During a 22-year career as a college soccer coach at McDaniel College and Stevenson University, John Plevyak was approached by graduating players who wanted to continue their careers as professionals and take their game to the next level. But there were no options to train at a higher level overseas.
After leaving Stevenson after the 2015 season, Plevyak followed up on a tip from a friend about a new kind of soccer development program that would help players scratch that professional itch. He accepted a position as a scout for the International Futbol X-Change (IFX), an organization offering international soccer exchange programs for professional, amateur and youth players designed to accelerate their soccer development and expand their cultural awareness.
"More and more kids are looking to train at a higher level," Plevyak said. "IFX is an intensive training experience for players between 13-21 at a very high level. You can train with a foreign club and experience the international game. There are multiple options. You can go for 10 days to get a taste of international competition or you can go for a year and come back with a degree. Little by little it's getting bigger and bigger."
IFX programs are offered with international clubs in England, Germany, Italy, Spain and Brazil. The IFX Youth Year is a high school study abroad designed for ninth-12th grade boys and girls to study, train and play soccer with an international club. The Pro Year is designed for college players 18 and older to study abroad. There are also programs that offer bachelor's and master's degrees. Prices vary by country, age group and length of time and range from $13,000-$30,000 depending on the program.
"It's perfect for that gap year between high school and college and you are not quite at Division I -- you come back with a better chance to make a team," Plevyak said. "There's also a 10-day trip that's for teams and also for individual players. It includes a training camp and an assessment. You can get a flavor of what it's like. That includes some sightseeing. If you are a Division III player who has just graduated, you can give it a shot and see if you hook on to a team."
The IFX was founded in 2003 by Michael Carlson, who played in Germany for both the Freiburg and Nuremburg clubs.
"We have scouts up and down the East Coast," Plevyak said. "The program is growing rapidly, and Mike has put together a legitimate scouting organization nationwide."
As an IFX scout, Plevyak covers most of Maryland, New Jersey and east of Philadelphia all the way to the shore, as well as from Pennsylvania to the Maryland line.
"There are a lot of great players in Maryland alone and some great club teams like Pipeline," Plevyak said. "I talk with the coaches to see if they have somebody who can play at the next level, and then I'll go see them play a couple of times and talk to the parents. The MIAA is extraordinary with McDonogh, Loyola, Gilman, Curley, Spalding -- they all have Division I players. Baltimore has always been a soccer hotbed -- Patterson Park, Highlandtown, Locust Point -- those boys could play when I was coming up."
Primarily a basketball and baseball player, Plevyak's own soccer journey began while shooting baskets at Mount St. Joseph in the early 1970s while waiting for his father, who was the athletic director. The Gaels' soccer coach, Bernie Reif, came running in.
"He told me, 'Put that ball down, I need a goalie,'" said Plevyak who was a sophomore. "In my first game against perennial power Curley, the ball came to me, and I kicked it straight up in the air, and then I headed it. I didn't know the rules. It was one of those games where their shots kept hitting the crossbar and we won, 1-0."
He went on to play soccer in high school and college before being injured. He then coached at Mount St. Joe's before joining the staff at McDaniel and then Stevenson. Plevyak has seen the sport explode during the years.
"I used to play soccer on Sundays in eighth grade for St. Dominic's," Plevyak said. "There weren't any rec leagues. My friends would ask me, 'Are you going down there to play kickball?'"
Now, with IFX, he can help players realize their dreams of playing professional soccer for an international team.
Issue 232: April 2017