JASON DEWHURST: There are many different reasons. At the end of the day, we felt we had to do what was right for our membership.
I have a great amount of respect for the U.S. Soccer Federation and the people involved with the Development Academy. This decision was more based about us than anything in the Federation. But there are certain restrictions that we thought were not best in line with our philosophy. … It could change, one day, with the Federation … I don’t know.
SA: What was the main reason?
JASON DEWHURST: The first one, for sure, was the substitution rule, specifically at U-14, U-15.
We have the mindset that that is actually against player development. I know that the DA thinks it’s about player development and players managing minutes and coaches managing players, and I 100 percent understand that.
But if you’re playing in a one-game weekend, which a lot of the time it is, some kids see 15-20 minutes of action, and that’s the only game time that they get in a week. For me that’s just not player development. Kids need to play.
The training environment is very, very important and we have a great training environment. But at the end of the day, these kids also need to play to develop.
For us, that was a huge point of contention for our families and the players, too.
[Editor's note: The 2017-18 DA sub rules at U-15 is a maximum of five subs, no reentry. And at U-14, maximum seven subs and no reentry. The ECNL allows seven substitutions in each half; no reentry in the same half but players subbed out in the first half may return in the second half.]
SA: So players get less game time, and the DA’s prohibition on competition outside of the DA means kids can’t catch real-game playing time otherwise …
JASON DEWHURST: For us, with the no-entry it became tough, especially with the one-game weekends. Kids just weren’t seeing as much playing time. On the other side of that, the no outside competition. That really kind of went away from our philosophy.
If a kid was only seeing 15 to 20 minutes on a Saturday in a DA game, then we would like to say to that kid, “Guess what, you're going to play a full game tomorrow with our NPL team.”
But because of the rule of the no outside competition, we weren’t able to do that.
So that was one of the big things for us and we didn’t see that changing. That was something we constantly heard about from our members, parents.
SA: What was another important issue?
JASON DEWHURST: The second one I would say is the double age group, specifically next year at the 2002, 2003 age group. For example, we have a current U-15 team, 2003s, and these players have given up high school soccer, they’ve committed to the DA, they’ve committed to our program. And then within a year, more than likely, more than half those kids will probably be cut from the program, because it goes to a double age group -- to 02/03 [in 2018-19, U-16/17].
For us, we thought that was unacceptable for those players. To come in and give up high school soccer is a huge deal in our area. That caused a lot of anxiety from the parents as the season is coming to an end. What are we going to do next year?
That was something we brought up whenever we spoke to the Federation. We said we would like to see the single age group, and obviously that hasn’t happened.
SA: Kids having to sacrifice playing high school soccer to commit to the DA ... was that one of the main issues?
JASON DEWHURST: Yes, but more so in our area, the private school issue. We have a lot of private school players within our system and they have to play high school sports. And we as a club from Day 1 decided that we were not going to [ask for] waivers. And the reason for that is because I don’t think you can look one kid in the eye and say, “Listen, because you’re a private school kid we’re going to give you a waiver and you can play high school,” and look another kid in the eye and say, “Guess what, because you don’t go to private school, we’re going to make you give up high school soccer.”
[Editor’s note: According to the DA regulations: “Players who receive consideration or financial aid to attend a private high school based on their participation with the soccer team are eligible” for waivers to allow them “to remain on their clubs Academy roster during the high school soccer season.”]
For us, we made that decision from Day 1. We stood by it. But the reality is that prohibited a lot of our top players from playing in the DA. And that would have continued. Other clubs have done waivers.
SA: These issues -- the sub rules, ban on outside competition and high school play -- are ones the Federation doesn’t plan on altering?
JASON DEWHURST: They were three things we shared with the Federation. We’ve been very upfront about it. We’ve had very civil conversations with the Federation about what we’ve done, and the reasons we’ve done it and the process, so now we’ll move on.
SA: When U.S. Soccer launched the DA, there were some who predicted that top clubs and players would eventually migrate to the DA. How do you things will look five years from now?
JASON DEWHURST: I really don’t know. At the end of the day, we looked at it from our club’s standpoint. We did it because throughout the year the feedback we got from our families and that’s how we made the decision, because we thought it was the best for our club [to leave the DA].
Other clubs, the DA works for them, in different markets. I’m not going to say one’s better than the other.
SA: When I interviewed Anson Dorrance in February, he suggested U.S. Soccer “marry together” the Girls DA and the ECNL. Can you imagine a future in which the DA and the ECNL work together?
JASON DEWHURST: I don’t think I can even comment on that because I don’t know. People have said it would be great if they could work together. Right now, they’re two separate entities.