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NJ Soccer Academy Trains Future Stars As Alum Wins World Cup

Ang Santos

The pastures of perfectly lined soccer pitch didn’t always exist as they do at Players Development Academy.

“This place was formed with the vision of Tom Anderson, a great man, for Tobin Heath’s team,” said Mike O’Neill, Players Development Academy Girls Director of Coaching.  “Tobin Heath’s team played in Basking Ridge, and back then there were rules that you can only have so many people that came in from outside.  Tom had the vision and awareness and vision to recognize that in order to make players the best players that they needed to be they needed to play with more players that were like them.  So that’s the vision of PDA and how it was formed 20 years ago.”

O’Neill was an assistant coach when Tobin Heath joined PDA at the age of 13.

“The thing that was so important with Tobin is that she had this drive, this passion to be one of the best,” he said.  “What Tobin did a great job of is recognizing what happened during the week at training, but the time that she spent by herself learning moves then coming out to practice and trying those moves.  She had a desire to get better.”

Hundreds of soccer players train at Players Development Academy a year. They respect the greats that came before them.

“It’s definitely really cool knowing that people like Heather O’Reilly and Tobin Heath have trained on the fields that we’re training on now,” said Emily Mason, an outside back at Players Development Academy.

In between training sessions, PDA players were watching the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup closely.

Credit pdasoccer.org
Tom and Evelyn Anderson celebrate with Tobin Heath after the United States Women's World Cup victory in France. Tom Anderson trained Heath at Players Development Academy in New Jersey.

“I think watching Alex Morgan and the goals that she scored and what she’s done during the World Cup is inspiring,” said center forward Ranya Senhaji.  “Watching them I want to play professionally, going overseas and playing for the US.”

“Ever since I was young, I always looked up to Tobin Heath and Heather O’Reilly," aid defensive midfielder Becci Fluchel.  "I find it inspirational that we play on the same fields as them.  It makes me feel that I have a chance to be like them one day."

If the ambitions of the young ladies at Players Development Academy are a sign of where US Women’s Soccer is going, New Jersey is in good shape to produce more bigtime players by the next World Cup. But PDA Girls Director of Coaching Mike O’Neil advises not to rest on the legend’s we already have. 

“Tobin Heath, Heather O’Reilly, Christine Rampone, Carli Lloyd.  Now for this year, you look at Christy Rampone and Heather O’Reilly and they’re announcing the games for the World Cup in front of millions.  Then you look and there’s Tobin and Carli winning another World Cup.  I think the success and impact they’ve had on Jersey soccer and the impact they’ve had on soccer in general in our country, you just can’t measure it.”