Hartford Athletic launching girls soccer academy with an eye on the future

WINDSOR — Young women in Connecticut looking for a place to learn soccer now have a new option.

Hartford Athletic is launching an academy for girls, mindful of the growth of the women’s game and the popularity of youth soccer in the state, with big ambitions.

“We believe in a holistic approach to player development,” said Octavio Zambrano, who will be directing the academy. “It is not only the college path, not only the professional path, it is both. What we will be able to do is get our boys and girls into a system with a methodology of training that will get them in the very best possible spot when they get to the age of either going to college or, perhaps, becoming a professional.”

Zambrano, 66, from Ecuador, has vast playing and coaching experience at all levels in North America, Europe and South America, including head coaching stints in Major League Soccer and with Canada’s national team. He will have a staff to begin teaching and coaching after a series of tryout sessions this month. The first, on Wednesday, drew about 100 girls, with under-8’s to under-14s. There are more sessions schedule, for Friday, and May 14 and 16.

“It’s inevitable, the area in which are, is so fertile for sports, and in particular women’s soccer,” Zambrano said. “We think that in a few years, we could think of a professional women’s team in Hartford. Why not?”

The National Women’s Soccer League has 14 franchises. Perhaps it will grow, or the USL Championship, in which Athletic competes, could one day have its own league for women. Hartford is one of the first franchises in the USL to launch a girls program alongside its boys program. Louisville has one up and running.

“It needs our support from a first-team level, first and foremost,” said Athletic coach Brendan Burke, who was involved in Philadelphia’s academy. “If you want to have a good pro academy and a good foundation for the city’s youth, then the first team has to support it and be involved. Some of our coaches are involved, we have a good, experienced leader in Octavio. It takes a long time, in Philadelphia, it took us a long time for us to get up and running but we saw the fruits of that labor and now it’s one of the top academies in America, if not the world. On the women’s side, somewhere down the road having a women’s program the way Louisville has done it will make sense. Those things tend to happen quickly when you get a lot of momentum at the youth level.”

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The USL academies have earned Division I status. Hartford Athletic’s teams will compete in the New England Club Soccer League.

“One of the special added benefits of being connected to a professional team at the top of the player-development pyramid,” Zambrano said, “is that we have bona fide international, well-known professionals, who can exchange information and have a connection and teach the girls and the boys what it is you have to do to become a professional. The sky’s the limit, really, we have the facilities, we have the coaching staff, the supporting institution behind us. All of that is a complete package for youth in this area that I really don’t think exists right now. Our franchise is positioned, poised, to be one of the best academies in the United States.”

The program will not be only for players with major college or professional soccer in their future. For more information on the academy, one can email

“I want to make it a point that this is going to be an inclusive endeavor,” Zambrano said. “This is not going to be exclusive in the sense that only a few players can participate. This is going to be something that everyone, or anyone that loves the game has an open door.”