LAFAYETTE — Alexis Bentley has been playing soccer for 13 years, which might not sound like a lot until you ask her for her age — she’s only 15.
“Soccer is amazing,” she exclaimed recently.
Bentley said she hopes to have a future in the sport, which is the reason she cited for signing up to play with a relative newcomer in the area: the Dynamo Juniors Soccer Program in Lafayette.
“It seemed like they would challenge me and make me a better player,” Bentley said.
The program, which arrived in Lafayette last year, works in affiliation with the Houston Dynamo, a Major League Soccer team, said Danny Foster, technical director for the Dynamo Juniors.
The Lafayette location is one of five satellite programs aimed at helping to identify talent at a young age. The goal is to nurture that talent to the collegiate and/or professional level, Foster said.
The other locations are in Austin, Texas; Gulfport, Miss.; Gulf Breeze, Fla.; and McAllen, Texas.
The Junior Dynamos play statewide tournaments as well as out-of-state tournaments, the first of which will take place July 30-31 in Houston.
All four Dynamo Juniors teams in Lafayette will travel to Houston to compete in a tournament against the other Dynamo teams from other locations, Foster said.
During that tournament, coaches will evaluate players to form elite teams in each age group, he said.
The teams selected on the boys side will travel to Houston to compete against the Houston Dynamo Academy teams in their respective age groups.
The Houston Dynamo uses this to identify talent over a wide radius, Foster said.
On the girls side, the elite teams will enter showcase tournaments across the country where they will be watched by NCAA college coaches.
The best girls from the elite teams in different age groups will be invited to the Nike ID 2 program, which is a camp coached by U.S. National coaching staff with the incentive to identify players that are good enough for national youth teams across different age groups, Foster said.
Bentley has her eye on those elite teams, said her mother, Shelley Bentley, who serves as team manager.
The Dynamo’s elite program caught the family’s attention, the mother said, adding that her daughter aspires to play at the collegiate level.
“She’s very serious about soccer,” Shelley Bentley said.
Ken Roebuck said his 15-year-old daughter, Kendahl, is also a huge soccer fan.
“She loves it,” Roebuck said.
The same could be said of all the Dynamo players, some of whom travel from out of town to play with the team.
Roebuck said the team has a player who lives in Monroe. Others live in Carencro, New Iberia and from elsewhere in Acadiana.
There are four Dynamo Juniors teams in Lafayette, consisting of Under-11 and U-15 teams for boys; and U-12 and U-16 teams for girls, Foster said.
There will likely be many, many more waiting in the wings, though.
Kevin Mooney, a well-known soccer coach who serves as the Dynamo Juniors director of coaching, said there are about 600 to 800 kids playing in the affiliated recreation leagues: the South Side Soccer Club and the newly formed North Side Soccer Club.
The clubs start as young as U-5 and go through U-10. The idea is to have the kids move up to the Dynamo program at age 11, Mooney said.
He said the idea is similar to programs in place in England, where talent is scouted out and developed early on.
The program was brought to Lafayette, because “the Dynamo knows there’s a lot of talent here in Lafayette,” Mooney said. “This is a way to keep their finger on the area and its talent.”
Mooney said there are other select teams in the Lafayette area, but none of them have ties to a professional team.
Cooper Moore, 10, came in from the South Side Soccer Club. He said he has been playing soccer since he was 5.
He chose the Dynamos because “it’s a select team and you get to go to different places like Houston.”
“It’s a very fun sport to play and a lot of people play it,” said Moore, who plays the forward position.
This will be the second season for the Dynamo Juniors, but Foster likes to think of it as if it’s the first.
Now, “we actually know what we’re doing,” Foster said, jokingly.