Dantouma “Yaya” Toure used to deal with a very complicated commute. In order to arrive to the New York Red Bulls training facility, he walked 20 minutes from his house in Trenton, New Jersey to the train station to catch a train that took him to Newark Penn Station. Once there, one of his teammates would give him a ride to the training facility in Whippany, New Jersey. Sometimes he would arrive back home around midnight.
Ryan Brooks, Sr. Manager, Academy Business Operations of RBNY, quickly realized this needed immediate action. The young footballer couldn’t continue on with a routine that didn’t provide him stability.
“When Sean [McCafferty], Academy Director, and I first came onboard, the Homestay Program was really a high priority. It was looking at it on how do we keep some players that drive such a long distance through public transportation or their parents couldn’t find consistent rides,” Brooks began to describe how the Homestay Program came to be. “Also, how do we look around the whole country and kind of look at the top 1% and be able to have them at Red Bulls. Really the first kid became ‘Yaya’, when we first came onboard, it was really about finding the right hosts for him.”
Three other players followed Toure, Ty Walker from North Carolina, Bo Cummins from Michigan and Darsein Gabriel from Connecticut.
“Ty, Bo and Yaya moved back into the host family in the beginning of July when they started training with USL, so those three guys are training with USL and part of that team right now,” said Brooks. “Darsein’s first day is actually today [August 9, 2020] back into the host family. We've had to do two negative tests for them to come back to the host family. We've been in consultation with Dr. Farber about the host family protocols based on COVID-19. There's extreme measures, for example daily cleaning, no visitors, the actual homestay family and their kids were tested before the kids came in. Everything’s sanitized on a daily basis.”
Finding the right family that could take in all four players was a process that took Brooks time, but he was able to find them in the Quintela family.
“Niki and I met through a foreign exchange student service, where they were offering their house to foreign exchange students. When we began this, they had a foreign exchange student from Asia, so they had experience with kids living in their house, but living in their house for a foreign exchange student is a lot different than having one of our kids,” said Brooks. “They had background checks, I went to their house to meet them a couple times, just getting to know them a little bit more. And then we just really hit it off and see, you know, the mom and dad love the kids. We just knew that they were a fit because they've had the experience before, and now it just becomes a little bit more intertwined with our lives.
“For example, like for the foreign exchange students, they just basically had like a room for them to rent and they were feeding them, but here, it's like they're fully entrenched into their everyday life, meaning their soccer schedule, their school. They're their parents, like there's just more coordination, there's more food because she told me these kids are eating more than she's ever seen before, and all she's doing is like cooking and feeding them. She's building a relationship with them on an individual basis more so than the foreign exchange students, which is more like a host family and this becomes more of like a quote unquote adopted mom and dad.”
The Quintela family is in constant communication with the kids’ families back in their hometowns, while the house has its own separate quarters where Ty and Darsein have their own rooms and share a kitchen and bathroom, as it’s the case for Bo and Yaya too.
“This program has really broadened our family. My two young children now have cool, fun older brothers, my husband re-connected with his passion for soccer, and my heart and home are full,” said Mrs. Quintela. “We’ve learned from each other and gained a better understanding of how to run our daily routine with athletes. We wouldn’t trade our time with these boys for anything. What a blessing hosting the players has been.”
Yaya has been consistently able to train with NYRB II and continue to improve his game, even featuring for NYRB II during the return to play and record his first professional assist against Philadelphia Union II on July 22 and his first professional goal against Pittsburgh Riverhounds on August 9. Cummins and Walker have been training with NYRB II, and Cummins already got minutes, while Darsein, who’s only 14-years-old already got a call-up from the USMNT U-15.
Sean McCafferty believes the Homestay Program has raised the level of the Academy.
“The Homestay Program helps us raise the level. Yes, we’re in a good market, but there’s definitely competition for the top talent, so we have to make sure we’re bringing in the 1% of the top talent either regionally or nationally,” explained McCafferty. “Because obviously they’re the ones that could potentially either push through and make it to the First Team or raise the level of our in-market players and push their level so they’ll go to the First Team.”
McCafferty continued. “From a long-term development standpoint, it’s going to raise our everyday training environment, which ultimately is the most important time we have with these players. If that’s at the highest level, then we will continue to produce players and hopefully more of the Tyler Adams level of players.”
Ty and Yaya go to SALA (Scholar Athletes Leadership Academy). Their online curriculum allows for more flexibility with USL training and SALA provides teachers onsite as well. It's worth noting that Ty is graduating a year early, and Yaya is graduating a year and a half early. Bo is still taking online school from Michigan, and Darsein goes to Kearney High School.
Recently Ty cooked ribs for the family, while Bo has prepared french toast for breakfast. Brooks sees the Homestay Program as an opportunity for these players to mature and learn new skills along the way.
“Absolutely, absolutely, that's where the cooking comes in, living on their own and, you know, their mom and dad aren’t there to make sure that they're doing schoolwork,” said Brooks. “So they're growing up before our eyes. I mean, Darsein is an ‘05, he's 14-years-old, but he's living on his own. It's pretty incredible.”