The U.S. Soccer Federation is launching the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, which promises to dramatically decrease the men's national team program's dependence on the Olympic Development Program to identify players. The Federation has started accepting applications from the nation's elite youth clubs to run academy teams for U-16 and U-18 boys to compete in the academy's regional leagues. Up to 80 clubs will be chosen by U.S. Soccer's national team coaches to run academy teams. Players in the academy program will not take part in ODP. To counter the "growing trend of clubs playing an excessive quantity of games in lieu of consistent training patterns," academy teams will not play in any other leagues, tournaments or State Cup competitions. Players will only be allowed to compete on their designated academy team (with exceptions for high school soccer and national team duty). The Federation says ODP, which is run by U.S. Youth Soccer and state associations, will continue "unimpeded" because the spots opened up academy players who won't take part will be filled by additional players.
The Federation released several documents pertaining to the new program that will provide opportunities for more than 2,000 players:
Academy Overview, On the Field Details, Academy Presentation, Membership Application for clubs.
"It's a concept that youth soccer in this country desperately needs and our goal is to truly shift the focus towards increasing player development," says U.S. U-17 boys national team coach John Hackworth, who heads the U-17 residency camp in Bradenton, Fla., that U.S. Soccer established in 1999. "I think it will create a day-to-day training environment that will allow players the opportunity to develop to the best of their ability. Right now we have only 40 players in that type of environment [in Bradenton, Fla.], but this Academy will allow us to put thousands of elite players in a similar environment, which will help us raise the entire level across the nation."
Development Academy regional leagues will comprise up to 15-20 teams and will play home and away matches against other Development Academy teams across a complete season.
Criteria for clubs selected to field Development Academy teams include a club's history of elite youth player development and past success in elite competitions.
Players will be charged a $1 fee and coaches will pay a $25 registration fee, but clubs are responsible for participation expenses such as travel, facility-use fees, coaching costs, equipment, apparel and other relevant costs.
Winners of each region will compete in annual finals at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
Included in the Academy structure:
* A minimum requirement of three training sessions and one rest day per week.
* Academy teams will play 30 to 38 games per year (8-month season).
* The U.S. U-16 national team will compete in the U-18 Academy League.
* Each player must start 30 percent of the time.