Viral Instagram Soccer Account Highlights Disconnect Between Youth, U.S. Soccer

Danny Gildea set a goal. He had seen others have success with soccer training videos online and didn’t see any reason why he couldn’t do just as well, if not better. So he set a target of 30-40,000 followers and created @gps_soccerassassins on Instagram.

He now has more than 450,000 followers and has worked with some of the biggest soccer companies in the world, including Adidas. For comparison, USMNT captain Michael Bradley has 97.5K followers on Instagram, Jozy Altidore 207K and Landon Donovan 165K. 

Gildea’s meteoric rise on social media (he also has more than 200K followers on Facebook) highlights a disconnect between what young soccer players want from soccer training and what their coaches are preaching in practice. And it’s a disconnect Gildea said U.S. Soccer would do well to amend if it wants to return to the World Cup anytime soon.

Gildea launched @gps_soccerassassins in the summer of 2015. He wanted a fun way to encourage the players he was coaching to keep training during the winter and was inspired by other popular Instagram pages like @beastmodesoccer

But Gildea knew he had a unique training regimen that could catch eyes on social media, something to set him apart from all the rest. What he does with @gps_soccerassassins is focus on the training of the individual — creating players who excel outside of the win-at-all-costs club system that has infected much of U.S. youth soccer. 

“I’m in a position now where I can help influence the culture of the game in the U.S. a little bit and what players do outside the team training,” Gildea said.

Team Game

Soccer is a team game, there’s no argument there from Gildea. He knows this through years of experience as a player and coach. The 34-year-old was born in Scarborough, England, where he grew up playing the game with his father and four brothers, most of whom also played professionally. Gildea played fulltime for years before transitioning into coaching at an early age before coming to the United States to coach.

But Gildea takes a different approach than most coaches — both in the U.S. and England. While training youngsters who can succeed on a pitch with 10 other players is vital, in Gildea’s mind, there isn’t enough focus on creating players who can thrive individually. 

“For me, a lot of the club training that happens, there’s too many clubs that focus on team components, there’s not enough player-centric cultures in my mind,” Gildea said. “Even when I coached teams, I’m player orientated. 

“Of course we want to win games and of course that’s a part of it and the kids understand it’s a team game. But I think there’s a big need for a more play-centric cultures that are trying to actually develop individuals instead of trying to win.”

And this is where U.S. Soccer could learn a thing or two from Gildea. While winning games is important to recruit new players to a club, in Gildea’s mind developing individuals should be the top priority. 

“For me we’re not producing near enough individual, technically advanced players,” said Gildea, who also works with youth U.S. national team players. 

And youth players want this too, as evidenced by @gps_soccerassassins’ massive following. More than most social media, Instagram is dominated by a younger audience, one that has devoured Gildea’s online offerings. 

The reason is simple: the posts are entertaining, but they also focus on developing the type of skills not often taught in a traditional club setting. 

Soccer Assassins

There are soccer training videos and then there are @gps_soccerassassins videos.

Soccer Training Videos

One of many @gps_soccerassassins soccer training videos. Photo: @gps_soccerassassins | Instagram

Danny Gildea has developed a reputation for creating short, engaging clips of players doing his drills. At first, it was just Gildea doing his own drills and tricks. As he gained popularity, he’s trained (and filmed) youth stars, college players and professionals

The typical @gps_soccerassassins video will have a player with a ball dribbling, shooting and occasionally passing. He utilizes common soccer training items like cones, poles, ladders and goals while adding less traditional items like tennis balls and Sklz goal blockers and multi-use rebounders. Occasionally there will be some training done in public, like around a pool or at a mall, but most are done on the pitch.

The focus of all of these soccer training videos is ball control, with speed, shooting and passing also playing a role. (Gildea also trains for defense, but doesn’t typically film those because they aren’t as exciting.)

“Rehearsing stuff in the final third for my attacking players, they find a lot more confidence come game day,” Gildea said. “Everything we do has some benefit to them playing with their teams, even if not everyone can see it.” 


The success of @gps_soccerassassins has created innumerable opportunities for Gildea. Working with companies like Adidas and Sklz has raised his profile from British soccer coach in America to a social media influencer who is invited to all kinds of events and has visited more than 35 states in the U.S. Gildea no longer coaches teams anymore, instead focusing on training small groups and individuals, but he isn’t closing the door on returning to coaching a team. 

Many of his posts have eclipsed one million views, with the highest reaching five million. But Gildea’s favorite video was one he did with New England Revolution midfielder Lee Nguyen, who has nine caps with the USMNT (and honestly should probably have more).

“To link up with him and do some training with Lee was fantastic for me,” Gildea said. 

Sometimes, the shoot doesn’t go as planned. In one of his more unique videos, Gildea ran around doing tricks at a bowling alley/arcade. Though it doesn’t appear that way in the clip, there were a lot of people in the building he had to maneuver around. 

He expected to get kicked out at some point but never was. But Gildea did get kicked out of Gillette Stadium, home of the Revs and New England Patriots. 

“I never try to interrupt anyone, hurt anyone,” Gildea said. “I don’t involve random people in videos. I’m just trying to get different look on it on the videos. It keeps them fresh and keeps the audience engaged.”

Gildea said he does about 95 percent of the filming and all of the editing himself. He’s got a system down where it doesn’t take him long to get a post completed, which is good because his rising popularity means he’s inundated with messages from all his social media outlets. While he occasionally adds a few things to training specifically for a video, most of his clips come straight from a normal training session.

And that’s partly why @gps_soccerassassins has become so popular. It’s training, but it’s fun, entertaining and it focuses on the individual. The U.S. has plenty of strong, fast and athletic soccer players, but skilled technicians are few and far between. For every Clint Dempsey, there are a thousand Chris Wondolowskis; for every Christian Pulisic, a thousand more Graham Zusis. Wondos and Zusis make for great teammates, but to really excel at the highest level, teams need individuals who can thrive on the ball with creativity and technique. 

“Some of the stuff that’s in video can be there for entertainment a little bit, but everything we do has a premise and a reason to do it and I feel I can back up those reasons,” Gildea said. “Obviously it’s an individualized program, so it has some flaws in some people’s eyes because they’ll always believe opposed practice is the only way to practice. My belief is you can do individual unopposed practice to really enhance and develop your game on the next level.”

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