Adding to the alphabet soup of American youth soccer

By Mike Woitalla

If your children play soccer in the USA, they may be playing under the umbrella of AYSO, U.S. Youth Soccer, U.S. Club Soccer, SAY Soccer, or the Super Y-League. There’s the ECNL and the NPL, sanctioned by U.S. Club Soccer, and the Development Academy (USSDA), launched in 2007 by U.S. Soccer, the nation’s soccer governing body also known as the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF). Forgive me if I’ve left out an acronym.

Your talented child may be invited to the Olympic Development Program (ODP), or id2, or PDP, or to a U.S. Soccer Training Center.

In case all that wasn’t enough, coming soon to a field near you are even more options.

The USSF announced last February its launch of a Girls Development Academy (GDA) in the fall of 2017. That presents a competitor for the ECNL, which had since 2009 been the main destination for elite girls players.

In early May, AYSO -- which for 52 years has provided low-cost soccer for American children while introducing the game to the likes of Landon Donovan and Alex Morgan -- announced its expansion into so-called “competitive” soccer.

The program is called AYSO United and will give AYSO players who want to move on from so-called recreational soccer the option to stay with AYSO, whose 500,000 players are mostly pre-teens.

In late May, the ECNL and U.S. Club Soccer announced they’re collaborating to launch an Elite National Premier League (ENPL) for boys in the fall of 2017.

Is this an escalation in the turf war for registration fees?

When I interviewed U.S. Club Soccer CEO Kevin Payne in March of 2015, I asked him: “Do you feel it's still in the best interest of youth soccer in the United States to have competing youth soccer organizations? I often hear from coaches and club directors that they’d prefer a unified youth model instead of the alphabet soup of organizations …”

Payne’s answer included: “I think that there’s quite a bit of dynamism that’s encouraged by having different youth soccer organizations.”

He warned that a unitary approach could result in a particular orthodoxy being be imposed on everyone.

I vote against imposing orthodoxy. But I wish that the navigation of youth soccer options wasn’t so complicated for the kids, parents, coaches and clubs.

The reality is that American youth soccer, for better or worse, will always be a free market. And I’m pulling for the organizations that make youth soccer as inexpensive as possible.

14 comments about "Adding to the alphabet soup of American youth soccer ".
  1. Gary Allen, May 27, 2016 at 10:45 a.m.

    Mike, this is an issue that has been brewing ever since the Olympic Sports Festival idea was changed into ODP in the early 80s. A number of years ago, I wrote an article entitled "The Paramount Issue Up to U14 is Inclusion--Not Exclusion" that addresses many of the issues you touch upon above. It is a constant battle and has only gotten worse over the past few years.

  2. Raymond Weigand, May 27, 2016 at 11:58 a.m.

    The referenced AYSO program is already in Southern California (and other Regions throughout the Country) and have been around for some years - it is just now that the National Office is marketing them to all AYSO Regions and using a United name. In California it is not uncommon to see AYSO teams competing in the club tournaments. And there are so many tournaments - at so many soccer parks - the tournament organizers are more than happy to welcome all teams. And the other organized league coaches also are enthused ... as they enjoy the opportunity to hand out business cards to the AYSO parents and provide more choices. After all ... a recent coach advised that the secret to Success was not in player development And it was not in the X's and O's ... but recruiting the best Billy's and Joe's.

  3. Bob Dawson, May 27, 2016 at 2:05 p.m.

    The AYSO United program is shaping up to be just another pay-to-play program with high salary admins and DOCs. I love that AYSO is touting the Everyone Plays philosophy as a cornerstone of this "new" program. What AYSO should do next is leverage their stellar reputation as a player development, player-first program and their national presence to recruit big money sponsors and create a low- or no-pay competitive program. Truly differentiating AYSO from the myriad other club soccer options - offering any talented, dedicated player a path to the highest levels - would be the best path forward for the world's biggest soccer club.

  4. Raymond Weigand replied, May 27, 2016 at 5:04 p.m.

    AYSO is already low in So Cal ... the pricing competes with the City Rec leagues. There is already plenty of no-pay competitive programs ... you just have to be the parent of one of the best Billy's or Joe's out there. Travelling team sports can be very expensive for the majority of parents who are not only paying for their kids technical training but also for their kids to share the same field with some of the best players in the County.

  5. Ric Fonseca replied, May 27, 2016 at 10:17 p.m.

    Folks, don't be misled: ayso was formed in the late 60 by Han Stierle from Torrance, CA. It has always maintained the everyone plays and recreational syndrome and only since the late '80 did it ever venture into the Latino barrios and inner cities - in fact it almost took an "act of congress" to get in those communities. I know, I was there! It has never been cheap, it cost $45.00 for my kid's enrollment in the early 80's. As for ayso now getting into the competitive side of youth soccer, OMG, why has it taken almost forty years? So they ayso can boast a Donovan or Caligiuri or Schmid, so is it any wonder that we're continuing to struggle in this area of youth development? It is so much akin to having the ranch hand close the barn doors and secure the gates to prevent the horses from escaping. All I see coming from the alphabet soup is higher cost for a pay-for-play idea, more "supposed" coaches from Argentina, Central America, Europe. the UK, etc. who will only work to fill their own pockets. HOWEVER, being the perennial optimist that I am, no, really!, I see light at the end of the tunnel, but I only wish that it isn't an ayso train with its headlight a-glarin' and it's horn a-tootin'!!! PLAY ON, competitively, any one???

  6. cony konstin, May 27, 2016 at 2:27 p.m.

    Here we go again.. More minutia for youth soccer in US... Whose fault is this? Clueless Parents No. Mercernary soccer bums No. The kids No. It is the system.. Who runs system? US SOCCER...This helter skeltor, wild wild west, bowl of minutia approach towards youth soccer in the US is a travesty and an abomination. We need a revolution in US Soccer... We need radical change. We need new leadership. We need a new vision. We need a 21st century master plan.. Soccer in the US is all about buying and selling illusions of elephant dung... There has been billions of $$$ spent on so call soccer development in the US and we still don't have one badass player... The other day Pirlo ripped the MLS a new one and Conte from Italy throw more into the mix about the MLS. I have travelled to 5 continents, been to almost every state in the Union, been coaching for 41 years, football and futsal, and this is what I have discovered. The ball is round and badass players win championships not coaches... We need 600,000 futsal courts in our inner cities and suburbs so kids starting at age 5 can play king of the court, 24/7/365, for free, and with no adult interference... When we create a playground/sandlot/free play environment then watch out world the US is coming to conquer the soccer world. Meanwhile if we continue to play the alphabet game of associations and other forms of organize insanity for kiddy soccer we will never ever have any magical players... The pay to play model is a total abomination and simply is all about gimmicks, smoke n mirrors, $400 cleats, coaching dvds, and bunch of flim flam artist selling dust... REVOLUTION!!!!! That is what we need for soccer in the USA....

  7. Richard Foschini replied, May 30, 2016 at 9:04 a.m.

    I've been saying this for years as well. Soccer has become a business in this country. If you have the means, your son/daughter will play soccer in the States. If we give everyone access, the player pool broadens and the money means nothing except a better uniform kit for little Johnny. I've never seen so much "Academy " kickball in my life.

  8. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, May 30, 2016 at 2:38 p.m.

    Literally, this dude posts about 600k futsal courts every time he posts. Has nothing to do with the topic of the article, as usual.

  9. BJ Genovese, May 28, 2016 at 10:46 a.m.

    Somebody needs to get on these college coaches. They are running wild with the ID camps and college showcases. Now when they do attend a college showcase they are doing it less to recruit to the team and more to recruit to the ID camp fundraisers. Why on earth are you going to double dip on players that already spent a ton of money on club and tourney's just to ID them and then ask for more when they come to your camp. Of course you identified them and they are great because of that but your are still going to charge them 100-300 dollars to come to your camp. You now could spend up to 2000 dollars a summer to get your kid recognized because they are saying you have to come to the camp... I though this was what coming to the games were for... to see them play in a competitive environment. Scam-sham. Let the fleecing of soccer players continue. Shame on these college coaches. Also they need to be showing to these tourneys if they allow them to put there faces on the "coaches attending" tab.

  10. Ric Fonseca replied, May 29, 2016 at 3:07 p.m.

    BJ, here's a little tid bit of info re what we call down here in the wild-wild-west SoCalif region, competitive club competition: Way back in the day when I and several other real soccer junkies decided to get out of ayso and into "club," there were two in my immediate area, one called Real Santa Monica SC and - believe it or not - Real Madrid of WLA. There was competition sure, but while one was more "egalitarian," the other was the more "rigid-my-way or the highway." After inquiring, I knew someone in the rigid club, who just happens to be a well known actor of German descent (name not given to protect the "innocent") and asked his opinion: don't go with rigid, go with the egalitarian for various and sundry reasons, teaching skills, soccer background, etc, and of course, the cost factor. Then the SM club charged a then fairly high $65.00 for the season, no coaching fee, uniforms were re-cycled for two years. I was interviewed by the board, and accepted provided I follow rules, etc. Good choice. The rigid club's hierarchy demanded more money, every had ot buy two sets of uniforms, and had a "paid coach." As time came and went, the rigid club faded into the sun, and the egalitarian club is still around about ready to celebrate it;s 45th anniversary. BUT, while rigid disappeared, egalitarian club now charges an astronomic fee of $3500 for the entire ten month program, kids in the club must attend pre and off-season training, purchase uniforms, backpacks, and pay for tournaments. The Egalitarian club's "director of coaching" and his cohorts, get a nice salary, and boast a "very nice web site" telling the unsuspected that they have placed more kids in some local universities and many more in out-of-state universities, but do not say if the Egalitarian's Club alumni are playing college ball. Moral to this is that while the rigid club faded away and egalitarian is still putting away, they also boast of a long list of connections with college/university coaches, take the teams - yest t-e-a-m-s to very costly tournaments that charge anywhere from $600 - $1,000 entry fees, and as you say, "... the fleecing of soccer players continue(s)." Shame on college coaches yes to a degree, but even more shame on the supposed well-trained/former professional from the UK, Italy, or even South Africa. Ho boy, there is so much more, but what the heck, there are only so many hours on the clock... get my drift?

  11. R2 Dad, May 30, 2016 at 4:35 p.m.

    "He warned that a unitary approach could result in a particular orthodoxy being be imposed on everyone." The only people I know that say this are coaches. Why? Because supposedly the coaches are sooooo important we can't tell them what to do! They all have a god-given right to coach any way they see fit. THAT is the real wild-west of soccer--coaches doing what THEY want and not what's good for player development. Because given the option to win or develop players, most coaches will do the easy/fun stuff that involves winning. Keeper training? Playing out of the back? Holistic soccer IQ of the players? NO FUN, TOO MUCH WORK, I DON'T SEE THE BENEFIT TO THE PRIMARY OBJECT OF SCORING GOALS. I ONLY HAVE SO MUCH TIME FOR TRAINING. The world of US amateur soccer would be much different if the new U8 parents had the experience and wisdom of the U18 parents. But every club would prefer fresh newbies that can be told what to do vs a family that knows what it wants and holds these coaches and clubs accountable.

  12. cony konstin, May 31, 2016 at 12:20 p.m.

    Fire ball Gardner Now.. I am glad you notice the 600,000 futsal courts... Because is exactly what our country needs... $400 cleats, coaching dvds, fancy uniforms, numerous and expensive tournaments, and many other gimmicks is not what our kids need.. They just need a place to play for free and with no adult interference.... Futsal can be our version of streetball.... What solution do you have that can help make great footballers in the US?

  13. Allan Lindh, May 31, 2016 at 2:51 p.m.

    All beside the point. What will change the game in this country will be 5-8 yr olds playing in their back yards, parks, vacant lots, even streets -- for fun. When every 5 yr old has a #2 ball to play with, and spends part of every day kicking, juggling, and trapping it, then we will become a respected member of the world futbal community.

  14. Ric Fonseca replied, May 31, 2016 at 5:20 p.m.

    Of course Allan and Cony, here's something to ponder. This is happening as I write this and in my neighborhood, three doors down and across the street. A new neighboor moved in to a new house, designed by the parents, who instead of putting grass in the back yard, they paved it. Now the new kid on the block plays basketball by himself for what seems hours. The other kid, lives in a house with a grassed in backyard; he parents are Argentines, yet the boy spends one hour a day skate boarding up and down the block. So if we're to wait for these two young boys to pick up a soccer ball of any size, or even would play with a tennis ball or one made of rags, heck, we'll be waiting for ever and a day so see their development as futballers.... just sayin'

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