Since its inception in 2007, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy (DA) had been a great success. Its success is manifested in the USMNT selection (10 DA players in a 32-man roster) along with recent success of the U-17 and U-20 USMNTs. Let us not forget the success of the U-17s and U-20s is confined to the region, and I wish them the best of luck in their World Cup endeavors (in India and South Korea, respectively). The USMNT has still a long way to go.
It is obvious that the DA’s are correct steps in the correct direction. If you look at the contents of the program
U.S. Soccer wants to use the DA’s to minimize the abrasive effect of the “pay-to-play” system. It has a scholarship system
to at least subsidize the travel costs of the needed families whose kids play in the DA teams.
U.S. Soccer also brought in Double Pass to audit the DAs. The “scans” -- as Double Pass calls them --
were first applied to MLS DAs but now is being applied to non-MLS DAs also. These scans produce recommendations for the DAs to follow for the betterment of their academies. But they are just
recommendations, no carrot, no stick from U.S. Soccer. Some MLS clubs through their DAs are trying
to circumvent the “pay-to-play” system. In an earlier January article, I have summarized some suggestions on how we can build the missing fifth pillar into our system.
If you look closely at the DA rules, U.S. Soccer is actually subsidizing this structure. In return, it asks for a dedication from
U.S. Soccer provides:
-- All Academy event fees;
-- Referee fees (U.S. Soccer assigns referees for all Academy games and subsidizes all associated costs, with the
exception of U-12 competitions);
-- Product sponsorship of Nike balls and Powerade stations;
-- Scholarships for need-based players.
(The Scholarship Program is supported by U.S.
Soccer to help Academy clubs and players move away from the pay-to-play model of soccer.)
There is no fee to join the DA, but just the registration fee for the players and coaches. This
is the first structure in our country in which players register directly with U.S. Soccer by passing the State Youth Associations.
U.S. Soccer has stringent rules for coaching and facilities. In order to abide with these rules, DAs might have to spend considerable amount
of time and money.
So far, everything looks good and promising. It is obvious that 73 DA teams are peanuts for a country which is the size of a continent. DAs have to be expanded in
numbers and in regions across the USA.
I visited Laredo last week. It is a border town of about 250,000. The town had a PDL club -- Laredo Heat -- which won a title in 2007 and played
two national finals (2006 and 2008). The city is full of talented Hispanic kids. The city -- although it has the resources -- for reasons beyond me does not build any grassroots soccer facilities. The
families cannot afford the “pay-to-play” system as applied in more affluent communities. Then I realized that there was not a single DA club south of Austin, including San Antonio. South
of Austin means mainly Hispanic communities who have soccer culture, but cannot afford “the-pay-to-play” system. Then I did a small research on which states have DAs:
Development Academies by state:
British Columbia 1
Washington, D.C. 1
North Carolina 4
New Hampshire 1
New Jersey 3
New York 4
If you look at
the table -- excluding the two Canadian DAs -- the DAs only cover 23 states and D.C. Even if you exclude Alaska and Hawaii, the DA system only covers half of the country. California, Texas and Florida
have a total of 26 DAs out of 71. It is obvious that except for MLS DAs, only clubs that have nourished through the “pay-to-play” system can take part in the DA system. With FIFA’s
training compensation not applicable in our country, all amateur youth clubs including non-MLS DAs have to rely on “pay-to-play” system to survive. We all know that "pay-to-play”
system will discriminate the less affluent sections of the society. We also know that soccer in the world is the sport of lower social echelons. Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona and Wayne
Rooney and others like them were not born to wealthy white-collar parents.
If U.S. Soccer wants to close the gap between USMNT and the leading MNTs and the gap between soccer and the
other four sports in the USA, it must expand the DA and find methods of embracing the needy talented kids.
U.S. Soccer can ask both NASL and USL to have DAs in the next three years. Some
of the USL teams are already affiliated with MLS. This will expand the geography of the DAs as well as create a better environment for the talented players since professional clubs should have
resources other than funds to cover player tuition. Does U.S. Soccer need to sanction a league that does not contribute to its main mission: “To develop players”? The owners just joining
will join in being aware of this requirement and the old owners should be given a time to adjust.
There could be two divisions in DAs. I am not talking about pro/rel type of division.
Division 2 might have less stringent rules, like quantity and quality of coaches, players etc. They can be promoted to D1 when they flourish to meet the stringent rules of D1. U.S. Soccer can
subsidize DAs in D2 who choose not ask for tuition from more than a percentage of their rosters. This subsidy might include partial payment of certified coaches, sharing the travel costs etc. Well, is
there a better way for U.S. Soccer to spend the $100 million surplus than for player development?
DAs will expand the DA concept geographically as well as embracing the needy talented kids. UEFA had been supporting and subsidizing smaller nations of the continent so the level of soccer in
those countries can be elevated, hence the overall quality of the European soccer.
You might find this idea too “socialistic” in a capitalist country. Unfortunately, in order
to catch up with other sports and nations, we might not have too many options. After all, U.S. Soccer is the governing body of soccer for all 50 states and all of the people of this country.
Ahmet Guvener (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of the Turkish FA. He was also
the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin,