U.S. Development Academy — The Future?

In two weeks, viewers in the United States with access to ESPN2 and ESPNU will be able to tune in and watch the future of American soccer. Almost a year after its founding, the US Soccer Development Academy — consisting of 64 teams from across the country — will showcase its best eight teams at U-18 and U-16 levels in front of the television cameras for its inaugural national finals. The importance of the academy to US Soccer can be seen in the fact they’ve paid a considerable amount for the privilege of having ESPN televise these games, including the final on ESPN2.

Chicago Fire Academy vs. Chicago Magic, Toyota Park

The national Academy system was put into place to begin to address the lack of structure and over-focus on matches by clubs around the country. All the clubs in the Academy must now train at least three times a week, reducing the match-heavy focus that had dominated before, with a greater focus on player development rather than results. Teams play between 30-38 games in Academy Conference Matches — there are eight geographically divided conferences — as well as the Academy Showcases and the Academy Finals.

And the structured conference system means more meaningful competition when it happens, such as at this weekend’s Showcase in North Carolina (check out the top 15 goals on USSoccer.com’s Studio 90 for a glimpse of the quality on display), with the quality of competition consistently higher.

The importance of this also stretches to player scouting, as it gives those such as John Hackworth, Technical Director of the Academy Developmental program, a chance to see a far wider net of players than ever before, as he recently told Football 365:

We have seen some immediate results, because our scouts are now able to identify a lot more players capable of becoming part of the national team pools. Long term it will change player the quality of the player developing through all levels of American soccer. They will be better coached, more integrated with the various representative levels, and have a better understanding of the game. Over time this will benefit our senior team.

Chad McCarty, U-17/18 Cal Odyssey coach, concurred as he reviewed the performances at the showcase:

“For our club, we’ve seen a dramatic change in the whole climate, really, because the focus is on developing the players rather than just game in and game out going after the results. I think our players – especially for our club – they’re getting better every day. This environment is the reason why. I think if U.S. Soccer hadn’t gotten involved, if they didn’t lay out the framework and the model, then I think we wouldn’t have progressed.”

MLS Participation

A further key consequence of the national academy system seems to be that it has spurred MLS teams to further develop their own academies, a move also prompted by the new ruling that allows MLS teams to sign directly two players from their own academy each year (we looked earlier this year at the MLS academies in depth).

Chicago Fire Academy playert

The MLS teams fortunes were mixed in 2008, as each tried to finish top of their conference and qualify for the Finals in LA.

  • Colorado Rapids finished 5th at the U-18 level, and last at U-16 level in the West conference
  • Columbus Crew finished 1st at the U-18 level, and 4th at the U-16 level in the Great Lakes conference
  • Chicago Fire finished 1st at the U-18 level, and 4th at the U-16 level in the Mid-America conference
  • DC United finished 3rd at the U-18 level, and 2nd at the U-16 level in the Mid-Atlantic conference
  • New York Red Bulls finished 2nd at the U-18 level, and 3rd at the U-16 level in the Mid-Atlantic conference
  • Chivas USA finished 4th at the U-18 level, and 5th at the U-16 level in the So Cal conference

Therefore, the Crew and Chicago Fire U-18s will be the only MLS representatives amongst the 16 clubs at the Finals. Whilst most the MLS teams did perform respectably, it’s still disappointing that only half the league actually has Academy teams, and that of those, only two won their divisions, even if results are not everything at this level.

The Future

Next season, though, the Academy will expand to 74 teams, including the additions of FC Dallas, the Los Angeles Galaxy and the New England Revolution. The failure of the Houston Dynamo, Kansas City, Real Salt Lake and San Jose to join the program can only be put down to cheapness and a failure to understand the bigger picture (Toronto FC have an Academy that participates within the Canadian youth system, though not without some controversy).

Of greatest value are those MLS Academies offered for free. That removes from youth development in soccer one of its biggest obstacles: the high fees that assure it remains an elite, suburban activity failing to tap into less privileged demographics — playing for a traditional travelling club can run into thousands of dollars a year.

MLS fans are also starting to realise the value of these academies: not only will they provide streams of talent directly to their first teams, but they will bring in local players long schooled in the value of playing for the badge of a Chicago or DC United. Section 8 Chicago have closely followed their academy teams in person and on their website Backdraft (to which I am a contributer), from interviews with the coach to match reports. Toronto’s fans have also gotten out to cheer their boys, and hopefully those in other cities are doing so as well.

And this is actually football worth watching. Even though it’s in its nascent stages, the football I’ve seen played in the Mid-America division — particularly by the Fire and the US Youth National Team — has been technically impressive and showcased many players with MLS and USMNT potential.

There remains much to do. The development of the Academy system has stirred feathers with local travel soccer clubs, who fear losing the best talent, and high schools, who often can’t call on their players during development season. But these feathers will have to be ruffled for the overall benefit of American soccer and MLS youth programs. Tune in to ESPN later this month to get a glimpse yourself.

24 thoughts on “U.S. Development Academy — The Future?

  1. Micah

    This is great news. I had no clue Academy games could be viewed on television (ESPN2 of all places!) or that these finals were taking place. Thanks for the heads up. If I’m home I’ll be watching these games for sure.

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  3. papa bear

    can’t wait to see the finals on ESPN (an important event on ESPN? What?!?!?! And it’s actually sports not competitive eating?!?!?)

    Stephan Brossard looked very impressive. He has great footskills and a very deft touch on his shot. Not all “hard as I can possibly hit it” all the time as is the failing of many people (including professionals). (William Cason II looks like he has a good nose for poaching a goal too; a skill that is far too often ignored with our current senior level forwards)

    Oh and if it pisses High Schools off then it must be worthwhile since they are worthless. Most kids who used to play club soccer before the academy system never even bothered playing in high school. If high schools in MLS towns were smart they’d work some kind of deal with MLS teams to expand as a feeder system to the ‘proper’ development team.

    Either way, there were some very classy looking players over the course of this past year.

  4. FUTBOLR

    I THINK THE ACADEMY IS A GREAT ADDITION TO AMERICAN SOCCER BUT THIS HAS TO START FROM AGE 12 TO REALLY MAKE AN IMPACT ON DEVELOPING YOUNG PLAYERS. UNTIL THAT HAPPENS WE ARE STILL AT AN DISADVANTAGE WHEN COMPARED TO THE EUROPEAN PROGRAMS & PLAYERS.
    http://WWW.FUTBOLR.COM

  5. soccer fan

    the problem with US soccer is that they invest so much in Under 18 teams. Kids start as low as 7 year old maybe even younger but as soon as a players become 18 years old and go to college, the colleges they get lost. Colleges don’t care as much about soccer as they do for American football, basketball, or baseball. So all these talents get wasted.”

    For American soccer to grow, colleges need to invest more into their soccer programs.

    Soccer Fan

  6. Steve

    I was fortunate enough to visit the Chivas USA youth academy and observe for a week in May.Despite some of the obstacles they face, they really do have the right ideas about how the game should be coached at this level, with an emphasis on performance over outcome, even in such a competitive league.

    If other MLS clubs follow the Chivas USA model, encouraging players to play rather than just try to “win”, then the future of youth soccer is bright.

  7. Tom Dunmore Post author

    Steve, I think that’s the key point, and from what I’ve seen of other MLS academies, that is their focus — unlike the trophy hunting clubs, who need glory to justify their high fees to parents. MLS academies should not have that same pressure.

  8. Jim

    I will argue that the pay for play issue, vs. play based on performance & the source of funding will continue to hinder the games domestic development. Granted, some MLS clubs are getting more involved in this, however, how many USL 1 & 2 clubs are engaged (not merely loaning their name out in a pay for play format)?

  9. Patrick

    The Crew’s Academy is associated with Brad Friedal’s academy in Cleveland and that is a great facility in it’s own right, also players I think 14 and up pay nothing.

  10. CHAOSLTD

    I love futbol more than any other sport, I played from jr. high thru college and then in the city leagues. There are to many other sports in america that get all the attention. To play futbol you must start at the youngest possible age and if they do not have the passion for the game let them play something else. They have schools and academys in europe for small kids. Futbol is a passion like no other sport, I just wish I had started at a younger age. We have separate the kids that want to play for fun from the kids that want to really learn the game. Futbol is not a game it is a way of LIFE!!!!!

  11. Nick

    To those that continue to state that we need to start younger and younger, you’re on the right track. I coach for a club team (one with low fees by the way) in a semi-rural Illinois town. I was asked by the club to go scout the rec league for players that might be able to make it in the more competitive club environment.

    Watching mainly u-10 and u-12 games, I was sickened, literally. (Note: The following is not meant as a deroggatory rant against the people coaching these teams themselves, moms and dads who volunteer their precious time.) The coaching at these key ages, and younger was, for lack of better terms, horrible. Coaches would applaud when kids would simply ‘hoof’ the ball half way down the field to no one in particular. They would yell and scream when the kids did something that didn’t look to them like it was good soccer (another note: I’ve seen club coaches do the same.), but as anyone with two eyes and some limited soccer knowledge could see the coach had never taught these kids anything. The biggest problem is that these coaches who are teaching the youngest and most eager to learn pupils know next to nothing about the game. Some take it upon themselves to learn, get licensed, etc. But most are simply doing it to donate some of their free time and give their kids an outlet for all of their ADD energy.

    Personally I think that US Soccer should not only plow money into this development program, but also ensure that every rec-league coach has passed the Youth Module and/or ‘E’ License courses, even if they have to do it pro-bono. Part of these courses should also teach how to properly shoot, pass, chip, head, etc. So that we can teach kids who haven’t figured it out. These coaching philosophy changes, along with the Development Academy will go a long way towards curing what ails US Soccer at the highest level.

  12. Coach Mark

    The chance to watch this level of soccer on TV is tremendous for my team’s education/entertainment.

    Thanks for the heads up. I’ll have to plan a soccer party around it!

  13. crash

    We have begun the inaugural U-14 developmental academy league in region I that USSF has asked US Club to sanction and administer until next year. It is amazing how regional and national pool players are coming out of the woodwork to try-out. Foregoing USYSA regional and national premiere leagues with the understanding that this is best training option available. Unlike the ODP route which gives one or two ID camps to matriculate, each friendly or match in the developmental league gives the coaches the power to nominate 1-2 players for regional or national pools. The training is planned, extensive, and audited to ensure maximum development. Very few non-academy clubs will meet such a criteria.

    Regarding American soccer in general, cost containment is going to make or break a lot of these ventures. A great athlete can be persuaded to consider soccer over American football, but once the realization that a kid can get scholarships to high school let alone college to play football at a fraction of the developmental cost that soccer incurs…the parents, not the kids, will be making the choice. Even traveling basketball and baseball leagues are proving more affordable due to heavier sponsorship/ subsidies. The irony is that rec soccer is one of the least expensive sports to support, whereas, club soccer goes high and right very quickly.

  14. RAJI KEHINDE ADEDEJI

    Hello, am i opportuned to come over to display as a young and talented footbaler that everybody has been willing to see? any way if u have any offer for feeder’s team under 16 pls send an invitation letter to me so that i would be able to get in touch with you as soon as possible……
    KEHINDE……….

  15. Accident attorney Boston

    It is really quite unfortunate that Americans do not take their soccer seriously. This was made apparent to me a few weeks ago when the US Mens team took on Sweden in an International Friendly match, and the game was NOT even broadcast on television.

  16. Jimmy Doukakis

    Yeah, Americans genereally do not like soccer because there’s hardly any time to do advertising on American television and cable stations. As a result, nobody wants to broadcast this fine sport so nobody ever takes it serious therefore. It’s a shame really.

  17. Albert Amartey

    Dear Sir/Madam
    Am Very Glad To Write You.Well Am Albert Amartey and am 18 .Am a Footballer here in Ghana,I Play for Millinuim Professional Club here at Weija-Acc state and am known as the under 17 Captain and same as the General Captain too..I play mid-field and my position to that is 6,8,and 10 .Am a well Talented player and football is my Cereer.I have made all my minds to play for one of the best Terms Outside Africa…I Love Training alot and that’s what i do for Fun…So i will like to be one of your best Player coming in this season..I just need an asistance to get me Outside and show my Skills and Talents in Football and i hope you are the best for me…I hope to hear from you soon…

    Albert

  18. oluwanishola odunayo jimoh

    hi sir my name is oluwanishola odunayo jimoh.i am a nigerian ,i play football as my career,i am 14 years old I PLAY FROM 2,6,7 .sir i will like to join ur feeders team ,pls sir my help me by sending me invitation letter.this are my details..my home address is .7,ADELEKE ADEGBOYEGA STREET BARIGA LAGOS STATE NIGERIA..ZICODE…23401..PHONE NUMBER IS ..+2348066279635..I WILL BE EXPECTING.THANK U SIR…………I WILL LOVE TO HERE FROM ..CHICAGO FIRE ACADEMY,COLUMBUS CREW ACADEMY,DC UNITED ACADEMY,TORONTO FC ACADEMY.NEW YORK RED BULLS ACADEMY.PLS I WILL LOVE TO HEAR FROM THIS CLUBS
    .PLS SEND ME INVITATION LETTER SO DAT I CAN JOIN UR CLUB

  19. oluwanishola odunayo jimoh

    DEAR SIR
    my name is oluwanishola odunayo jimoh.i am a nigerian ,i play football as my career,i am 14 years old.sir i will like to join ur feeders team ,pls sir my help me by sending me invitation letter.this are my details..my home address is .7,ADELEKE ADEGBOYEGA STREET BARIGA LAGOS STATE NIGERIA..ZICODE…23401..PHONE NUMBER IS ..+2348066279635..I WILL BE EXPECTING.THANK U SIR…………I WILL LOVE TO HERE FROM ..CHICAGO FIRE ACADEMY,COLUMBUS CREW ACADEMY,DC UNITED ACADEMY,TORONTO FC ACADEMY.NEW YORK RED BULLS ACADEMY.PLS I WILL LOVE TO HEAR FROM THIS CLUBS

  20. oluwanishola odunayo jimoh

    hi sir my name is oluwanishola odunayo jimoh.i am a nigerian ,i play football as my career,i am 14 years old.sir i will like to join ur feeders team ,pls sir my help me by sending me invitation letter.this are my details..my home address is .7,ADELEKE ADEGBOYEGA STREET BARIGA LAGOS STATE NIGERIA..ZICODE…23401..PHONE NUMBER IS ..+2348066279635..I WILL BE EXPECTING.THANK U SIR…………I WILL LOVE TO HERE FROM ..CHICAGO FIRE ACADEMY,COLUMBUS CREW ACADEMY,DC UNITED ACADEMY,TORONTO FC ACADEMY.NEW YORK RED BULLS ACADEMY.PLS I WILL LOVE TO HEAR FROM THIS CLUBS

  21. New York

    Very well interesting and written Concern raised. I believe that today there has been much more progress done in New York compared to before. Still it’s not as popular as one will like it to be. We need to have more and more media involvement as well as individual participation. it’s a great game and needs to be put out there for people to realize. Thank you

  22. strange facts

    was fortunate enough to visit the Chivas USA youth academy and observe for a week in May.Despite some of the obstacles they face, they really do have the right ideas about how the game should be coached at this level, with an emphasis on performance over outcome, even in such a competitive league.