U.S. Academy 'closing the gap'; MLS teen debut; Why no keepers at U-8 level

By Mike Woitalla

As the U.S. Soccer Development Academy entered its fifth season this month, nearly a third of its 78 clubs moved to a 10-month season, no longer taking a three-month break during which players would commonly play high-school ball, or in the case of Southern California, in the Coast Soccer League.

Clubs in three of the 10 Academy divisions -- Southern California, Northwest and Texas -- will play a 10-month season. That might not make high school coaches happy, but Federation leaders hail the move.

“Around the world, kids at the U-15/16 and U-17/18 age level play for 10 months and they train more than our kids, so this helps us close that gap,” said Claudio Reyna, U.S. Soccer’s Youth Technical Director.

Said Texans SC Houston Director of Coaching Scott James, “Here in Texas we have been playing from September through December, taking three and a half months away from each other and then we have to cram nine to 12 games into a two-month span. We didn’t have to be sold on moving to single-game weekends or having more training sessions. It was a no brainer for us to move in that direction.”

Tony Lepore, the Academy's Director of Scouting, said by fall 2012, all the clubs will be on a 10-month schedule.

“We’ve added at least two months of high-level training and meaningful games into their schedule where otherwise they were doing something else, in most cases high school,” said Lepore. “It’s just more continuity and, again, more time spent training.

“These clubs will have fewer double fixture weekends, more single fixture weekends, so in turn they’ll be able to have a more consistent schedule with a more productive rhythm between training and matches which will help narrow their focus.”

… The U.S. Soccer Academy kicked off in October of 2007 with 64 clubs. There are now 78 -- including 15 MLS clubs -- each with a U-15/16 and U-17/18 team for a total of 156 teams. Check out the Academy map HERE. …

… Georgia United and Vancouver Whitecaps are this year’s Academy newcomers. Cosmos Academy West has merged with Chivas USA. …

2007-08 Carmel United (Ind.)*
2008-09 Derby County Wolves (Mich.)
2009-10 Chicago Fire
2010-11 Los Angeles Galaxy
* Changed to name to Indiana United Academy following year.

2007-08 Baltimore Bays*
2008-09 Indiana United Academy
2009-10 Vardar (Mich.)
2010-11 Pateadores (Calif.)
* Now called Baltimore Bays Chelsea.

* * * *

TEEN DEBUT. Zach Pfeffer, who turned 16 in January, made his MLS debut last weekend, starting and playing 63 minutes for the Philadelphia Union in a 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew. The midfielder was signed as the Union’s first “homegrown” player at age 15. He also played youth ball for FC Delco Academy's U.S. Academy U-15/U-16 team, as well as for the Upper Dublin, Cheltenham, YMS and Montgomery United youth clubs. He spent the spring semester of 2010 at the U.S. U-17 Residency in Bradenton, Fla.

Union and Fox Soccer commentator JP Dellacamera observed, “Young Zach did well in his 61 minutes of work. If he was nervous out there on the field, he sure didn’t let us know. He seemed composed on the ball and confident while playing on a field with some players more than double his age. No doubt that playing in Reserve League games, plus international friendlies, has helped Pfeffer make good progress."

* * * *

QUAKES EXTEND YOUTH REACH. The San Jose Earthquakes have linked up with the Evergreen United Education Foundation (EUEF) to develop soccer and education programs for local youth in East San Jose. The partnership will mix soccer with academic tutoring for pool of 13,500 children involved in after-school programs. The club, San Jose Earthquakes EU, will feature U-9 to U-12 teams in AYSO and NorCal Premier and will be run by former Quakes assistant coach Jorge Espinoza.

All participants in the soccer program and tutoring program will receive tickets to attend Earthquakes home games with their families. The program participants will be bused to the games and then bused back to school sites following the games.

* * * *

FURTHER READING. ... On his blog, Dr. Dev Mishra addresses the question of whether there are more injuries from playing on artificial turf than natural grass. “I don’t think there’s any better playing surface than a well-maintained grass field, but I’d prefer one of the newer varieties of turf fields over a poorly maintained grass field any day,” Mishra writes. Moreover, the type of shoes worn can have an impact on injury rates. Read the article HERE. ...

... Ryan McCormack, at, offers "A Treatise: The State of American Youth Soccer," which looks at the Top 6 issues Jurgen Klinsmann needs to address with U.S. youth soccer. Among his conclusions: "To create a soccer culture here, practices need to be less about drills, winning, and X’s and O’s, especially at the younger ages. The game itself is the greatest teacher, and kids should be encouraged in practice to take risks and try new things. They’re more likely to get more touches on the ball away from practice if they are having fun at competitive practices.". Read the article HERE.

... There are some good reasons why games should be played without goalkeepers until the U-10 level and they're addressed by AYSO's National Coach Instructor John Ouellette and Sam Snow, U.S. Youth Soccer's Coaching Director. Both AYSO and USYS discourage the use of keepers at the U-8 level and below. Snow writes, "The U-8 age group is still in an egocentric phase of psychological development, which tells us that we should allow these children to run and chase the ball, to be in the game –- not waiting at the end of the field for the game to come to them. It is more important at this age that they chase the game. Children this age want to play with the toy (the ball) and they need to go to where the toy is to be fully engaged." Read Snow's article HERE. …

Ouellette reiterates that point and also notes that, "In their early experiences with soccer, we want young players to shoot on goal as much as possible because striking the ball is such an important skill for players to master. Young kids are more likely to shoot often when there's no goalkeeper." Read Ouellette's article HERE.

12 comments about "U.S. Academy 'closing the gap'; MLS teen debut; Why no keepers at U-8 level ".
  1. Luis Arreola, September 22, 2011 at 9:40 a.m.

    Is playing 10 months under a structured to win over player creativity really going to help make better players. The true soccer players are not really taking those 3-4 months off away from soccer. They are playing anywhere they can, in Hispanic leagues and for unstructured teams that are just happy to have enough players to just play which gives them a free to improvise, stress free environment. What needs to change is the overall academy structure. Let them make the money off their players contracts at any age. Make them pay for transfer fees when they recruit players to other clubs. That will change everything for the good.

  2. Luis Arreola, September 22, 2011 at 9:49 a.m.

    I have been saying that about U8 goalies sin e I started coaching 5 years ago. I have them play as a last defender outside the box and use their hands only when they have to. Some parents hate it. The kids love it especially because I let the goalie take on a player or 2 before passing it and sometimes going to goal. Besides, what I tell parents that for some reason are passionate about their kids becoming goalies that they have to become athletes anyways to become great goalies along with knowing first hand how a forward will attack or a mid feedvinto the box along with how defenders should close out or support. They will only achieve all of this playing in the field. Worst case scenario for our club when the parent still doesn't get it is having the kid play goalie on one team and on the field on another.

  3. Luis Arreola, September 22, 2011 at 9:59 a.m.

    Are soccer fields really that dangerous? What I don't understand is why kids in Brazil are never worried of field conditions and are often seen playing on bumpy dirt fields. This seems to help their foot skills as they have to react to bumps. It kills me when parents complain of a few low spots or dirt patchy fields. The kids are always happy to play. I have yet to see a kid get hurt because of a field. I see no one complain of turf fields and it is only because of the appearance but the truth is these fields are tougher on your legs than a patchy field. If a kid constantly hears that these fields are dangerous do you guys really think they will take the initiative to start a scrimmage on just any field? Subconsciously they will shy away from it. USA is too soft especially when it comes to soccer. That is why the poor ususally comes out on top in any sport throughout the world. They don't look for excuses to not play and see positives in many more things and situations than the $2,000+ a year paying ones do. Just play!!

  4. Rick Figueiredo, September 22, 2011 at 3:21 p.m.

    When we truly assess the questionable (and I am being kind here) quality of the youth coaching in this country from AYSO to CLUB, I very strongly believe that there is one solution that stands out amongst others. STREET FUTEBOL. Somehow, someone will need to come along and re-calibrate the passion for playing the game in the streets, in the park, in your hallway at home, with friends. We learn the most from them not coaches. That is where you can dribble the ball and some grown up doesn't scream at you "PASS DA BALL!" You have only your friends to account to and each one of them will be trying to out-do-you. STREET FUTEBOL. Plain and simple. That's where the intelligence is developed. That's why Brasil has thousands of great players waiting in the wings. That's why America does not. But hey. Why keep on harping on this. It just ain't gonna happen here. 50 years from now the USA will still be a "B" caliber nation. Sorry. Simple truth!

  5. R2 Dad, September 22, 2011 at 4:01 p.m.

    Luis, Brazil does not have the density of lawyers that we do in the US, nor the frivolous lawsuits from kids playing anywhere. Our least-common-denominator society has squeezed the fun out of every form of play you can imagine. Rick, I wouldn't be too sure. The US DOES have thousands of great players waiting in the wings, we just don't have the systems in place to 1) identify them at an early age, 2) compensate the teams that have to give them up, and 3) get them better training/competition. Without resolving these key issues, we will continue to under-perform as you predict.

  6. Luis Arreola, September 22, 2011 at 5:35 p.m.

    Well R2, you proved my point. USA kids are soft but surely its not their fault. Its the society's fault. So as we can see everything is wrong with the USA system and it doesn't look like it will change soon.

  7. Rudy Espindola, September 22, 2011 at 8:46 p.m.

    Bumpy fields get you ready to perform on beautiful well trimmed grass.

  8. Joseph Pratt, September 23, 2011 at 10:02 a.m.

    Development Academy vs. ODP. Which is the better choice for developing players?

  9. Luis Arreola, September 23, 2011 at 1:20 p.m.

    Joseph, none of the above. Have your kid play with a medium to small club where he will get Max playing time and use that extra money for a good skills trainer. Don't believe the hype.

  10. Rudy Espindola, September 23, 2011 at 4:27 p.m.

    I have heard from parents that have gone through ODP "the results are poor" I never took my son to that because is pricey.

  11. Joseph Pratt, September 27, 2011 at 10:18 a.m.

    Thanks for the comments. I coach a team in exactly the kind of club described by Luis: small, with lower fees than all the other Chicago area clubs. Since I am not paid, and I am not trying to build a coaching resume, I have the luxury of focusing entirely on developing players. I don't need to worry about our record. For example, I rotate my players through all positions, and everyone gets equal playing time. My left-footed players play on the right side as well as the left. My attacking-minded players get equal time playing in the back, etc. Whether we win or lose is not that important. Sure, it's nice to win, but the main goal is for the kids to learn.

    We are not an Academy club, and I don't know much about ODP. As a consequence, my concern as a coach is, how do I maximize the opportunity for my best, most committed players to reach their potential? I have a few players with real, long-term potential. My team is U12. When they get to U15, would they be better off going to an Academy club? Yes, I would lose them, but if it's best for them then I'd be fine with that. What's the best route for these players?

  12. Luis Arreola, September 27, 2011 at 11:26 p.m.

    Joseph, I too coach in Chicago. I asked myself that question. The answer will always be that no one will care more for those kids than you. Academy will be too costly for most. Fire and Magic are less expensive than Sockers. The only 3 academies in Illinois. I have a U13 team that started to win vs Magic top U13 2 years ago. They partnered with us and then stabbed us in the back. Took 7 of my players. None of them have developed to their potential. I had all of them playing up 1-2 years 90-100% of games in 1st divisions. They all now play 50-65% of games in their respective age groups. Hope that helps you.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications