On Thursday, April 27, a fourteen-year-old soccer player out of Zachary, Louisiana signed his letter of commitment to play for the Sporting Kansas City Academy of Major League Soccer (MLS).
Sutton Williams, a former Baton Rouge Soccer Club (BRSC) player and current striker for Louisiana Total Development Program Elite (LATDP Elite), was surrounded by his teammates, coaches, friends, and family as he signed his letter of commitment at Dutchtown High School following his team’s Thursday night training session.
Williams began playing recreational soccer at the age of six in Zachary with BRSC before transitioning into BRSC’s competitive program at nine. In his first season of competitive soccer, Williams flashed his goal-scoring ability on BRSC 2009 Boys Black. Stanley Johnson, Williams’ first competitive coach, knew great things were in store for Williams as long as he continue to work on his game. “Early during Sutton’s development he revealed himself as an elite competitor with a work ethic second to none,” said Johnson. “ His training habits were phenomenal and his achievements are undoubtedly a product of the same hard work that elevated players and the environment around him.”
Following the success of the 2021 season, players like Williams were afforded the opportunity to compete in the nation’s highest youth soccer program for boys, MLS NEXT. BRSC, Louisiana Fire Soccer Club, and Louisiana Krewe Rush (formerly Lafayette Dynamo) created LATDP Elite to formerly pitch an unprecedented collaboration that would see all three clubs pooling players and resources to compete with the nation’s best. Thanks to their successful bid, the top soccer players in the state now had the chance to showcase their abilities to MLS Academies and receive better exposure to college scouts.
LATDP Elite MLS NEXT Director Joan Oliva strongly believes in the program that he oversees, but strongly believes that the ability to advance to the next level depends on the player. “ We are so happy for Sutton. He is a very talented player, but he also put a lot of work into his talent and counts on great support from his family in following his dream. All of that is crucial to succeed: Talent, work, and support. He represents the player that we want to have. He came all the way, starting at the grassroots, to play competitively at BRSC and then compete at the highest possible level with LATDP in MLS Next. Now he is ready to keep learning and to keep growing, as a player and as a person, in one of the top environments in the youth US Soccer, at Sporting Kansas City.”
Sutton joins former LATDP Elite 2007 Boys Goalkeeper Christian DeLapp as the second player to officially sign to play for an MLS Academy. Three additional LATDP Elite players also made the jump to the MLS NEXT Academy system following tryouts. Additional players are expected to sign or make MLS Academy rosters during the off-season.
“It is huge for us because our goal here is to develop young men who fit in with us and are motivated by the environment here to become great players,” said Oliva. “It’s our wish for our players to have opportunities like Sutton, that within 2 years in the program already signed for other Pro MLS Academies. I also want to thank his teammates and all coaches he has, this would be impossible without them.”
Following a successful showing in the fall of 2022, Williams was selected to participate in the MLS NEXT Fest Best of Match in Palm Springs California. The match featured the top players from MLS NEXT clubs not currently playing with an MLS Academy. Williams showcased his knack for finding the back of the net scoring the only goal in the first half of play.
Overall, Williams was recruited by four different MLS Academies including Houston Dynamo, Austin FC, Columbus Crew, and Sporting Kansas City.
“It has been my goal to someday play at the professional level,” said Williams. “With the initial development by my home club and the right training environment and game atmosphere from LATDP Elite, I’ve had the opportunity to grow as a person and player in a way that was recognized by the Academy scouts. Without them, I would have never had this opportunity at fourteen.”
LATDP Elite is wrapping up its second season of MLS NEXT League Play and is steadily improving its standing in the ever-tough Frontier Conference. Rosters feature standout players from Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, Shreveport, and beyond. The league allows the region’s top players to play and train at the highest level with the hope of advancing to the MLS Academy system and the collegiate level. For BRSC Executive Director and LATDP Elite Advisory Board Louie Smothermon, this signing is why the founding members all came together in the best interest of the players. “Each of the founding clubs (BRSC, Louisiana Fire, and LA Krewe Rush) have common goals to provide cutting-edge training, competition, and opportunities for male (MLS NEXT) and female (Girls Academy) players in and around Louisiana,” said Smothermon. “Participation and success in the MLS NEXT have significantly helped Sutton and several other players with opportunities to join fully funded MLS Academies. We are extremely proud of Sutton and his achievement of signing with Sporting KC’s Academy Program.”
Williams will officially report to Kansas City in August where he will enroll in school as a freshman in high school and begin the next step in his aspirations to play at the professional level.
“This has been an amazing journey for Sutton and the family,” said Williams’ father, John Williams. “It’s pretty special to see the hard work of the coaches and the directors of the clubs in Louisiana come together to establish LA TDP Elite. It requires a great deal of sacrifice to develop and compete at this level of play. Sutton, his teammates, and coaches have proven that they are committed to putting in the work to reach their goals. We are very excited about this opportunity and we will always be thankful for the support from the coaches, players, and families. ”
“It’s hard to believe that this is happening. I’m surrounded by friends and former rivals taking this next step,” said Williams after reflecting on this accomplishment. “If it wasn’t for BRSC, LA Fire, and Lafayette working together for players like me and my teammates I would have had to leave the state to get this opportunity. Now, our states best have the platform and ability to chase their dreams. That’s all we need.”
About Baton Rouge Soccer Club
Baton Rouge Soccer Club (BRSC) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide quality soccer opportunities to the greater Baton Rouge area. As the largest non-profit soccer club in Louisiana and one of the largest in the southeastern region, we strive to set the standard of soccer programming and customer service for our members. With more than 7,000 members, we are a full-service club with soccer programming which provides excellent learning and character-building experiences for youth and has a broad impact on the area’s economy.
About LATDP Elite
LATDP Elite is an affiliate program of the Houston Dynamo Academy that provides high-level players (U13 – U19) in Louisiana with the chance to train with and play against the best players and teams in the country under the direction of highly qualified coaches. Elite players from hub locations in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, New Orleans, and surrounding areas will come together to form teams to provide players with a greater prospect of identification at all levels of play.
This week we take a look back at this photo from 1978 and one of the players who would go on to help build Baton Rouge Soccer Club into the club it is today.
This photograph is of the Cosmos soccer team during the 1978-1979 season at Independence Park. The Cosmos were affiliated with St. Thomas More and were one of three teams in the Baton Rouge Soccer Club at the time.
Cal Madere, as seen on the far right of the photo, recalls what it was like as a kid starting in Baton Rouge Soccer Club. “We all just wanted to be Pele. At the time, he was playing for the New York Cosmos, which was equivalent to David Beckham playing for the LA Galaxy a few years back.”
Cal would continue to play soccer for nine years until he reached high school. At the time, Catholic High School only allowed students to play one sport. While the decision was tough, Cal ultimately decided to play football. His love for soccer never waned, and in 2006, Cal returned to the Baton Rouge Soccer Club as one of the first ten members on the new member board.
Club soccer had recently started, and the board’s main goal was to shift the league over to mirror what the east coast soccer leagues were doing at the time. The board created a master plan to elevate the club by creating a 3-tier system. Over the years, Cal was able to witness soccer grow from a shadow sport to a mainstream choice. Not only did he watch the club levels grow, but the high school level evolved as well.
When Cal became a member of the Baton Rouge Soccer Club, the league only had six fields at Independence Park. Out of the 6, only 3 of them had lights. With 20 teams interchanging between only three fields for practice, he recalls how chaotic it would get. Because of this, the team relocated to Burbank. During his time of involvement, Cal was a part of the building of the Burbank field. From raising the money to fund the field, hiring and recruiting talented coaches to coach the teams, and lighting up the fields for afternoon practices, Cal was a part of it all. By the time Cal stepped down in 2016, he had witnessed 15 out of the 24 fields have lights installed.
Cal has been an integral component of the organization and innovation of the Baton Rouge Soccer Club. Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication!
The BRSC Member Spotlight Series recognizes outstanding members within our organization who help further the club’s mission to provide and promote excellence in soccer and physical fitness programming to people of all ages and abilities.
The first exceptional member of the Baton Rouge Soccer Club that we will highlight is Danielle Thomas. Danielle has served as a coach, manager, and director of the Gardere Youth Alliance program since 2012.
Originally from Kentucky, Danielle grew up playing soccer and was a member of her high school soccer team. Danielle played varsity center midfield and was the backup goalkeeper for her team. Danielle enjoys a successful freshman and sophomore seasons before an unfortunate knee injury shortened her junior year. Despite her best efforts, she was unable to recapture her previous level of play during her season as she finished out her soccer career. In college, Danielle focused on her studies. While earning her doctorate degree for sociology at LSU, she became involved with the Gardere Youth Alliance Program.
During her involvement, she aided Anna Alvarez and Ivan Quinones in starting the Gardere Youth Alliance (GYA) soccer program in 2015. Shortly after, the program formed a partnership with the Baton Rouge Soccer Club.
“Danielle is a missionary, she loves sports very much and took the challenge of being a part of this new adventure with us,” said Anna Alvarez. “For more than six years she has worked and established a good relationship with BRSC, helping many children/youths who have been involved with GYA.”
The mission of the Gardere Youth Alliance is to connect kids and families in the Gardere community to athletic opportunities and encourage the children to become their best selves on and off the field. It is a Christian organization founded by Darin Fontenette and Allison Fitchet around the time of hurricane Katrina. The program helped make peace across divisions between New Orleans evacuees and Baton Rouge residents of Gardere. The organization offers football and soccer programs currently but has also offered basketball, dance, and cheer in the past.
BRSC Recreational Director Coaching Stanley Johnson has worked with Danielle and countless other coaches in the recreational program to prepare for the season. “Danielle is an excellent example of the volunteer coaches who truly embody the mission statement of the Baton Rouge Soccer Club. Danielle works tirelessly to help provide children in the Baton Rouge community with the opportunity to participate in BRSC programs.”
During the season, BRSC Recreational Director Morgan Bellington always finds time to watch all of her recreational team’s play, but she always makes sure to check in on all of Danielle’s games. “Her level of dedication to both her players and the club is rivaled by few. We are very proud to have Danielle on our Recreational coaching staff.”
Danielle’s primary goal is to provide athletic opportunities to those that do not have the financial means, even taking the initiative in transporting the players out to practices and games. While she assists with coaching all the teams, her primary team is the girls’ team that she started in 2018. Danielle’s favorite thing about the work she does is opening-up doors socially and culturally for the children in the program and seeing the opportunities they are given. She also loves watching the kids grow not only as athletes but as people.
Her favorite memory of working for the program is an experience with the girls’ team last season. Her team was matched up to play against a team that they were very intimidated by; and unfortunately, they lost badly. She explained to them that the teams’ skill sets were even, but the intimidation level of the other team affected their overall performance. Later in the season, they had a rematch with the same team; and they triumphed.
Danielle recalled how special it felt to watch her team overcome this obstacle and grow from that experience. “I love watching my team’s confidence grow. Watching them improve and progress as players are really great to witness.” The soccer program provides children with opportunities, serving as a form of foundation in the children’s lives. Danielle’s future hope for her players is to see them build up the courage to try out for their high school teams and to attend college.
If you are interested in getting involved, the GYA program is in constant need of coaches to provide one on one instruction that Danielle may not always be able to give due to her busy schedule. In addition to volunteer opportunities, the Gardere Youth Alliance and BRSC accept donations in financial and equipment form (balls, shin guards, etc.) as well.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details and to get involved with GYA.