Youth Soccer Letter: New National Championship on Horizon

With a new name and innovative ideas, a national coalition of soccer clubs stands poised to alter the youth soccer landscape.

In September, the National Association of Competitive Soccer Clubs changed its name to US Club Soccer. Now the organization turns its focus to 2002. In the works are new programs, team rates, membership criteria - and a nearly finalized national championship.

"US Club Soccer summarizes who and what we are," says William Sage, executive director and CEO. "It clearly and precisely describes our mission, which is to help develop club soccer in the United States. We want to help clubs grow, particularly in regards to a comprehensive program for player development."

(Since its inception in 1999, the organization's Web site has been: www.usclubsoccer.com)

According to founder and chairman Derek Armstrong, the longtime coaching director of the La Jolla Nomads, club soccer needs a voice for administration and policy decisions. Last summer, US Club Soccer took an important step toward becoming that voice, when it was unanimously granted affiliate status by the US Soccer Federation.

With more than 170 clubs in 36 states, US Club Soccer is now the national representative for elite youth teams.

As an affiliate, US Club Soccer will assess each youth player a $1 registration fee. Sage said that in the coming year, most clubs will register their players with both US Club Soccer and U.S. Youth Soccer. That is because many clubs will continue to participate in the Snickers U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships.

"It's a good program that serves a good purpose," says Sage, who formerly served as U.S. Soccer's chief administrative officer.

However, US Club Soccer is forging ahead with plans to create its own national tournament. The time frame, age group and sponsorship partners have not yet been announced, but Sage promised that the program will not replicate the Snickers event. There may be variations in age groups and different rules, and it may or may not be run during the summer months.

"US Club Soccer was born of a sense from many club programs that the 55 state soccer associations have different constituencies," Sage says. "Their main interest is recreational soccer, which hampers their ability to develop players and move forward."

State association rules in areas such as age-group and roster restrictions, geographic boundaries and travel permission are, Sage says, "sometimes difficult, and often very specific. As a result, we in America have fallen into the trap of governing soccer, rather than developing it."

US Club Soccer addresses issues of importance to competitive - not rec-oriented - clubs. Sage recognizes, however, that not all elite clubs are organizationally advanced. For every Colorado Rush, with fully integrated programs and paid staffs, there are smaller elite clubs fielding only two or three teams. US Club Soccer plans to provide services and advice, in areas such as business plans, sponsorships and administration, to help those smaller clubs develop.

Next year, US Club Soccer hopes to begin identifying top players outside the Olympic Development Program system and sanctioning local league programs.

US Club Soccer also takes a long-range perspective.

"This is not about being just one more soccer organization," Sage says. "The idea is to provide a comprehensive program that will help competitive soccer clubs develop themselves, and in the process develop talent for our professional leagues and national teams. We can't really replicate the way other countries develop soccer players. So it's vital that youth clubs, professional leagues and the Federation work together on player programs and the overall development of the sport, in a business-like and comprehensive model." n

by Youth Soccer Letter Editor Dan Woog

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