After my last article
, some of the readers correctly stated that I did not
include the U-12, U-13 and U-14 categories in the analysis. I knew I did not and I did it on a purpose. I wanted to see the distribution of the full pledged (U-12 through U-18) and U-15/16 and U-17/18
academies in the country.
U.S. Soccer recently included the U-12 category in the Development Academy (DA) system as well as breaking the U13-14 category into U-13 and U-14. It also
started the girls DA. All these moves were in the correct direction.
Especially breaking the U-13/14 into two categories created the chance for both age groups to compete. In the past,
the U-13/14 category would be dominated by U-14 players and only the very talented U-13 players were able to compete. For boys, there might be a substantial physical difference between a 12 year old
and a 13 year old since they are transitioning from childhood into puberty. Hopefully, in the years to come, the U-15/16 category will also be broken down into U-15 and U-16.
talk about the boys DAs in the USA only.
There are a total of 146 DAs across 25 states and District of Colombia. These 146 DAs do not necessarily represent 146 unique clubs, since some
clubs have affiliated DAs in the same state as well as in different states. For example, Chicago Fire has four DAs, three in Illinois and one in Indiana.
If you look at all the DAs, you
will see four categories with a few exceptions in each category:
|MLS DAs |
|U-12 thru U-17/18 |
|59 ||13 ||9 ||7 ||Revolution (no U-12) |
|U-15/16 & U-17/18 only |
||5 ||6 ||7 || |
|U-12, U-13, U-14 only |
|26 ||0 ||7 ||10 ||NYCFC (no U-13 or U-12) |
|U-12 only |
|49 ||0 ||12 ||17 || |
|146 ||18 ||26 || || |
The U-12 through U-17/18 DA --
which I call full pledged DA category -- has 59 teams (excluding the Canadian teams) covering 19 (including Washington DC) states. Of those 59 teams, 13 are MLS teams’ DAs. They play in seven
regional divisions. This category is what should be considered as a “real“ DA. It spans the development ages from the age of U-12 up to U-17-18. You can find out that around the
globe most clubs have this range of development.
The second DA category is a strange category; it only has two age groups U-15/16 and U-17/18. There are seven DAs in this category of
which five of them are MLS teams’ DAs, which don't field teams in the younger age groups because of the travel distances involved.
Two things are obvious: There are no prerequisites
by U.S. Soccer for Division 1 Men’s teams (MLS) to have full fledged DAs. It is obvious that the owners of MLS
recommend a DA for their clubs, but this is not a prerequisite to be a MLS franchise. The most recent expansion team, Minnesota United, does not have a DA yet. Also since some of the MLS clubs have
only this second category DAs, most probably the recommendation of MLS is to have at least U-15/16 and U-17/18 categories. It is not clear which youth clubs those five MLS teams will use as feeder
clubs for their DA.
The third category is U-12 through U-14. There are 26 DA teams in this category. What is strange is to call a Youth Development program from U-12 up to U-14 a DA.
Would you call a school “high school” that has only freshman and sophomore classes? I doubt you would. I believe it would be more appropriate to call this category and the next one (only
U-12) Pre-Development Academy (PDA).
I can see why some clubs choose this category although they don't have U-15 through U-18 teams. One reason is that once they are in this category
their U-15/U18 players can play high school soccer. Another reason for U-15/16 and U-17/18 categories they might have to travel longer distances and their costs will increase due to travel and
requirements of a full-fledged DAs, and the reserve -- those full-fledged DAs need regional opponents to keep down travel and provide competition at the younger ages. There are 10 regional divisions
in this category versus the other first two of seven regional divisions.
Clearly, being a DA is a marketing tool to attract players into pay-to-play based youth clubs. It enhances your
branding. I believe it is unfair to have the same status as with the full pledged DAs while spending less money. So the establishment of the new status of PDA will eradicate to some extent this unfair
The last category of only U-12 teams is a stranger category. There are 49 clubs (50 teams) in 12 states who are in this category. Having the prestigious title or status of a
DA by forming just an U-12 team and meeting the Federation's minimal requirements gives an unfair advantage to the clubs in this category over the non-DA clubs.
One hopes that these clubs
will have U-13 teams next year and U-14 teams the year after. In order to minimize their travel obligations, U.S. Soccer put these 49 clubs in 17 regional divisions in 12 states. Yes, they are in only
Even in states where there are U-12 DA teams, they are not dispersed across the state. The example I gave in my last article was that there are no DAs to the south of Austin in
Texas. Texas is one of the 12 states. The applications of teams from South Texas for a DA status were declined by U.S. Soccer since that region is not in the Federation's current expansion plans.
It is very clear that U.S. Soccer has to expand the DAs across the country. If you look at the next table (below), you will see a loose correlation between the population of states and the
number of DAs in those states. There a number of interesting observations: California which is the most populated state heads the table with 32 DAs. The next closest one is Florida (ranked 4th in
population) is with 13 DAs.
|Number of DAs |
|Population Ranking |
|CA ||32 ||1 |
|FL ||13 ||4 |
|GA ||9 ||10 |
||8 ||8 |
|NC ||8 ||5 |
|NY ||8 ||3 |
|TX ||8 ||2 |
|CO ||7 ||22 |
|OR ||7 ||27 |
|MA ||5 ||14 |
|NJ ||5 ||11
|VA ||5 ||12 |
|PA ||4 ||6 |
|IN ||3 ||16 |
|CT ||2 ||28 |
||2 ||19 |
|MI ||2 ||9 |
|MN ||2 ||21 |
|MO ||2 ||18 |
|AZ ||1 ||15 |
|DC ||1 ||49 |
|NH ||1 ||42 |
|RI ||1 ||43
One expects from the second and third most populated states (Texas and New York) with a very ethnically diverse demography to have more DAs. Washington,
Colorado and Oregon do extremely well, when you compare them with their populations. Ohio is ranked seventh in the USA, but it has only two DAs even though there is a MLS (Columbus Crew) club in the
state. For years, St. Louis had been considered as a “hotbed of soccer." But Missouri has only two DAs, one of which is MLS team Sporting Kansas City's DA.
U.S. Soccer should
analyze these discrepancies and find solutions for a more fair distribution of DAs across the country. One of the objectives of U.S. Soccer forming the DAs was to bypass the
“pay-to-play” system. Giving the status or title of a DA to “pay-to-play”-based clubs when they do not have a full pledged DA is contrary to U.S. Soccer’s intentions.
This actually boosts the “pay-to-play” model. The Division 2 idea I suggested in my last article along with the concept of PDA might help U.S. Soccer move towards its objective closer. Ahmet Guvener (email@example.com) is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of the Turkish FA. He
was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in