Top U.S boys clubs get Report Cards

By Mike Woitalla

U.S. Soccer has been evaluating the clubs that comprise its Development Academy league since its launch in 2007, but it has now made those evaluations, in which clubs get rated on a 5-star system, public*.

“We feel the only way to continue to improve is to make sure we hold the clubs accountable to what they’re doing,” said Claudio Reyna, U.S. Soccer’s Youth Technical Director. “They don’t like it [being made public]. They’re a little protective, which is normal. But our message is that it’s part of improving to put these out in the open to discuss.”

Clubs are star-rated in seven categories: Player Development, Style of Play, Training Environment, Administration, Facilities, Fundraising, Respect.

The report cards also include detailed information on last season’s 77 clubs, such as player stats (eg, goals, yellow and red cards), lineup diagrams, and coaching staff.

To grade the clubs, U.S. Soccer conducts live evaluations and video analysis at clubs’ training and games and collects administrative information on the club throughout the year.

“We do training visits, where the technical advisors visit the clubs and they have an important job to be the link to the clubs and support them and make them better and helping the coaching,” Reyna said. “We’re looking at it holistically. It’s not just one coach or one player who’s going to make a club. It’s the club from top to bottom that can influence the players for many months and years.

“Above everything, it’s about trying to raise the level of player development.”

The clubs are graded in comparison to the top international developmental environments.

“So if Barcelona and Ajax are five stars -- that’s what we work off,” Reyna said. “It’s a realistic view of where we are compared to the rest of the world. Some of the clubs have very good coaches and play well, but their facilities are not great – but that doesn’t weigh as much. The most important thing that we really highlight is the style of play, the training, the player development over the years, how many players go to the national team program relative to the player pool in the market.”

Player Development, Style of Play and Training Environment are at weighed at 20 percent; the other categories 10 percent each. (Clubs are also evaluated on how they approach the pre-Academy age groups but without the star system. Academy league play is at the U-15/16 and U-17/18 levels.)

Regarding the Fundraising category, Reyna says, “Around the world at the best clubs, they don’t pay to play. However our clubs can get there, we’d like to get to point where it’s free to play. That’s a goal and an objective that’s easier said than done because our system is different.”

Eleven clubs got 5 stars on Funding for last season; nine of which are MLS clubs.

The “Respect” grade is part of the Respect Campaign launched by Reyna when he took his position in spring of 2010 and is based on the club’s disciplinary record, professionalism of staff and parent sideline behavior.

“I was blown away by the behavior of coaches on the sideline,” Reyna said, “and by the behavior of players. … Screaming and foul language. Disrespecting referees … I thought to myself, if we continue with this environment it affects the players negatively.

“It’s a problem in all youth sports. But this our sport. Let’s be the sport that cleans up the behavior on all levels. Let’s have that goal. … We know it’s competition and we don’t expect it to be Disneyland, but we understand when we cross the line and that message will keep coming and coming.”

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the evaluations is that it takes the focus off results. A club that creates a good environment for long-term player development but doesn’t win titles can point to the evaluations as evidence of the validity of its approach.

“We also hope these evaluations can help parents ask important questions -- not in a negative way -- of their clubs,” says Reyna. “The idea is to lay out what we’re trying to do and not hide anything.”

That they’re being compared to the likes of Barcelona, it’s no surprise that the most common grades on Player Development (PD) and Style of Player are 2 to 3 stars, with a handful of 3 1/2s.

The highest ratings given in those two categories were 4s, which FC Dallas got in both, Real Salt Lake in Style and the New York Red Bulls in PD. (D.C. United rated 3 1/2 in both categories, ranking it second-highest in those two categories combined behind FC Dallas.)

There were 17 clubs, in addition to FC Dallas and D.C. United, that earned at least 3 stars in both PD and Style: Albertson SC (N.Y.), Arsenal FC (Calif.), Baltimore Bays Chelsea, Colorado Rapids, Cosmos West (now merged with Chivas USA), Columbus Crew, Derby County Wolves (now Crew Academy Wolves), FC Westchester (NY), Houston Dynamo, Internationals (Ohio), Kendall SC (Miami), Los Angeles Galaxy, PA Classics (Pa.), PDA (N.J.), Real So Cal, Solar Chelsea (Texas) and Scott Gallagher Missouri.

One caveat from U.S. Soccer: These evaluations are not useful to draw comparisons between Academy club programs and other domestic programs or teams associated with other organizations.

* To access the evaluations: click HERE, scroll down to "ACADEMY CLUB EVALUATIONS" section, and click on “end of year evaluation” to download PDF).

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at

10 comments about "Top U.S boys clubs get Report Cards".
  1. Luis Arreola, September 27, 2011 at 2:40 p.m.

    Reyna, great idea. I would also rate the amount of pro and college players they produce by also taking into account the amount of years spent in each program. Most great players go through several clubs as they get scholarship offers or better coaching. I think you would be surprised to see that many of these great players get most of their development in small or hispanic clubs and leagues.

  2. Rick Figueiredo, September 27, 2011 at 3:56 p.m.

    Very interesting. Good to know there is some accountability. But you forgot to add Sao Paulo and Santos to list of developing youth clubs together with Barcelona. Ajax, however, has become a flop and that's why Cruyff was upset. Good thoughts overall. Reyna was a smart player except in 1997 when he drew a yellow card for slamming the ball down against Jamaica.

  3. Mathew Bahri, September 27, 2011 at 7:38 p.m.

    Great points by CR. One important "overlooked" fact that almost everyone seems to forget is the lack of enough qulaity Refs who must be used in the developing years. No matter where you go, there are lot of refs who have never played the game & as a result, they are not able to encourage these young players if they make a mistake on the pitch. We have to provide more eduacation for these refs so that everyone involved, would benefit. Thanx

  4. mike wazaski, September 27, 2011 at 10 p.m.

    Until Clubs can make money off developing their own players the pay to play will never go away. Even in the MLS (which is a single entity league), teams will not throw large amount of resources to develop players that they will never own or reap any financial rewards from. To compare a team to the likes of Barcelona or Ajax is not compare apples to apples. These clubs make money off developing their players. Messi who was developed thru Barca's system, stayed and they did not have to pay to bring him in. However, if they sell him off they would pay for every player that has come through there system for the last ten yrs. Rooney who was developed at Everton’s academy was sold for 55 million pounds. This paid for Everton’s academy and then some. Club’s most be able to reap the rewards from their own developing players.

  5. Luis Arreola, September 27, 2011 at 11:01 p.m.

    Exactly Mike. To elaborate on your comment Barcelona did in fact invest in Messi's growth Hormone treatment about $1000 a week and to settle his family in Spain . The risk was worth it big time and is something that would have never happened on any of these Academy teams. It is hard to believe that any of these teams got even close in player development to a Barcelona. Why compare with clubs so far away when you have Brazil's Santos or Mexico's Chivas so close by.

  6. R2 Dad, September 28, 2011 at 12:31 a.m.

    Interesting point, Mathew. As far as the US is concerned, good players and good refs grow on trees and therefore have not needed to be developed. Perhaps if we see enough real player development we will also see fit to provide top referees for future World Cups. However, I wouldn't count on it. Competitive players don't show much interest in refereeing because they don't have the time, and once they do have the time they are too old to actually make it to the top unless they skip college. In addition, the travel requirements and dire pay along the way make it impossible to have a family. Which Americans would sign up for that? Living in BFE to make ends meet, no money, no prestige, and no respect...

  7. lorenzo murillo, September 28, 2011 at 8:02 a.m.

    Why does Reyna and the rest of the US continue to compare US Youth Club with Barcelona??? US Clubs are not professional entities, meaning, that coaches are not experts or professional in their positions, they have a 9-5 job and then coach in the evening. 99% of US club coaches, do not even know the difference between aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Trying to imitate a pro setting, when we are not, is a BIG mistake.

  8. Luis Arreola, September 28, 2011 at 8:33 a.m.

    Pay refs more to create more interest. This way you can at least choose the better refs instead of going with the needier ones. The system in place is wrong. No doubt. This evaluation if done right will always expose this. Barcelona and everyone else is in the business of developing players. Our Academy clubs are in the business of club/team results. It shows because very few pros when compared to number of academy players. Reyna should find out how many become pro out of small clubs or leagues.

  9. Jase The Ace, September 28, 2011 at 11:48 a.m.

    If U.S. Soccer wants clubs to develop players for ultimately the national team AND move away from the pay to play system, how bout they throw some money at the teams that top this elusive report card. What do these teams get apart from stars on a pdf?
    They want to hold the clubs accountable, U.S. Soccer needs to be accountable.
    What does F.C Dallas get for topping this list? What am I missing?

  10. Tim Collett, September 28, 2011 at 12:17 p.m.

    I find it interesting the CR says we need more free play at our younger levels, which I agree, but everyone wants instant gratification and feels the urge to join a big club right away. Not everyone has the means to afford the bigger clubs and let's face it, they are a business whether you agree or not. Club fees go up the ladder into the director's pockets. How is that good for the kids. Not everyone who played the game is a good teacher and a lot of kids don't get the opportunity to show what they can do. The emphasis is place on the biggest and strongest. It's a tough situation, US needs to improve development of players but what is best way to do that? I like a lot of what CR is saying but the bottom line with US clubs is results which keeps the pipeline full of those club fees.

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