French soccer hits Island big time

French soccer star Sylvain Mace juggles the ball as Sebastien Le Toux waits his turn Thursday during a practice drill at the French Soccer Academy in Langley. - Jeff VanDerford / The Record
French soccer star Sylvain Mace juggles the ball as Sebastien Le Toux waits his turn Thursday during a practice drill at the French Soccer Academy in Langley.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / The Record

As a bracing, cold wind swept across the Sports Complex in Langley Thursday, eight hardy — some might say foolhardy — soccer players perfected their technique.

Gathered in a rough circle, the young men clad in shorts and T-shirts fought the wind chill factor and gravity as they practiced their “touch” skills, trying to keep the ball in the air as much as possible.

They went for several minutes at a stretch, the white ball a blur of motion as their trainer, Mikael Kerleau-Idrissi, encouraged them in a mixture of French and English.

The French Soccer Academy, begun in December, was organized by Kerleau-Idrissi, Seattle Sounders champion forward Sebastien Le Toux and physical therapist Eman Kerleau-Idrissi.

The academy is designed to help athletes build confidence, overcome injury, improve fitness and fulfill their individual soccer goals.

So far, there are 20 aspiring South End players enrolled.

Ben Rusch, a 2006 graduate of South Whidbey High School and a Falcon soccer star, was skeptical at first.

“I wanted this to work, because I’m committed to the goal of being a professional player, of getting an MLS (Major League Soccer) license,” he said. “But after a month, I can say it has been worth it, every penny.”

A lot of pennies. Rusch is paying $4,000 this year for his training, consisting of weekly two-hour intensive sessions. He even cut short a trip to northern Europe — where soccer reigns supreme — so he could begin his training on time.

“After we warm up, Mikael has us strengthen our mental state,” Rusch explained. “Each of us is assigned a number; when he calls out our number, we have to react instantly, to think on our feet, to accomplish a particular act.”

Some days there is the juggling circle, keeping the ball off the ground; other times they divide up for three-on-three games where the focus is on manipulating the other players while learning how to use the field to best advantage.

“Bonjour, French Soccer Academy,” is the way Kerleau-Idrissi answers his phone. Now living in Clinton, the idea of a soccer training school has been his dream for years.

He grew up in Brittany on the French Atlantic Coast, in a climate remarkably similar to Whidbey’s.

He came here with his wife two years ago as a trainer for Le Toux, who is lead scorer for the Seattle Sounders major league soccer team.

“We came to Whidbey Island one day with Sebastien,” Kerleau-Idrissi recalled. “We were struck by the energy, the peace and the wonderful soccer fields we found. My wife and I decided to move here to start the French Soccer Academy.”

Developed by Mikael and Eman Kerleau-Idrissi over the past 15 years, the French method incorporates one-on-one mental coaching and physical training. Each session enables students to progress like professional soccer players, nurturing the player’s strengths and developing an awareness of the body and mind.

“My training with Mikael began when I was 12,” said Le Toux, Seattle’s most recognizable soccer icon. “The success in my professional career is largely due to his training. The three of us are now in the area having begun the academy together.”

The ultimate goal is to begin a professional soccer exhibition team to travel around the country, and perhaps to Europe and beyond.

“Our exhibition team will be for those who want to further their skills beyond youth soccer and high school,” Kerleau-Idrissi said.

That’s one reason why South Whidbey High School soccer player Dino Michaelides was outside in the freezing wind late Thursday afternoon.

“This is an awesome experience,” he said. “I’m learning new things every time, ideas to help improve my game. I hope to make a difference when Falcon soccer starts in the spring.”

Lessons are held at the Langley Sports Complex on Langley Road. Le Toux will be available for guidance to FSA students throughout the soccer season.

For more information on the French Soccer Academy,

call Kerleau-Idrissi at 221-0122 or visit

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