work hard and achieve it,” he said. “That’s not just for soccer, that’s for life as well.”
Sandy Pollock, Tennessee Soccer Club 03 Boys Showcase team coach, has been coaching Alexei since he was selected for the team in November and has a lot of regard for the teen.
“He’s a very dedicated player, driving from Kentucky to Middle Tennessee three times a week,” Pollock said. “He’s a committed player. His work rate and ethics on the soccer field are way above average. He’s got a good attitude toward the game. He works hard and is respectful to others. He’s just a good all- around guy.”
Pollock said one of the main things that makes Alexei stand out as a player is his athleticism. After he tried the left fullback position with ODP, he asked to play the same position with TSC.
“It’s very much an attacking position in the system that we play,” Pollock said. “He covers the whole flank. He goes forward as an attacking player, but he’s also the last guy on the left-hand side of the defender. So it’s a lot of running.”
Pollock has no doubt that Alexei is capable of playing at a college level when he graduates high school in three years.
“What level in college would be dependent on how he develops in the next couple of years, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he could play soccer in college at some level,” Pollock said. “Probably Division 1, but again that’s going to be up to him.”