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United helps bring Neely home

Tsawwassen resident leaves Toronto F.C. to join youth soccer club's staff
South Delta United’s new Head of Coach Development Stu Neely (far left) is welcomed to the club by president Rich Zahn (centre) and technical director Mark Rogers. The Tsawwassen resident has been working with Toronto FC’s academy program the past two years.

Just four months into their inaugural season, South Delta United (SDU) have made a significant addition their professional staff to enhance their long term vision.

The youth soccer club announced this week Stu Neely has been hired as Head of Coach Development. The Tsawwassen resident has been commuting back east for the past two years as head coach of Toronto F.C. Academy's senior team, as well as serving as an assistant with the Major League Soccer club's USL affiliate.

Neely's extensive resumé features two previous stints with Toronto FC, including the club's first-ever academy manager back in 2008. He was also head of player management and advancement with the Vancouver Whitecaps and oversaw player development with New Zealand Football.

As a Canadian "A" Licence coach, he has served as technical programs manager for Canadian Soccer (1998-2003) and has been part of high performance and development staffs for both the Ontario and Manitoba Soccer Associations.

It's a matter of timing and his friendship with SDU technical director Mark Rogers that has brought his expertise home.

It was just over a year ago Rogers' long term development plan was endorsed by the three local youth clubs at the time. The merger of all three was approved a short time later and Rogers eventually approached Neely about what he had in mind.

"The biggest way we feel we can make an impact on our game, not just in South Delta but across the country, is to continue to give our volunteer coaches more resources and support. They really are the backbone of the club," said Rogers. "That is Stu's biggest role and now we are coming up with strategies to help these coaches to make them feel even more valuable and cherished.

"People like myself have been putting on different hats to the point where you don't do any one job at the level that you want. We knew we had to put together a comprehensive development plan and adding Stu into this role is absolutely vital. It's going to help everything else run more smoothly. You can have enough (professional) resources to support it but ultimately it comes down to the experience the child has with the volunteer coach. We are all in this for the kids and it's about them learning more and having more fun."

With his wife remaining in Tsawwassen and working, Neely was looking for an opportunity to work back at home.

He let Toronto F.C. know his intentions in July and officially left the club a day after the MLS final. The following week he made his first unofficial appearance at a SDU coaches pub night.

"The buzz in the room that night was through the roof," Neely recalled. "That for me was the final piece of the puzzle that made me realize that I have made a good decision. You typically can't put (three) clubs together in a community that quickly and have that (kind of enthusiasm). That was huge for me.

"My commitment is to South Delta and the vision Mark and others have put together. I love the game and can make reference, from other jobs I have had, that the smaller (the club) the better because you have a bigger impact. You need to understand where you are getting involved and understand the community you are working in. Then you will have success."

The addition of Neely to SDU's professional staff puts the club at least a year ahead where it hoped to be. It also sends a significant message the merger was far more than a change of name and new kits.

"I'm excited. When Mark presented his technical plan, we thought this step would happen maybe a couple of years down the road," said SDU president Rich Zahn. "We are way ahead of schedule and we are pushing forward a lot quicker than even we anticipated.

"As a (volunteer) coach, I have been doing this for 20 years and only know so much. We maybe see the technical staff two or three times a season and get our certification at weekend seminars. Now we have someone just focused on coaching. It's a great thing."