Brad Rothenberg (left) and Joaquin Escoto.
Alan Rothenberg ran big things: the U.S. Soccer Federation (as president from 1990 to 1998), and the 1994 World Cup (as chairman and chief executive officer).
Rothenberg’s son Brad is deeply involved in soccer too. Unlike his father though, the Brown University graduate focuses on the smaller picture: the players themselves. For two decades, he has worked with young athletes who lack access to the traditional paths to success that players in the “pay to play” model take for granted.
In 2004, Rothenberg and Richard Copeland founded Alianza de Futbol. Joaquin Escoto joined later. The organization offers free tryouts and low-cost tournaments and coaching clinics to Hispanic youths around the country. The goal is to help professional teams find players who are otherwise invisible to coaches and scouts. The non-profit group Yours in Soccer engaged the academic tutoring and college counseling elements.
Among the success stories: a young man who was recruited by Cornell University. He’s working now at Goldman Sachs.
Alianza helped a girl from San Bernardino with tutors, soccer opportunities and financial aid forms. She made the Mexican U-17 national team, traveled with them abroad, and now has a full ride to Long Beach State.
As the number of players at tryouts grew to 1,500, Rothenberg and Escoto realized that most would not become pros. But they were good enough to play Division I soccer. Many had high GPAs, yet faced financial, transportation and other hurdles. Gaining that educational foothold, via soccer, could set them up for successful lives.
The group For Soccer has acquired Alianza de Futbol. Rothenberg and Escoto are now focusing on Access U, launched in 2016. The non-profit foundation helps Latino and Black male and female players earn college scholarships. Mentors guide them through the process, academically and athletically.
Access U players are identified primarily through Alianza and Black Star. They must be in their school’s upper academic quadrant, with at least a 3.2 GPA. They must come from a low-income household; pass an assessment test to measure academic interest and motivation, and complete an in-person interview with an Access U mentor.
Last year, sponsors Allstate, Chevron, Ford and Pepsico supported 54 young people (primarily girls). Access U identifies the players in need. Prestige Prep provides the academic tutors (individual and small groups), including homework review; standardized test preparation, and application essay guidance; College, Career & Life handles college guidance, including important but often overlooked aspects like high school course selection.
It’s not easy getting “unknown” players in front of college coaches. Many recruit solely at elite club showcases. Rothenberg would like Access U to eventually host its own showcase events, on the East and West Coasts. In addition to top collegiate programs, invitations would go to HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities).
Another goal: live seminars for players, parents, college coches and clubs.
Access U is already working nationally, with players in New York, Washington, Chicago and Texas. Tutoring and college prep services are done virtually.
Their targets are high: schools like Harvard, Duke and UCLA. “Some of these kids are already destined for college,” Rothenberg says. “We’re helping them get to the Ivies.”
Fifty Access U athletes currently play college soccer. Ten competed in the NCAA men’s Division I tournament last fall.
Yet unlike Alianza, Access U does not focus on discovering out-of-the-elite-club-pipeline potential youth national team players. “What we do speaks more to the American education landscape,” Rothenberg says. Like soccer, it too is tilted in favor of teenagers and parents who know the system, and have the means to participate in it.
“There are quality players in backyards of universities who have never been scouted,” Rothenberg notes. “The system relies on pay-to-play. Coaches can win using that system, so they don’t look anywhere else.”
Even elite clubs that cover expenses for Black and Latino players don’t always go the extra mile with college recruiting services, Escoto says. They may not provide mentors, resources, or Spanish-language information for parents.
Rothenberg’s goal is for Access U to double the number of athletes served next year, then double it again the year after that, with 100 senior scholar-athlete matriculating by 2026. He would like to add players as they begin their freshman year of high school, to follow them throughout their scholastic careers.
Access U could develop an internship component too, to serve its “alumni” as they continue through college.
Rothenberg, who is white, acknowledges the importance of having men and women of color serving in positions of leadership with Access U. He looks forward to Escoto, and the primarily Black and Latino mentors, moving the organization forward.
One talented, worthy, and formerly overlooked player at a time.