Kephern Fuller’s ties to Europe began after his college playing career ended in 2005 at the George Mason University. For the next three years he would set off on a journey to Europe to earn a professional contract trying out for various clubs in the Netherlands and Belgium, eventually signing a one year contract in 2006 with Cambuur Leeuwarden, a club in the Eerste Divisie in the second tier of the Dutch football league. He would later continue his professional journey with FC Lommel in Belgium in 2007, a First Division Amateur club, before hanging his boots up to focus on developing younger players and providing them with opportunities to play in Europe.
In 2008, Fuller founded and created the non-profit soccer club JOGA SC with the mission to provide youth soccer players with the opportunities for trials in Europe. In 2010, Fuller founded Soccer Marketing International (SMI) to provide player opportunities through the contacts that he developed during his time as a player, with the goal in mind to have players train directly with professional and amateur clubs in Europe.
Fuller has developed a network of scouts, coaches, and contacts in various clubs in Europe including PSV Eindhoven, Fulham FC, Lyon, Paris St. Germain, FC Groningen, HIK Hellerup, Brondby. He also works as a North American Soccer Academy coach for FC Utrecht, one of the top clubs in the Dutch 1st division.
With offices in both the Washington, DC region and Amsterdam, he travels to and from the Netherlands at least six times a year and spends several months meeting and working with clubs in Europe. When asked what the differences were between the youth soccer culture in the US and Europe, Fuller explained, “Youth soccer players in Europe are predicated on becoming professional soccer players. Here in the US, the players join a team and play games. There is no end goal for most youth players to become professionals in the US.”
Yet, Fuller would like to change that mentality through SMI. The organization’s training sessions are generally regarded as trials to potentially make an academy, amateur or pro team.
Currently, SMI has two female soccer players on trial with Sporting Lisbon of Portugal and AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands. Fuller mentions, “I look for players who want to do it [play in Europe] and really make the sacrifice. It is often times difficult to find these players here in the US because not every player wants to be pushed every day. In Europe, the players push one another to be better. It is a totally different level over there.”
For a player to get a trial in Europe through SMI’s network, they must first join the program. The organization’s motto is “Smarten up, Open your market up”, a very catchy mantra as many players in the US are realizing that after college there are not too many professional playing opportunities in the country.
Through SMI’s guidance, the youth player who commits to a trial in Europe is encouraged to continue to return annually. This way the club gets to know the player and maybe when the opportunity presents itself for a trial after college or even if a player decides not to attend college, the player may earn a professional contract.
To prepare players for a trial, SMI trains year around with the “aim to help develop the complete soccer player who can showcase themselves internationally.” Since the player trains with his or her club at least two to three times a week, SMI will provide the player with more training days as each player is required to train an additional two to three times a week with focus on improving the technical, tactical, and psychological components. SMI players are then selected to attend an international tournament.
Fuller’s SMI partner James Myers also travels to Europe frequently and is currently in Portugal for the SMI Euro ID Ladies Scouting Showcase. In August, SMI will be headed to the Brondby Cup in Denmark where they will be participating in the tournament for the 2nd straight year and have previously placed three players at Danish clubs since 2016.
SMI continues to grow its network and the experiences that youth players in the US whether they make it as professional players or not will never forget. “Smarten up, Open your market up” is certainly taking shape and SMI will continue to help shape the mindset of the younger generation of players in the US for many years to come.