Progress in Triples -- U.S. Soccer Development Academy (Tony Lepore Q&A, Part 1)

Interview by Mike Woitalla

The American youth soccer landscape changed dramatically when U.S. Soccer created the Development Academy in 2007. In Part 1 of our interview with Tony Lepore we asked the Development Academy Director of Scouting to explain how he believes it has improved the youth soccer experience for the USA's elite players.

SOCCER AMERICA: Do you think the Development Academy is on pace to make the positive impact on the U.S. game hoped for when it was launched in 2007?

TONY LEPORE: In general, we feel like we’re making great strides. We’ve always seen this as a long-term process so we want to be critical of ourselves throughout the process. So we still feel like we have a long way to go. But looking back at the major tenants of the philosophy when started the Academy is a really good way to measure progress.

SA: Such as ...

TONY LEPORE: We wanted more training and fewer games. And we’ve really flipped that schedule. In terms of hours, we’ve tripled training in five years.

Before the Development Academy, training was an average of two times a week – so say 3 hours a week, or 12 hours a month. In early Academy we moved that to three times a week. Now it’s four times a week -- 6 to 8 hours a week. Which is closer to a player this age in Italy. Before the Academy, we were training 50 percent less in that comparison. Now we’ve really closed the gap.

That’s significant progress. And we've got a 4-to-1 training to game ratio.

SA: Decreasing the number of games was a key part of the Academy’s aim for elite players ...

TONY LEPORE: We wanted more meaningful games. Fewer games but more meaningful games. Before we started the Academy in 2007, we surveyed the U-15 boys national team. The average was a 100 matches a year. We asked how many were meaningful games. That was around 10.

We’re at an average of 32 games and for the most part the Academy’s games are meaningful.

So meaningful games have tripled.

SA: How about the aim to emphasis development over winning?

TONY LEPORE: We have made progress, especially since Claudio Reyna came aboard [as Youth Technical Director in 2010]. He’s been a really powerful voice

We’ve called people out for having too defensive an approach. We have good competition but with a focus on the style of play.

One measure we always look at is how many younger players do we have playing up. We track it through our database and that has tripled.

Young players playing up can be at the expense of winning games if they’re physically not ready or physically don’t help you. But people are prioritizing that with style of play as well.

This year’s Academy final was a really good example not just for style of play -- the possession play, the attacking approach for both teams -- but for the number of young players in that game. ...

Another important facet of the Academy is adopting international rules ...

SA: No reentry ...

TONY LEPORE: It seems so simple now. No more frantic in and out. Now we have players coming into a national team camp and it’s not something new to play at international rules. How many guys did we have playing on the national team whose first time playing international rules was either when they came into a youth national team or when they went pro? For some it didn’t happen until they were in their 20s.

And thanks to our start rule [25 percent of the games], when clubs take on a player, they invest in his development, which means they get matches. Also, we had a lot of guys who didn’t know how to be a sub when they came into a national team. And we don’t have a lot of overplayed guys at key points in the cycle of the national team.

SA: Another aim of the Academy was removing the pay to play.

TONY LEPORE: We’ve gone from nine to 23 clubs [out of 80] who fully fund their Academy teams. We feel we have a long way to go, but we’re making great strides there.

SA: So would you say the Academy has made youth soccer less expensive?

TONY LEPORE: It’s less expensive because we have more of our elite players playing at no cost than we’ve ever had before in this country.

(Look for Part 2 of our interview with Tony Lepore, in which he addresses the Academy’s ban on high school play and the Academy’s role in identifying national team players.)

7 comments about "Progress in Triples -- U.S. Soccer Development Academy (Tony Lepore Q&A, Part 1) ".
  1. Luis Arreola, January 17, 2013 at 1:26 p.m.

    It's made it more expensive overall. Somebody has to cover costs for the best elite players. That would be the players at younger age groups and u16 U18 B & C teams hoping to make Academy. If you are not a top player then dont throw your money away.

  2. Mark Grody, January 17, 2013 at 2:32 p.m.

    When Dan was a ref in the NASL, he also did our high school games. Ric, can you say hi to him for me?

  3. Peter Skouras, January 17, 2013 at 11:03 p.m.

    Fantastic...finally the "pay to play" is making way!!! For US Soccer and its players to succeed and be competitive at the professional and international levels are "Leagues" or "Domestic Structure" will determine the future. 100 matches a year is ludicrous with 10 being meaningful!

    However, what is meaningful? Winning a Championship, avoiding Relegation and Promotion? These 3 elements are CRUCIAL IN BRINGING AND TESTING a player and teams 4 elements!

    All the training discussed above limited value! A TRUE DOMESTIC CHAMPIONSHIP of which United States Soccer has never experienced will take the game to the next level...if not the Soccer in the United States has reached its MAXIM!

  4. Luis Arreola, January 17, 2013 at 11:25 p.m.

    Peter, great point. I have always wondered what exactly a "meaningful" game is. I think what they mean is that they want to have their players take one game seriously and give it 100%. But is that not just a state of mind? Can't you play 50 games in a travel league simply as practice with no pressure what so ever to win and concentrate fully on style, creativity, game And still play 10-20 meaningful games? Meaningful games to most Academies is when they play each other, I guess, to play to win but still too many clubs sacrifice style for these meaningful game wins which would immediately defeat the purpose. Meaningful for an Academy should be to push or showcase its best players for notice from pro clubs or college scouts. Wins do not always go hand in hand with this priority. Having your center back get involved in the attack on goal for example. You risk getting scored on a counter this way but he shines in 2-3 good runs.

  5. Luis Arreola, January 17, 2013 at 11:32 p.m.

    Or how about weakening your defense a little to showcase your great goalie skills?

  6. Luis Arreola, January 17, 2013 at 11:40 p.m.

    Felix ano Ric. I don't get why all Colleges are not working with USSF to further develop talent and get to the next level? Is it a power trip? Do they not see the money they could make if people actually wanted to watch a college game? For this to happen they must understand that the true fans will not tolerate them making their own rules in soccer and style of play is crucial to create something run to watch. Who wants to see a sprint fest or 2 teams that can't trap a ball or try a fancy pass or dribbling skills?

  7. Dennis Parces, January 20, 2013 at 9:46 a.m.

    Great comments, guys! I reside in Puerto Rico where there is no Academy platform but we were lucky to have my 14 yr old son, Fernando, invited to live and train at Union de Santa Fe in Argentina. He trains full time daily and attends school at night (walks 20 blocks to school and sits from 7 to 10 pm). The adjustment to the rhythm and speed of play has been tough, but the rewards are great. I saw him start a "very meaningful" AFA league game against Atletico Rafaela wearing "10" and playing "enganche" or creative midfielder. I would love to find him a residency program in the states, as he is an american citizen (US passport). Any suggestions? Please help with contacts if at all possible and keep up the good work supporting the development of our young talent!

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