At UDA, our commitment to student success goes beyond the pitch. To help our students develop personal and professional growth during their university experience and beyond, we developed the Dream Maker Program alongside the UDA SUCCESS Foundation.
The Dream Maker Program is dedicated to fostering the personal and professional growth of our student-athletes, helping them collaborate with their universities’ career and employability resources so they can grow their employability opportunities post graduation.
Developed and led by Dr. Scott Johnson, in alignment with the visionary goals set by UDA founder Dr. Brian Haley, this program aims to equip UDA students with the skills and knowledge necessary to excel in their chosen fields.
The UDA Circle of SuccesS
The Dream Maker Program is designed to provide UDA students with a holistic approach to personal and professional development. By offering mentorship, guidance, and resources, the program sets UDA students on a path to success. From their university studies to post-graduation, students benefit from the expertise and support provided by the program.
Supporting Career DevelopmenT
The Dream Maker Program collaborates closely with the Careers Offices and Employability Resources of universities our students attend. This collaboration offers our students ongoing individual student relationships, group conversations, presentations, support building a portfolio, application guidance, job search tools, and advice and insight from alumni and industry experts.
With these resources, our students are prepared with the necessary tools to navigate the job market successfully.
Meet Dr. Scott Johnson, CEO of the UDA SUCCESS Foundation
Heading the Dream Maker Program is Dr. Scott Johnson. Holding a Ph.D. in management and marketing from Arizona State University, an MBA in international business from the University of San Francisco, and a BS in business administration-marketing from California State University, Fresno, Dr. Johnson brings a diverse range of knowledge to the program.
Having taught at the University of Greenwich in the UK, Dr. Johnson has a deep understanding of the European academic landscape. His experience in designing professional development and leadership courses, building external partnerships, and conducting assessment centers and team-building activities for students has equipped him with invaluable insights into employability.
Dr. Johnson's extensive background as a marketing executive and his three-decade-long tenure as a professor, program director, and business school Dean have allowed him to advise hundreds of students on career preparation and oversee their internships. By leveraging each student's unique experiences and strengths, Dr. Johnson fosters their career readiness competencies through supportive feedback and networking opportunities.
Our Dream Maker Program demonstrates our commitment to the comprehensive development of our student-athletes. Through close collaboration with universities, personalized mentorship, and access to industry insights, the program equips UDA students with the skills and knowledge necessary for success.
Under the guidance of Dr. Scott Johnson, the Dream Maker Program has become a cornerstone of UDA's commitment to empowering its students both during their university journey and beyond.
For more information about the Dream Maker Program, please reach out to Dr. Scott Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are thrilled to announce the inaugural First Annual UDA All-Star Iceland Showcase! In January 2024, top players from UDA Soccer Academies in the USA and UK will gather in the land of ice and fire for an extraordinary display of talent and sportsmanship.
Taking place in Iceland, renowned for its rich football culture and breathtaking landscapes, this event promises to be a true celebration of UDA Soccer excellence. From captivating matches against elite Icelandic U19 teams to immersive training sessions with esteemed Icelandic coaches, our players will have the opportunity to shine on a global stage.
But the UDA All-Star Iceland Showcase isn't just about the competition. It's a journey of cultural exploration and personal growth. Participants will embark on the unforgettable "Golden Circle Tour," visiting iconic natural wonders such as Thingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss. They will also indulge in relaxation and rejuvenation at The Sky Lagoon, a remarkable geothermal pool and spa.
UDA Soccer is proud to provide this incredible opportunity for our talented returning athletes to showcase their skills, gain exposure, and create lasting memories.
We can't wait to witness the magic unfold on the pitches of Iceland!
UDA Soccer - Pathway to the Professional Game.
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UDA Soccer celebrates after defeating Azteca FC 4-1 (after a 4-4 draw) in a PK shootout to qualify for the 2023 US Open Cup. Photo: Andrew MosierIt’s been three months since UDA’s epic 2023 US Open Cup qualifying win over three-time Open Cup qualifier, Azteca FC 5280. But even now, UDA technical director and coach Tahlon Drake has a hard time containing his emotions when he talks about it.
“It’s games like that that remind us why we do this in the first place. To qualify our first time out, on the road, in the cold at altitude, to come back and tie the game twice after going down a man, it was truly something special,” Drake said of the 4-4 heavyweight slugfest that was ultimately decided at the penalty spot. “And then for our ‘keeper to step up and make three saves in the shootout. The whole thing was just incredible.”
Photo: Casey Morris | UDA Soccer
Drake leads the University Degrees Abroad men’s soccer academy program at New Mexico State University. UDA operates as New Mexico State University’s men’s soccer program, wearing both the UDA and NMSU crests when they play. But it is more than just a university club team. Based on the three UDA academies in England, UDA at NMSU is a European-style academy, training and playing year-round. It is the only one of its kind in the United States. The club currently fields three teams competing in the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL), college club leagues, elite youth leagues, the US Open Cup, and other competitions. Because UDA is a de facto college team, the team’s average age hovers around 20-years-old.
“All of our kids have to be enrolled in school,” Drake said. “We want to make sure we are changing lives through education. We’re not just a vessel on the football field. Ultimately, we want them to get an education, because the ball stops rolling for everybody at some point.”
UDA opens the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at home versus 2022 USL League Two Mountain Conference champions, Park City Red Wolves, on Wednesday, March 22 at the NMSU Soccer Athletic Complex.
In qualifying, UDA is only the second team in the Modern Era of the Open Cup (1995-present) directly affiliated with a college or university to qualify for the tournament proper. Teams from the University of Florida, Oklahoma University, Louisiana-Lafayette, and the University of Southern California have entered qualification in the past, but only Brigham Young University, which competed in the PDL—now USL League Two—from 2003-2017, qualifying for the Open Cup in 2006, 2007, and 2015.
What is UDA?
University Degrees Abroad was founded in 2018 at the University of Cheshire and has since expanded to eight universities in England and Wales offering foreign students a pathway to degrees from those institutions, with the University of Chester and University of Gloucestershire offering soccer academies through the universities. The initial success of the program UDA Program Director and former NMSW assistant woman’s basketball coach, Jeff Thompson, floated the idea of incorporating the UDA soccer academy model with an American university. NMSU seemed like the perfect partner, with first-class facilities in place for its NCAA Division I women’s program, a climate conducive to year-round play, and lots of local talent to help build the program.
“Because NMSU only had a woman’s program, we were able to go to them and say, ‘We want to be your men’s division one program, just not under NCAA rules,’” Drake said.
Photo: Casey Morris | UDA Soccer
With the agreement with NMSU in place in 2019, Drake, Ordel, and a support staff began to build the program. Then COVID-19 hit.
“We didn’t even get to have a proper training session until 2021,” Drake said. “It wasn’t until then things really got started.”
In the spring of 2021, the club entered the first UDA team into competition, finishing a respectable 5-1-2, good for second place in the seven-team West Texas-New Mexico division of the UPSL. For the fall 2021 season, the club moved to the intensely competitive UPSL Arizona Division. UDA won the ten-team division, winning eight and drawing two. In the spring of 2022 UDA moved back to the West Texas-New Mexico division, going 6-2-2 to win the division and earn a berth in the UPSL post season tournament. They beat the San Antonio Surf in penalty kicks and the Arizona-based River Valley Bully’s 1-0 before falling to the Dodge City Toros 4-1 in the quarterfinals.
The quarterfinal appearance qualified UDA to play in the inaugural UPSL Champions Cup, featuring four of the top UPSL teams from the United States versus four top teams from the UPSL Mexican divisions. UDA finished winless in its group versus Mexican sides Deportivo Teziutlan and Altiplano FC, and Chicago Nation FC from the U.S.
“It was a learning experience for all of us,” Drake said. “We grew a lot as a team and as an organization during that time. Our program is about so much more than just getting the immediate result.”
Entering the fall 2022 UPSL season, UDA moved back to the West Texas-New Mexico division. For the first time the club fielded two teams. UDA Crimson finished second in the division going 5-3-0. UDA White finished at the bottom of the five-team table going 1-7-0.
“We put a lot of energy and effort into qualifying for the Open Cup,” Drake said. “Maybe at the expense of league play. But it paid off in the end.”
How They Got Here
With first round byes for both clubs, UDA opened 2023 Open Cup qualifying at home versus UPSL side Coronado Athletic from Sierra Vista, Ariz. UDA had little trouble, cruising to a 4-0 win over the Coronado club that finished in the middle of the table for the fall 2022 UPSL Arizona division. Mattias Cavallo put UDA up in the 15th minute followed by a second-half brace by captain Eric Gomez-Silva the capper by Marco Millan with fifteen minutes to play. Next up was fall 2022 Arizona division and UPSL national champion Olympians FC.
Photo: Casey Morris | UDA Soccer
“We had played Olympians before,” Drake said. “We knew it was going to be a difficult game. “They made it incredibly tough for us to play. I was incredibly proud of the way our boys handled themselves. Of the 18 cards shown in that game, we only received four of them.”
UDA played much of the game down a goal after 19-year-old goalkeeper Mario Castillo was caught off his line with a ball hit from near midfield. The game became a chippy, choppy affair. The tide turned in the 75th minute when Olympians were reduced to 10 men. UDA’s Jay Mustielis leveled the score in with just three minutes to play in regulation. In the second period of extra time Olympians went down another player making way for Keane Garcia to get on the end of Will Hanes cross to put UDA up 2-1. Alan Gudino put the game out of reach at 3-1 just before the final whistle.
The Fourth Round draw sent UDA to face Denver-based Azteca FC 5280, on one of the surrounding fields of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, home of the Colorado Rapids (MLS). A massive storm had blown through earlier in the week dumping more than a foot of snow that had been plowed into piles at each end of the synthetic field.
Going into the match, Drake said the conditions were going to be a factor.
“Some of our guys have never even seen snow before,” he said before the match. “The cold and altitude are going to make things interesting for us.”
For the better part of the last decade, Azteca FC 5280 has reigned as one of Colorado’s top amateur sides, playing in the incredibly competitive Colorado Super League, qualifying for the Open Cup three times (2017, 2018, 2022). Azteca failed to advance beyond the first round in all three Open Cup appearances.
“We knew Azteca was going to be good,” Drake said. “They qualified for the Open Cup in 2022. We knew they were very dynamic up front. But we have never been the kind of team to change the way we did things based on an opponent. That is one of the things we try to instill from the beginning. We play the way we play. Let everyone else adapt to us, not the other way around. We want to play thorough our attacking mids, with our number 10 stepping high and go at ‘em.
‘Go at ‘em’ is exactly what UDA did in what would become a qualifying match for the ages. UDA landed the first punch in the 14th minute when Gudino combined with Jose Rivan down the left flank resulting in an easy tap in from close range to put the visitors up 1-0.
Azteca responded immediately, leveling the score in the 20th minute, then smashing in a second at the 36th minute mark to go up 2-1. Then Daniel Ruiz Galan pulled UDA level just before the halftime whistle, slotting a Lucas Burch cross to the far post from close range.
After a hectic start to the second half, Azteca took the lead for a second time, going up 3-2, when a controversial penalty was given in the 63rd minute. Drake was shown a red card for his vociferous protests of the penalty call from the bench and will watch his club’s inaugural Open Cup match from the stands.
More importantly, UDA will also be without midfield lynchpin and captain, Gomez-Silva, who was shown a second yellow card with less than ten minutes to play in the Azteca match. Gomez-Silva was one of UDA’s top recruits, having spent time in the system of La Liga club Real Sociedad.
Photo: Casey Morris | UDA Soccer
“Eric is tough to replace. He sees the game so well; he is so good on the ball. He is the leader,” Drake said. “We are going to miss his presence, his experience, everything a player of his quality brings. But we have someone we believe can step up do all the things Eric does so well.”
With time running out UDA began to throw numbers forward, almost making it look like Azteca was the team playing short-handed. Then Alfredo Villescas got on the end of a corner kick to pull the game level again, at 3-3, forcing extra time.
Azteca took firm control of the first overtime period, scoring on a recycled set piece in the 107th minute after UDA failed to clear the ball. After the goal, UDA threw everything they had forward. Just moments before the final whistle Garcia found himself inside the Azteca six-yard box with the ball at his feet. He slotted home the equalizer sending the game to penalty kicks, where UDA’s 19-year-old goalkeeper stole the show.
UDA’s Garcia shot first, making his attempt. Castillo then saved Azteca’s first shot to his left, but was ruled to have left his line before the ball was kicked. He saved the re-take, this time to his right. Blake Bastain put UDA up 2-0 in the shootout. Azteca then converted their second kick making it 2-1. Villescas converted his kick to make it 3-1, then Castillo made a one-handed save to his left, leaving it up to Gudino, who calmy put the ball straight down the middle to put UDA into the tournament proper.
“I think it says so much about what we are doing, how far we have come in such a short period of time,” Drake said. “Qualifying for the Open Cup was one of our goals when we started. To do it the first time out, the way we did it, is just incredible.”
US Open Cup Round One
With the 2023 Spring UPSL season not yet underway, UDA has been playing regional professional teams, and competing against college club teams to prepare for its Open Cup debut versus Park City Red Wolves, winners of the USL League Two Mountain Division for the past two seasons. This is the second consecutive Open Cup appearance. They list 3-2 at Las Vegas Legends (NPSL) last year. Like UDA, Park City are out of season. Park City kicks off its 2023 USL League Two season May 27.
“Honestly, we don’t know a lot about them,” Drake said. “The best we can do is go out and play the way we want to play and see what happens.”
Stevie is currently completing his Masters in Chester via an online option. He has successfully applied for his graduate visa and intends to live in Chester for the foreseeable future.
"As one of the first intake of UDA players to come to Chester it was a scary and risky decision. But after going through the 4 years I can honestly say that the risk was worth it.
I graduated with my BS(c) Honors in Psychology combined with Sport and Exercise Science and then continued my education studying a Masters in Communications and Behavioral Analysis.
As well as the educational factor being successful, I also saw a huge improvement in my footballing ability. This is due to the exceptional coaching staff that coach at the highest level. We are also exposed to different levels of football to enhance our development.
I want take the time to thank all the UDA staff for making my footballing time in Chester enjoyable (Joel, Macca, Graham, Jared, Craig, Nathan. And Rich) I also want to thank Gaynor for making the transition to Chester and the transition to life after UDA easier cause without her we would be truly lost."
~ Stevie Thirawit
The experiences I have had in Las Cruces have created memories and lessons that I will be able to use for the rest of my life. I’m beyond grateful for this program and can’t wait to see what my last semester will hold for me.
JD Meyers (GK, Herriman Utah)
I’ve been playing soccer since the age of 3 all the way through to the collegiate level. I’m a sophomore transfer from a DII college. I have only been a part of the UDA@NMSU program for two months but in the short time since joining them, I’ve been able to experience some of the highest level soccer of my career thus far, including playing in the UPSL national tournament and making it to the Elite 8.
What really sets the UDA program apart for me is the high intensity and competitive training environment. Coupled with a great coaching staff, UDA provides a very professional and thriving culture.
When compared to the college level I previously played at, UDA is just as comparable if not higher. Additionally, what really sets the program apart, for me, is the 10 month season. UDA provides considerably more games and opportunities than traditional college schedules to get on the pitch which really has allowed me to develop and improve all facets of my game.
Joining UDA was the right decision for me and my future in the sport.
Lucas Burch (MID/F, Alamogordo New Mexico)
My second school was in Leeds, England and did not have the same guidelines as those Universities in the US. We could play and train as we liked and even travel when we saw fit. This experience and opportunity opened my eyes to how I believe things should be. Playing against pro teams, traveling for international tournaments, and training all year round were game changing for me.
This led me to UDA@NMSU where I could get a similar experience at a more affordable cost and a lot closer to home. UDA afforded me the opportunity to get an accredited degree while playing 10 months out of the year. To be able to do something that not a lot of programs in the US can do is extremely unique.
Even though my time and career at UDA@NMSU has come to an end, I was able to lead and inspire a new wave of young student/athletes that have capabilities far beyond what they can imagine.
Nate Stewart (MID/DEF, San Antonio Texas)
"UDA Soccer Academy program is truly one of a kind program where academic success is at the forefront of everything they do, along with the best-in-class football academy. What we experienced went above and far beyond all of our expectations.
As a parent, I am extremely excited and look forward to the opportunity for my son, Brandon, to be a part of the UDA Soccer Academy program.
If any student or parent is looking for a best-in-class degree abroad program in the UK that is coupled with a best-in-class football academy, you need to look no further."
Alex Ley, Parent
Reed is coming back for his second year when he returns in September and is studying Software Engineering.
In his words:
Roi Gil is originally from Israel, moved to Canada when he was 11 years old. He started playing football when he was five years, and ever since it was his dream to play professionally. His favourite player is Diego Forlan from Uruguay, and he is also a big fan of Kieran Tierney from Arsenal. Tierney plays left back position, just like Roi. While playing football matches and doing trainings, Roi is studying Computer Science course and successfully balancing the two.
“I decided to study at the University of Gloucestershire because it gave me the opportunity to play football at a high level and study the degree that I wanted. This is the best way to combine my goals in football with my academic goals.”
“University of Gloucestershire is in partnership with the UDA Football Academy. I want to play professionally, that's my goal, my dream. And UDA allows us to play how other professional academies train and play. And the University of Gloucestershire also allows us to take our degree, so we can get the best of both worlds.”
“You can study any degree you want, you get to choose whatever you want. We play football, but academics is first. We can't miss class for training or for a game. It is all about balancing. When I was in high school, I've always had football and another thing or two more. It's become a habit. The main thing is learning time management and prioritizing. I want to make sure that I'm enjoying myself, but also do what needs to be done.”
“I go to class in the morning and then training in the afternoon and then get back home and do the homework. Or the other way around, where we have training in the morning and then class and then you go home and you either do a bit more training on your own or homework. This year we played matches mostly around once a week. But next year is going to be more matches because we should have more players coming in. It should be about at least twice a week for most weeks.
“We train at Oxstalls (Gloucester) at the Sports park, and I study at Park campus (Cheltenham). The sports facilities are very good. They gym is quite good, and the fields are also great. They have good turf fields, and the grass fields are pretty high quality as well compared to what I'm used to. I think even the universities facilities like the library, the classrooms and everything is quite good. A lot of the classrooms are suited for small courses, and I really enjoy having a small amount of people in my course because then I get to know the lectures and module tutors, which helps my learning.”
“As a Canadian, I thought the living expenses would be more. The food and shopping are a lot cheaper than I expected. I thought that I wouldn't eat out as much (laughs). But it wasn't very expensive.”
Favourite places in Cheltenham and Gloucester
“Town centres in both Cheltenham and Gloucester are nice. The Gloucester docks are quite nice. The cathedral is very nice to see. I've also been to Manchester and Liverpool. I hope to travel more during my second year.”
“The application process was quite straightforward. I also really liked the fact that
the University responded very quickly to my application cause in Canada it’s different. You apply and then you hear back within the next six months.”
“I study computer science, so my course is fairly small. You get to know the lectures and most of your classmates. You can help each other out when you're struggling with certain things. I only have 4 lectures a week, but they're 3 hour and it would be about an hour and a half of lectures and an hour and a half of practical. I found that there's a lot of hands-on stuff which helps me to learn what I'm interested in.”
“The modules are directly related to my degree because I know in Canada you have to take certain modules that might not necessarily be related to your degree. This is more focused on employment, it's teaching you what you'll use in the real world after you graduate.”
“If I'm good enough to play professionally, I will. If I could even play semi-professionally and work, that's probably the goal. I would consider a masters, I might be interested in sports analytics.”
Advice to potential students coming from Canada
“Look at accommodation because I think that's quite important. Each accommodation would be different. Make sure that the accommodation has what you want. If you want to be very close to campus and meet a lot of people, it might be easier to live on campus. Or if you want a cheaper accommodation near the city, private housing might be the way to go. Really depends on your needs.”
"Twenty years in the Navy, I know what it's like to be a part of a community that treats you like family. I'm so glad we have found something similar for Luke here. I truly believe that his soccer skills will really develop and flourish with a team that feels like family to him."
"He says he has people there that he can turn to for help and that really care about his success. This makes me proud of him and so pleased that we chose UDA and UoG. He would not have gotten this level of personal care at a US university."
- Jennifer Jeans, Parent