U.S. Soccer Development Academy expands to five age groups, adding U-12 and U-13 divisions

By Mike Woitalla

The U.S. Soccer Development Academy is undergoing a second major expansion since its founding in 2007, when clubs competed in the U-15/16 and U-17/18 age groups.

Beginning in the fall of 2016, the Development Academy clubs will also field U-12 teams, and the U-14 division, which was added in 2013, will be split into U-13 and U-14.

"We are very excited to expand and introduce the Academy structure and philosophy to the U-12 age group when players are in their peak learning years," said U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director Tab Ramos. "That age represents a critical stage in a player's growth, and this move represents another important step in our expanded efforts to improve elite player development."

On creating a U-12 and U-13 division, U.S. Soccer Director of Scouting Tony Lepore said "This will improve the overall environment at an earlier development stage and help clubs create a more consistent step-by-step pathway for players to learn.”

U-12s will play 9v9. Each club will field two teams, with a maximum player pool of 26 players and fluid game-day rosters so that different combinations of players can be used week-to-week. Re-entry, not allowed at the older age groups, will be permitted at U-12s but coaches will be limited on how often they can interrupt the game to make substitutions. Teams are to train at least three days per week and have a minimum of two rest days, with one game per weekend during competitive periods.

The Academy aims to limit travel to 1.5 to 2 hours. The U-12s will play a nine-and-a-half-month season that includes January-February futsal.

New clubs that only field U-12 teams will be accepted into the Academy in certain areas based on their player pool potential and to supplement league programming to prevent long-distance travel. Similarly, the Academy added clubs that only field U-13/14 teams when that age group was introduced, especially in areas that had the fewest full Academy teams.

All current Academy clubs will add U-12s. The application deadline for new U-12 clubs is Nov. 6.

“When we looked at it and did the map, there’s no exact number [of how many U-12-only clubs will be added],” said Development Academy Director Jared Micklos. “But I can see it being a number that could have the addition of 30, 40, 50 clubs, if needed. It will depend on the interest that comes in and making sure that we’re selecting clubs for the purposes of localizing our programming and for quality player pools.”

Academy Timeline
2007 Founded. (64 clubs -- U-15/16 and U-17/18).
2011 Introduced 10-month season. (74 clubs).
2013 Added U-13/14 age group (23 new clubs). Mandated four training sessions per week. Implemented futsal programming for U-13/14 division.
2014 Total number of clubs: 101.
2016 Expansion to U-12 age group; U-13 and U-14 split into single groups.

Will Academy expansion into U-12s make it more or less expensive for that age group's elite players?

“The U-12 level will not have a lot of costs associated with it,” said Micklos. “It depends on what environment they’re coming from, but our goal and our hope is that costs will be reduced for players.”

Micklos points out that U.S. Soccer covers event fees, and web site and programming fees. And by limiting travel and not having overnight trips at U-12s, costs could be less compared to non-Academy teams that travel frequently to tournament play.

15 comments about "U.S. Soccer Development Academy expands to five age groups, adding U-12 and U-13 divisions ".
  1. Amos Annan, October 16, 2015 at 5:28 p.m.

    How SAD !
    US Soccer has given in to the money.
    Every intelligent soccer coach knows that there is no "secret" to soccer and the reason they began high level training in the past at 14, was because it is impossible to tell who will be exceptional at younger ages. And they are not psychologically prepared for that kind of pressure. Shame.

  2. charles davenport replied, October 16, 2015 at 9:04 p.m.

    Amos, Daniel, Soccer: yes, yes, and yes

  3. Daniel Clifton, October 16, 2015 at 6:08 p.m.

    I assume these Development Academies are the same old pay to play system wrapped in a pretty little new package with the same old systems, which is pay to play. This isn't going to change anything. It amazes me that we can't come up with a system that takes away the need for the parent to pay huge sums of money in order for their child to play competitive soccer.

  4. charles davenport replied, October 16, 2015 at 9:05 p.m.


  5. Soccer Madness, October 16, 2015 at 8:41 p.m.

    Why such a hurry to start at U12 for DA? Wouldnt it make more sense to do U15 and U17 before U12 and U13 development wise? Maybe because we will now have training compensation and solidarity fees paid and those fees are claimed from 12 years old? Does anyone else have a better theory?

  6. R2 Dad replied, October 17, 2015 at 5:53 p.m.

    yes, this is just to rationalize the withholding of solidarity payments to any club not MLS-affiliated. Which is silly. Half our talent is hispanic, and those hispanic clubs are going to send their players to Mexico where solidarity payments are more likely to be sent their way. Unfortunately for USSoccer, those Liga MX teams will insist any mexican americans sign up for El Tri instead of USMNTs. Just reinforcing the white, kick-and-run players and coaches that we've had all along--nothing to see here, move along.

  7. Soccer Madness, October 16, 2015 at 9:45 p.m.

    What I have seen so far from DA's is that their best players are poached from smaller clubs with a few fully sponsored but almost always fees for the U13 and younger are at $2500-$3500 a year just for about a 25-30 game year. Add Tourneys to that and they are at between $5000-$10000 a year. For MLS clubs I see DA's free play but I also see alot of partnerships being made with local clubs where they charge each player a yearly fee plus $350-$500 uniform package just to be allowed to use their name - Marketing. How are these DA clubs expected to develop younger talent if DA costs are passed along to the younger ages?? How do they get the top younger talent in the great "USSDA" environment younger? They dont. Now they will start at U12? Why? If they havent figured out how to make it free at U16 and U18 why jump to U12? The U15 and U17 are already in the system so why not get those age groups rolling? SOmeone please make sense of this?

  8. cony konstin, October 17, 2015 at 1:01 a.m.

    Another gimmick!!! We need 600,000 Futsal courts so kids starting at age 5 can play 24/7/365, for free, no adult interference, and have the opportunity to compete everyday to see who will be king of the court. We radical change. We get away from a coaching enviroment and move towards a playing enviroment. We need a soccer revolution in the U.S.

  9. humble 1 replied, October 20, 2015 at 11:34 a.m.

    if take futsal at it's roots - futbol de cinco - soccer for five - same number of players as basketball - all you really need for futsal is a basketball court and we have plenty of those. Kids love it.

  10. aaron dutch, October 19, 2015 at 12:50 p.m.

    While I agree with cony konstin point 100% we dont have american parents who can strike a ball correctly much less will let their kids out to play in the town futsal courts or the laws that make that ok ( if you see kids walking by themselves call the police ASAP:) etc.. U12 standards thru U17 is better then nothing. While I agree it is a financial scam for the top 25% to pay. If we can spread this out and get 50% more kids then we would in the past its a first step. One of the reasons we need need some standards of play is the 100 different ways kids are pushed into organized football. If we could open them up to fun while they were little and their parents played it would be cultural but its not. So we have to take the approach of brute force (China and western classical music) This will produce solid squad players in the next 10 years and if we can link them early to europe & south america clubs they can develop much faster then in College in the US. I really think we need to make K-12 & College a part of our system so the kids can have fun while playing local instead of looking for clubs & trying out every 2 years for the next best thing.

  11. humble 1 replied, October 20, 2015 at 11:45 a.m.

    Agree with your last point. I would not give up on K-12 and college soccer. That is the fastest way to encourage kids to play for fun and likely the only way you'll ever get street players into the system. There is a battle for limited physical resources and a lack of quality human resources, but throwing it away without presenting an alternative takes away a path. Something else I've observed is how hard so many families try to fit their kids into the legacy sports that would be a better fit to soccer. Make it easier for them to switch - keep free local soccer in the schools!

  12. Soccer Madness replied, October 21, 2015 at 8:46 a.m.

    Aaron, we didn't have parents that could hoop either in the black neighborhoods and look what happened there. If we start rewarding clubs with Training Compensation we will look for top players in the right places. We cater to the pay to play parents because it's only source of income. That's why both Kobe and LeBron say that AAU is hurting development for basketball players. Not rocket science.

  13. beautiful game, October 20, 2015 at 1:41 p.m.

    Cony K makes a lot of sense. Too much coaching at U-14 level is suffocates development. That's the time young players work on their instinctive and technical game which needs space to breathe. Big, fast, and strong means nothing if the player has an IQ2 soccer brain.

  14. Fire Paul Gardner Now, October 21, 2015 at 4:09 p.m.

    Pay to play is not the answer and we need to move away from that model as much as possible.

    But people seem to have this idea that soccer players in other countries just somehow learn to play soccer kicking a ball around in the streets. Or in Brazil, some kid growing up in the rain forest just magically learns great technical skills. In fact, Brazil's development system is incredibly structured and starts at a very young age:

    That article is just a brief overview and maybe kids there do engage in more "free play" than US kids but the idea that we just build a bunch of futsal courts and sit back and watch these great players develop is pretty facile.

  15. Chris Kovalcik, October 21, 2015 at 8:14 p.m.

    I see both sides of the issue here: pay-to-play complaints but also trying to develop a development structure that is much better than the general garbage that is the average club soccer team.

    In the U.S., we do not have a rich soccer culture full of soccer players and coaches, so kids (at whatever age) that want to really get better have few choices other than the pay-to-play structure. Without some sort of financial structure such as this, where do the limited number of experienced, professional coaches we have in this country come from?

    The money needs to be in the system, albeit from different sources than maybe parents, to fund a soccer structure that will build players of the future. Until we find the right sources of funding, then the results are a reflection of the source - in this case, parents that are collecting trophies.

    Perhaps moving ultimately to a player compensation model is the system to bring in other funding sources; has to be better than the current parent and tournament-itis perspective we have in the U.S.

    I really have no idea how other countries top programs fund player development so interested in learning more on this.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications