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Former Lafayette coaches create club for better quality soccer

Courtesy of Craig Wideman
As part of the Lafayette community, local youth soccer club Rockwood United SC took part in the annual Homecoming Parade. The club was created by former LHS soccer coaches, Saverio Traversa and Craig Wideman, to provide better quality soccer coaching. “We want to make sure that [soccer] is taught right, because when learned correctly it’s the best sport in the world,” Wideman said.

According to the St. Louis Youth Soccer Association, there are over 1,000 soccer clubs in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. Rockwood United SC is one of these teams.

Rockwood United SC was created in 2022 by chemistry teacher Craig Wideman and his friend Saverio Traversa. The club practices at the Lafayette Stadium and their main vision is to create an affordable club with quality coaches.

“We knew that there were a lot of clubs in Saint Louis. It’s very rich in soccer. But, all these clubs were charging very large amounts of money for frankly horrible soccer. My friend and I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just parents or somebody who knew somebody getting the coaching [job], because we wanted people with experience to [coach],” Wideman said.

Wideman and Traversa have previously coached the Lafayette Soccer teams, and Traversa also has experience coaching at the collegiate level. He was an assistant coach at Lake Forest College in 2008.

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“[Traversa] actually was the one who started it and, he brought me along. He said, about a year ago, ‘I wanna get this club going,’ I said, ‘If you get that going, I’ll join you,’ So I did. It was just [the two of us] that first year,” Wideman said.

Wideman believes that the larger clubs in the St. Louis area don’t provide the best coaching, but are very expensive. By joining Rockwood United, he hopes to change that.

“With a lot of these massive clubs like Scott Gallagher and Lou Fusz, it’s impossible to find an actual soccer knowledgeable coach for every single team. So you get a lot of teams that pay for the name, but their coach knows nothing about the game. We didn’t want that,” Wideman said.

To prevent this, Rockwood United only recruits coaches with previous coaching experience. Wideman believes that having good coaches will help the player learn the game and have the best experience.

“The game, when you learn it right, is just the best sport in the world. We wanted to bring that to the area without having to charge $2,500 just to have the name Scott Gallagher on your shirt and to have some parent who never really played coach you. It’s ridiculous,” Wideman said.

Rockwood United doesn’t have a proper coach recruitment process, but coaches are selected by word of mouth. Wideman said that often coaches are people he’s worked with or a parent that has coached soccer before.

“The coaches we’ve been able to find coaches are all experienced, have all played soccer or have coached soccer before. I think that has been a draw for players to the club,” Wideman said.

Due to Traversa’s 20-plus years of coaching experience, starting the club was a fairly smooth process. He already had the equipment and connections, the main problem was finding a field to practice on.

To tackle this problem, Rockwood United practices at the Lafayette field on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the club practices at Crestview Middle School.

“We work around the school schedule and make sure no school activities are disrupted. Those always come first,” Traversa said.

The club has seen massive growth since its existence, being created in 2022 with three teams. Two years later, Rockwood United has over 17 teams and 250+ players.

The 17 teams are spread across both genders and all age groups. The oldest age group at Rockwood United are eighth graders. The youngest age group is a junior program for kids not old enough to play in actual matches.

Along with the coaches, another reason the club has seen massive growth is due to their success on the field.

“In our first season, we were beating these [other] clubs. If you’re a parent, you’re thinking, ‘I drive 30 minutes to Fenton and we just got beat by these guys who practice at Lafayette, which is where I live. Well, I’ll just come here,'” Wideman said. “But more than anything the parents of our players and their word of mouth in the community have been the ones that have spread [awareness],”

CJ Fletcher is a player on one of Rockwood United’s teams. His mom, Natalie Fletcher, said that since joining the team, his skills have greatly improved.

“[CJ] used to play Catholic Youth Council soccer, but for the last two years has played at [Rockwood United]. His passion for the game has increased, also his footwork and overall skills have developed amazingly,” Natalie said.

While enjoying the success of the club, Traversa cares more about the members.

“It’s cool to see the players grow and become better. The success of the club has been great, but I want to focus more on the players rather than expanding the club,” Traversa said.

Wideman coaches three different club teams and runs the juniors program.

He stopped coaching the Lafayette soccer teams this year to focus more on teams at Rockwood United.

Although he enjoys coaching both high school age and younger players, he believes each group comes with its own advantages.

“By the time you get to [high school], you kind of already got it or you don’t. So, [coaching younger players] is fun because it’s more actual coaching. Being able to see them younger, giving [them] my stamp and showing them this is what you have to do to be successful, that’s actual coaching,” Wideman said. “I wouldn’t say prefer one, I just see the differences more. I love them both. There’s no limit to how much you care about each team.”

This story was originally published on The Lancer Feed on May 15, 2024.