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Sierra Soccer Academy hoping for busy year

Jeremy Evans

Two years ago Sean Nealis gave up playing professional soccer to live at Lake Tahoe. But he didn’t give up soccer once he got here.

“I told myself that I would play in the A-League for three years and if I didn’t get on with an MLS team, I would go live wherever I wanted,” Sean Nealis said. “After my second season, I was scheduled to go to Costa Rica for preseason with the New England Revolution. But when I went back there, (coach) Fernando Clavijo told me that they signed Eric Wynalda (leading scorer in U.S. National Team history). He was their 18th guy. So I played one more year in the A-League and came to Tahoe.”

After the 2001 A-League season, he joined his brother Jim, who was living in Stateline and had just finished his first season as the Carson High boys varsity coach. Soon after, Sierra Soccer Academy was formed. The past two summers SSA has held successful youth camps. But starting this fall, it wants to begin the next phase in the slow, methodical process of developing soccer players.

“We just want to start off training teams,” said the 27-year-old Sean Nealis, who played with both the Connecticut Wolves and Long Island Roughriders. “We want to make it clear that we don’t want to take over any teams. With our coaching experience, we feel we can really develop players at the youth level. Maybe down the road, six or seven years from now, we’ll try and put together some club teams. But right now, we just want to improve the overall quality of soccer in this area. That involves coming out to a practice and training a team for a session.”

The Nealis brothers helped train a U-12 girls team last year in Carson City. They will be working with that same team this year, as well as another U-13 girls team from South Lake Tahoe. But they’re looking for more work.

“We know some coaches get money from their particular club each year to use for whatever they want,” Sean Nealis said. “Some use it for uniforms, sweat suits, whatever. A coach we worked with last year used some of that money for us to train his team. We’re not looking to get rich here, that’s why we’re charging only $5 per kid, per session, which is usually lasts around an hour and a half.”

Compared to what some coaches charge, that’s extremely cheap, especially for what players get in return. Sean and Jim, who both started coaching as teenagers in their home state of New York, have almost a combined 30 years of working with youth players.

Sean won a U-20 national championship with his club team, FC Westchester. He had a successful four-year career at the University of Vermont, typically a top-25 Division I program from the America East Conference. After leaving Vermont, he began his three-year professional career that involved training and playing exhibition games with the MLS’ New York/New Jersey Metrostars and New England Revolution.

Jim, who is now 30, played one year of Division I soccer before transferring to Cortland University, a Division III school where he used his final three years of athletic eligibility. Once leaving there, he accepted a job as an adaptive education teacher with the Carson City School District. He is now a physical education teacher at Carson High. Prior to the 2001 season, he was hired as the Senator boys varsity coach. Now heading into his third season with the program, he has led Carson to the Northern 4A playoffs in each of his first two seasons.

“We know what it takes to get a soccer scholarship in college because both Jim and I have already gone through the system,” Sean Nealis said. “You need to get the kids when they’re young and teach them the things that we’ve learned from our experiences growing up playing soccer in America. But we understand not everybody wants to play college soccer. We’ve already contacted some of the people at AYSO and would really like to get involved with them. Since they’re not as competitive, we’ll probably focus on basic skills and having fun. But when we work with some of the more competitive club teams, we’ll work on a lot more things.”

Well, at least they want to work hard at not getting rich. If you would like SSA to train your team, call (775) 225-0076 or write SSA at P.O. Box 6631, Stateline, NV 89449.

Jeremy Evans is a sports writer for the Nevada Appeal.

Haleigh Ward, 11, was named Sierra Soccer Academy Camper of the Week for the week of July 21-25. That was the last SSA camp of the summer. However, co-founders Jim and Sean Nealis are looking to train AYSO or club soccer teams this year at a minimal charge. For more information, call (775) 225-0076 or write SSA at P.O. Box 6631, Stateline NV, 89449.