U.S. Soccer DA director Jared Micklos on new substitution rules, managing costs, and a revamped schedule

For most of its history, the U.S. Soccer Federation played a limited role in youth soccer, managing the youth national team program and depending mainly on the U.S. Youth Soccer-run Olympic Development Program (ODP) for talent identification. But in 2007, the Federation launched its Boys Development Academy, which expanded to U-12s in 2016. The Girls DA kicked off in 2017. Ahead of the 12th boys season and the second girls season, we spoke with Development Academy Director Jared Micklos about the U-12 program, new substitution rules, and DA costs.

SOCCER AMERICA: When we interviewed U.S. Club Soccer CEO Kevin Payne last month, he said a problem with American youth soccer is there’s too much pressure put on kids at a young age. Payne said, “I think one of the worst offenders is the DA [U.S. Soccer Development Academy]. I think the whole idea of having aggressive DA program expansion below the age of 12 -- I just think it's dumb.” Would you like to respond to that?

JARED MICKLOS: This is less about the comment and more about what we are trying to do:

Creating a clear pathway for players in a club is something that we believe is helpful for the player, it’s good for their development, and it’s good for the club to be able to have a way to progress the player through these age-appropriate levels.

For us, at U-12, it’s about creating a base. And that’s why we have a larger number of clubs at U-12 than we do otherwise. And at that, we try to localize it, or regionalize it if we have to, as much as we can, because of the [travel] costs. Because we do believe in reducing the cost as much as we can. ... This is another area in the Development Academy, in player development, that we subsidize heavily.

SA: Payne said, “There is a very small number that are being anointed and a very large number that’s being told, you're not good enough” …

JARED MICKLOS: For us, it’s actually not the idea to anoint players at U-12 and say, this is the group.

We know that identifying talent is very difficult, in general. And it’s certainly difficult at the age of 12, and any time before that.

Our goal for the U-12s is to create the base, it’s about removing the results, removing standings, etc., so there’s not this overemphasis on player selection, or deselection of players, for that matter.

They’re meant to be the foundational age within the academy where the clubs can build a pool of players who will progress over time.

It’s not our goal, to say these are the 150 clubs that have all the best U-12 players in the country, because we know that’s not the case.

SOCCER AMERICA: A rule change for the 2018-19 DA season is to allow substitutions on the fly at U-12. What’s the reasoning behind that?

JARED MICKLOS: We piloted that in two markets last year: Chicago and Colorado. And we had Technical Advisors and scouts watching those games.

We talked to the clubs and we, through our leadership group, believe it’s more about the game and less about the stoppages and the interruptions.

When a player enters at the mid-line, and it takes seconds away of the game to get the player off the field … It takes time to manage the players coming on and off.

We believe [subs on the fly] is an improvement, because it decreases the amount of interruptions in a game. And, therefore, we’re taking that initiative, to allow players to enter and come off the field on the fly, for all U-12 games next season.

SA: Based on games I referee at U-12 and under, I agree that the substitutions waste a lot time and cause too many interruptions. But is there a possibility of coaches abusing it?

JARED MICKLOS: We put some talking points around it. We actually did it during the pilot, because we wanted people to understand it. So, we said, this is what it is, and this is also what it isn’t.

We’re not talking about the old-school indoor soccer subbing where someone goes in the backdoor and the attacker runs out the front door, and they time it up with a through ball behind the defense.

That’s not the idea.

We very clearly state in one of our guidelines: this substitution is not used to create an advantage on the field. It’s not used to slow the game down, anymore, by a player going in late and trying to manage the result.

It’s very much to de-emphasize the whole process and put the emphasis back on the players and the game.

One of things we said is, just substitute the way you normally would during a game, and just don’t worry about whether the ball is in or out of play for your team or the other team.

SA: When the Boys DA launched in 2007, one of the big questions was whether it would help make youth soccer less expensive at the elite level. For sure, with MLS clubs subsidizing their DA teams, very many more elite players are playing cost-free than ever …

JARED MICKLOS: We know MLS clubs have really led the way in reducing costs and creating many cost-free environments, and there’s an additional group of clubs, amateur and some other professional clubs, that have subsidized costs, which is fantastic to see for players.

SA: But I have also heard complaints that certain DA requirements have added costs. Before we get to the specifics, how much attention do you pay to feedback from clubs about the expenses and is U.S. Soccer constantly reevaluating ways of reducing costs?

JARED MICKLOS: We are asking about costs and fees every year in a survey document from the clubs.

Our goal is always to reduce costs.

We absolutely try to do that in as many ways as we can by taking on the costs of some of these areas where if these clubs had to pay, it would increase the fees even more. There are so many hidden costs to creating these environments.

SA: What does U.S. Soccer subsidize?

JARED MICKLOS: Everything from event fees, participation in the program, which there is none [club registration fee], only a nominal $50 [per] player and coach registration fee, and the referee costs at the older age groups -- those are all subsidized by the Federation to help reduce cost.

When you look at everything that’s hosted by the Federation, from our events, which are really tangible easy things to see, to behind the scenes costs like establishing a video platform for all the games to be stored and shared, which contributes to coach and player development, by reviewing it.

So, the clubs can take those moneys that they would normally pay into another platform and reinvest them into their efforts.

There are still other costly factors. These clubs do have to pay for facilities and some of them have fees to pay coaches. And there is a significant amount of cost for travel, even if it’s not a significant amount of travel. Still, getting the clubs to travel together in a bus, which is part of creating the right environment for them, and getting the players mentally prepared to play the game, and that comes with a cost.

There are a lot of those factors, but we are tracking that. We are trying to reduce them. Year over year we’ve seen more clubs invest more and the costs come down.

Clubs having to manage their own practice and game facilities is certainly a cost that they have regardless of [what league] they play in.

SA: One complaint is that the field space the DA requires for DA teams' practices is difficult to accommodate, especially when balancing it with a clubs non-DA's teams need for field space ...

JARED MICKLOS: The training field suggestion is about creating the best environment for players. Having all four of your Girls DA teams on the field at one, on a quarter of the field each, doesn’t fit with creating the best environment for your players because you can’t teach game-real situations on a part of the field that doesn't have the appropriate size.

The club manages that. There’s a recommendation' that yeah, the clubs should have half-field at times, they should have full-field at times. Based on what the topic is and what the coach is working on. And that should be planned out.

Regardless of where they play, every player deserves that kind of space when they play the game.

About the costs in general, we are tracking them and trying to reduce them.

SA: Have changes been made based on what you’ve seen?


This year we revamped the competition structure. We try to eliminate games that were far distances or at high travel costs when they did not have meaning and did not have the appropriate level of resistance between the two teams.

If you had a team that was a very strong team traveling from L.A. to Northern California, and that game was traditionally not a meaningful game -- a 4-, 5-, 6- or 7-goal margin -- we either remove that game completely from the schedule and replace it with a game that’s more meaningful for both teams, or we might have went from playing that game two or three times to playing it once.

So, we’re still spreading the cost within, but reducing it specifically in games where the level of resistance is not worth the trip or the investment for those players when we think about, is this a game for them to develop.

We reduced the number of games slightly in that effort. So, part of the process was bringing the number of games down, and creating open weekends, and allowing clubs to manage if they wanted to spend more money, traveling more, etc., rather than requiring that.

[Editor’s note: The DA also has cut costs for the U-12 program by no longer requiring the video-taping of every game. The issue of coach license requirements burdening clubs with extra costs was addressed in last week’s interview with U.S. Soccer’s Nico Romeijn (Chief Sport Development Officer) and Ryan Mooney (Chief Soccer Officer).]


9 comments about "U.S. Soccer DA director Jared Micklos on new substitution rules, managing costs, and a revamped schedule".
  1. GA Soccer Forum, August 22, 2018 at 9:35 a.m.

    Personally I wish DA would retract and just go to the 3 older age groups - u15, u17, and u19.

    Too many unknowns with the younger age groups and often you end up with bigger kids = better. I don't want to get to into this, but in city like Atlanta, the youth clubs are doing an amazing job with the young kids. U12 DA is really no different than its predecessor of just regular u12 what we called jr academy play. All the top u12 teams in the are played one another regardless of what league they were or weren't in. Now we have 4-5 other top u12 teams that will never ever play a u12 DA side. maybe a scrimmage here or there, but most avoid them during the season.

    One thing it did do at least at the DA clubs is force the teams hand in playing 9v9 vs jumping to 11v11. The rat race to 11v11 here in Georgia has been an issue for years. However it did the opposite effect for the non DA clubs -- those clubs were left with less competition and fewer competitive games, so their hands were tied to play up with the u13s 11v11.

    I don't recall if subs at u12 were on any dead ball. If a kid is standing there to come in, let him enter on any deadball other than a corner kick regardless of whose possession it is. This might have been the rule, but don't think it was. Subs on the fly sounds like it will be chaos, especially with 1 referee.

    What happened with double pass review? Will that document be made public, or is it still on going. Seems crazy that teams are making 10 hour trips still for 1 game.

    I also think that if a club wants DA at specifically the u15+ age group, then US Soccer and the club need to find away to make it subsidized in some manner -- goal should be to reduce fees and travel expenses not increase them. Every year the cost is going up. I'm not an economics expert, but look at most mega clubs that are non-profits 990 forms and you will see their is money at these clubs, the question is how is this money allocated. if a club wants to be a DA club, they shouldn't have 1 million dollars being paid to the directors of the clubs. I understand capitalism, but at what expense.

    One major positive is they are exploring change which they think will improve the game and development of kids -- this is good news, vs just doing the same ole thing over and over and over. Bottom line is kids shouldn't have to walk away from DA because of costs, that shouldn't be a limiting factor, and I'm talking about middle class families that could afford to play and wouldn't qualify for scholarships.

    I also think 4 nights a week of training at u13 is too much. Its fine if your within 15 minutes of your training fields, but around here we have families easily traveling 1+ hour each way 4 nights a week. Kids sleeping in cars, eating in cars, doing homework in cars, or not doing homework at all because of exhaustion. Yes, DA isn't for everyone, but there are way to many quality players being left out.

  2. beautiful game replied, August 22, 2018 at 9:47 a.m.

    GA Soccer Forum; logical analysis of the "dog & pony show" interview. Identifying talent is not 12 yoa and below, no player should be put under any pressure. Each has to develop at his own pace, physically & mentally. Coaches who create pressure don't belong in coaching. 

  3. Kent James replied, August 22, 2018 at 2:23 p.m.

    You make a lot of good points.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, August 22, 2018 at 4:20 p.m.

    It is pretty clear to me that this is catering to the "play-to-pay" clubs to sell parents on their clubs, because as Micklos pretty much concedes there is no development reason to try to identify elite players that earlier. In fact in the sports science definition of talent, talent doesn't exist to be identified until some players have developed faster than others given the same training.

  5. s fatschel replied, August 23, 2018 at 9:08 a.m.

    Travel to and from practice is not something USSF is going to be able to solve. In some cases parents will need to move.  However things like adding ODP teams to the DA or subsizing  team travel when requiring flights such as Ohio to Minnesota, NorCal to SoCal is something USSF should help with.

  6. s fatschel, August 22, 2018 at 9:49 a.m.

    MW you were not tough enough on your questions regarding the top issue in the costs.  I still see scheduled games across 3 or even 4 states in the Midwest. This is unacceptable after 10 years. 

  7. Bob Ashpole, August 22, 2018 at 4:16 p.m.

    For me the U12 DA program was dead idea at conception. For obvious reason. No need to discuss them. 

  8. beautiful game, August 22, 2018 at 6:12 p.m.

    Just a reminder folks. Giuseppe Rossi played youth soccer until age 14 before going to the Parma Academy in Italy. I refereed two games in which he played and his talent scale was off the charts. His coach gave team instructions before the game and at half-time. He (coach) stood on the sidelines and never uttered one word to any of his players. Luckily Rossi had the right coach(s) before going to Europe.

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, August 23, 2018 at 1:18 a.m.

    The Laws of course were changed to allow coaching from the sideline in 1993. The current generation of coaches were not exposed to the old tradition of the primary role of the players in determining appropriate tactcs during play without the coaches involvement. I believe that is why today young coaches have a tendancy to overcoach.

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