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Development Academy Changes Highlight Structural Challenges Of USA

Map of USSDA Teams via <a href=""></a>
Map of USSDA Teams via

Last week the USSF announced changes to the structure of the developmental academy system. The two primary changes were a shift to a nationwide 10-month season ( and a top-down forced choice between high school soccer and the Academies ( These changes are part of the national federation's continued quest for improvement and are extensions from the establishment of the Academy system and growing MLS HomeGrown Player rules (both

On Friday, as the changes were trickling out, Adrian Hanauer spoke of the shifts and the challenges facing the American soccer system:

I am a supporter of high school soccer. I think it's a good opportunity and development tool for kids. It's been a part of American culture for a long time. That said, the technical people at US Soccer have determined that the best way to develop young soccer players is through the Academies. I don't think anyone knows for sure what the right answer is.

Major League Soccer is still young and its use by the United States to develop talent is shifting. While it once was just a place for domestic players to play as adults, it is now becoming a training tool. Hanauer pointed out that being part of the system means that some ideas come from above for all to follow.

Yet still, in studying the dispersal of USSDA teams versus American metropolitan areas, it is clear that some things are done top-down, while other decisions are clearly left up to local groups that combine coaching and financing. Of the 51 metro areas with more than 1 million residents, 12 do not have a development academy within their limits. This counts Phoenix and Salt Lake as having a "half Academy" as the Real Salt Lake Academy is based outside of Phoenix. Its residency format means players don't need to grow up near Casa Grande, Arizona, to join, but the great youth players of both communities should be drawn to the RSL-AZ Academy.

Still, there are tens of millions of people (probably about 2.5 million potential male soccer players) that live amongst those million-plus resident markets that are not served by the Academy system at all. As Claudio Reyna points out in the TopDrawerSoccer story, high school will still have its place within the developmental system.

But, as Reyna points out, [the ten-month season for Development Academies] may only impact one percent of those playing boys high school soccer, and the decision was made with a majority of Development Academy clubs advocating it.

Cities like Pittsburgh, Orlando, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Nashville, Memphis and more will only be served through a combination of high school soccer and non-Academy select clubs. At the same time, relatively small markets like Richmond and Charlotte have two USSDA teams within their metro area.

It is likely that, while many potential and current Academy parents are debating the needs for the top down decrees about how long the Academy season is or the ability to play in high school, there are still massive parts of the country without an Academy. In fact, about 50% of the nation's populace isn't covered. This includes most of the American cities with professional soccer below the MLS level.

Jurgen Klinsmann points out in the quote sheet distributed by the USSF:

The Development Academy 10-month season is the right formula and provides a good balance between training time and playing competitive matches. This is the model that the best countries around the world use for their programs and I think it makes perfect sense that we do, as well.

United States Youth Technical Director Claudio Reyna adds:

The addition of as many as 50 extra training sessions per year will greatly enhance the ability of players to work on individual skills and receive advice and instruction from coaches. Along with the support of our membership, this move has been greeted with enthusiasm from soccer experts from around the world.

America is a nation struggling with many issues pitting local versus national rights. The change to a longer late-teen soccer season for the Academies is one of those. It is only relevant for about 50% of the populace and will only affect a small percentage of potential high school players. With less than 80 Academies and 45% of those in only 9 markets, there will continue to be a place for high school and college soccer.

There remains, despite the changes, plenty of space within American soccer for the scholastic-based system to remain a path to develop talents as it has done for the past two decades of relative soccer success.

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