|Tanner Dieterich, right, the son of Father Ryan High School soccer coach Robin Dieterich, left, played in the recent U17 World Cup tournament in Chile with the U.S. U17 national team. He has spent the last three years in the U.S. soccer residential program, living in Florida and training and playing with the U.S. national team. Photo by Andy Telli
When Tanner Dieterich walked onto the soccer field in Chile to play for the U17 U.S. Men’s National Team in the recent U17 World Cup tournament, his mother Kathy was in the stands watching her son play for his country for the first time in person.
“She lost it,” Tanner said.
“I kind of watered up a bit too,” said his father Robin Dieterich, the soccer coach at Father Ryan High School. “To see your son be invited to do that was a privilege only a select few get.”
Since August 2013, Tanner has been a part of U.S. Soccer’s residency program, living in Bradenton, Fla., while training and playing with the national team. The goal of the program is to develop elite players who can compete for the United States on the international stage.
In the last 2½ years, Tanner has had the opportunity to travel around the globe playing for the national team. “This one was special,” Tanner said of playing for a World Cup. “It’s an elite group of guys who can say they’ve been to a World Cup at any level.”
When he got the word he had been named to the World Cup roster, “You always get that feeling that this is unbelievable what I’m about to experience,” said Tanner.
“The parents are the same way,” added his father.
Tanner, who helped Father Ryan win a state championship as a freshman in 2013, was back home in Nashville recently spending time with his family after the U.S. team finished playing in the World Cup. He will graduate from high school early and will enroll for the spring semester at Clemson University where he will continue his soccer career.
Clemson is among the top ranked teams in the NCAA and a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the toughest collegiate conference in the country. Another factor that attracted Tanner to Clemson, he said, was the location. “I wanted to stay in the South.”
Though only 17, his road to the World Cup was a long one, which started with playing on elite travel teams. As an eighth grader at St. Henry School in Nashville, he was invited to participate in the Olympic Development Program. From there, he received his first invitation to train at one of the national team’s training centers.
He also traveled to Germany to try out for an academy team operated by one of the professional teams there. “It was kind of a quick glimpse of what it would take” to become a professional, Tanner said.
The goal of all the traveling was to get his son in front of the right people who could recommend him for the national team development program, Robin said.
He and his wife had concerns they might be pushing their son too hard, Robin admitted. “His mom and I didn’t want to burn him out. But instead, each time he went to (a camp or tryout), the fire burned brighter,” Robin said.
“It was more him pushing us,” he said.
When Tanner got the invitation to join the residency program, the Dieterichs had already seen their older son Tyler off to college. But that was different than having your 15-year-old son move out of the house, Robin said.
After they visited the residency program in Florida, Robin said, “you felt pretty good about where you’re leaving him off.”
In the residency program, Tanner and the other players train in the mornings and attend school classes in the afternoon. In the evening, it’s more classes and team meetings, he said.
“It’s a very professional environment,” Tanner said. “There are no days off.”
There are 28 players from around the country in the residency program. Players leave and new players arrive every semester, Tanner said. Some decide the program is not for them, he said.
There is pressure to perform. “You’re either fighting for a spot or fighting to keep your spot,” Tanner said.
There have been sacrifices. Not being in a traditional high school meant he’s never been to a homecoming or a prom, he said. But he looks at the bigger picture. “It’s a privilege and honor that I have to worry about making a World Cup roster. When you think about it, it’s not too bad.”
The players in the program make friendships that will last a lifetime and develop a family atmosphere, Tanner said.
As a member of the national team, he already has traveled extensively, playing in Bosnia, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Spain, France, Honduras, Chile, Panama and Mexico.
“I want to continue to travel,” Tanner said. “You learn intangible things from traveling, things that really stick with you.”
“To me he’s 17 but he’s mature beyond those years,” Robin said of his son. “He’s had to make decisions on his own, figure things out on his own. … A lot of that has to do with his traveling.”
He also credited the foundation he received from his education at St. Henry and one year at Father Ryan with helping him to mature. “I can see how that impacted him,” Robin said.
At the World Cup, the U.S. was eliminated in pool play, losing to defending World Cup champion Nigeria and the host Chile and tying Croatia. Tanner started the team’s final game in the tournament against Chile, playing in front of a crowd of 25,000 rabid fans of the home team.
The conditions playing overseas can be tough, Tanner said. While the gap in technical skills between players for the U.S. and the rest of the soccer-loving world is narrowing, the motivations and backgrounds of the players from some of the other nations can be different, he said. “They’re fighting for dinner for their families. They’re fighting for a way out of the life they’re living.”
Tanner hopes to play professionally. “That’s the ultimate goal for me,” he said. “Beyond that, coaching. It’s in the blood.”
He practically grew up on the Father Ryan campus, tagging along with his father for practices of both the girls and boys teams. “The year I was born I was in my dad’s arms (after) he won a state championship,” Tanner said. “I do miss it a lot.”