Well, actually, the Development Academies (DA) saga does not end here, but my story ends. I had been writing about the DAs for the past couple of weeks so this will be my conclusive article.
We had earlier talked about the fact that Bruce Arena’s long list of 32 USMNT candidates include 10 DA products. This show that the DAs are serving their purpose since 2007
as far as U.S. Soccer is concerned. Recently, U.S. Soccer published a
roster of 64 players born in 2002 and 2003 for U.S. Soccer’s first Boys National Team Futures Camp of 2017 at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Carson, California. This is an
interesting list to analyze with the DAs in mind.
Futures Camp 2002:
17 MLS Development Academy
3 Pre-Development Academy
1 USL/NASL Development Academy
Futures Camp 2003:
15 MLS Development
9 Development Academy
5 Pre-Development Academy
If you look at the list of players born in 2002, all of them are from DAs across the country:
Out of 32 players, 17 of them are from MLS DAs. The others are from various DAs including three PDAs (PDA is Pre Development Academy; please refer to my last article why they should be called PDAs and not DAs).
For the younger generation -- born in 2003 -- 15 of them are from MLS DAs, nine from DAs, five from PDAs and three from others. Yes! There are players selected to the roster from non DA youth
development clubs. What is more exciting is that two of those players are from states (New Mexico and Wisconsin) that the DA system did not proliferate yet.
Also the roster of 64 covers
16 states headed by California (5), North Carolina (4), Colorado (3) and Virginia (3) and covering all four time zones. The numbers are very promising. They show that
a) U.S. Soccer
scouting process is not limited to the DAs;
b) They do look around the country; and
c) The PDAs function well.
That is the current scene. The DA system is a correct step in
the correct direction, but needs some serious tune-ups to achieve its goals
Let us look at the rationale for forming the DA system. We see two clear reasons:
a) To develop
players across the USA like the rest of the world and improve our USMNTs performances; and
b) To circumvent the pay-to-play system in one way or the other.
First of all, the DA
leagues are the only leagues that are run by U.S. Soccer in a chaotic youth world comprising of state youth associations, U.S. Club Soccer, AYSO etc. Compared to other countries where every league is
either run by the FA or the regional association, the U.S. youth soccer league system is different.
On top of that, pay-to-play system is a reality in this country we have to learn to
live with. The great majority of the non MLS DAs are pay-to-play system clubs whose targets are profits rather than developing soccer players to the best of their abilities. What is ironic is that
those clubs are non-profit organizations.
As long as U.S. Soccer cannot -- or shall I say will not -- find a solution to the training compensation problem, the youth clubs feel that they
are restricted to the pay-to-play model to survive.
The status of DA is the greatest title that the U.S. Soccer can crown the youth clubs with. Hence it is a carrot. Most of the current
DAs use this title to lure new players into their pay-to-play system clubs. Where there is a carrot there must be a stick.
So here are my suggestions to U.S. Soccer for improving the DA
system and hence meetings its goals. All or some of these could be spread over time.
I. U.S. Soccer should make it mandatory for all professional clubs (MLS, NASL, USL or future D3) to
have a DA. As the governing body of soccer in this country it has the right and the obligation to do it.
II. All DA players should play tuition free. Especially non-MLS DAs might find
this unacceptable, but if it is spread over time -- with increasing percentage of tuition free players in each age category -- then these clubs will find alternate methods of funding the DA teams over
time. This way the coaches will concentrate on the development of the players rather than satisfying the customer -- the parents.
III. There should be different categories of DAs. I
mentioned those in my earlier articles. For the DAs that only have U-12, U-13 and U-14 teams, the Pre-Development Academy (PDA) title is more appropriate. Once they have all the age groups then they
can be called DA. Also there should be different categories of DAs. DA1, DA2 and PDA1, PDA2 etc. The requirements and the corresponding subsidization (carrots) of the club by the U.S. Soccer should be
A special DA category should be set aside with lower standards -- like facilities, coaching certifications -- for a regional league where the communities are less affluent but
are ethnically diverse.
Moving from one division to the other should depend on meeting the criteria set forward by that division. Since U.S. Soccer chose the European way of player
development by contracting Double Pass (DP), the “scan” reports of DP should not be just recommendations, but should decide the eventual divisional status of the DAs. In a way, the scan
reports will be used for promotion/relegation between divisions.
U.S. Soccer should reward DAs whose players are selected to different age group USMNTs. There are different ways of
rewarding the club, not necessarily a monetary reward. U.S. Soccer can cover some of the expenses of the club, like offering a number of gratis coaching courses to the coaching staff. This will
be the carrot for non-MLS clubs to develop players and in a way substitute training compensation.
None of those require the knowledge of rocket science. They are common sense
recommendations. Yes, it does put a greater burden on U.S. Soccer, but that is their reason of existence.
Ahmet Guvener (email@example.com) 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, Texas.