MLS clubs consider leaving the Development Academy

Nico Romeijn, U.S. Soccer’s Chief Sport Development Officer, has confirmed that MLS clubs are considering pulling out of the Development Academy.

“There's always a possibility,” said Romeijn when asked whether U.S. Soccer may be faced with playing its 2019-2020 season without MLS clubs participating in its Development Academy, which was launched in 2007 for the nation’s elite players. “We're still talking with MLS. …

“It's possible, because we're not governing MLS. But the thing we are really focused on is that alignment of the pathway. As you know, our landscape is quite fragmented. It's really important for us to have that alignment, so when we think about player development we think about, ‘OK, maybe it's good to have pro competition and then the other clubs.’”

Exactly how MLS would operate its youth competition outside of the DA is unclear, but its issues with the DA format include the widening gap of quality between MLS clubs and amateur clubs, and the DA’s restrictions on outside competition, such as international play.

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Last year, U.S. Soccer responded to complaints from MLS clubs’ about traveling long distances to play against teams that don’t offer meaningful competition. It decreased the number of DA games on the schedule and created “free weekends” for clubs to choose their own competition, such as against foreign teams. The DA has also for years allowed MLS clubs to compete in the Generation adidas Cup.

“One of the things [the MLS clubs] really like to do is play against international opponents,” said Romeijn. “And, of course, that's a really good benchmark when you're talking about player development.

“Then we say, of course, we will look at the schedule and we will give you the opportunities. It's the same when you're looking at the Generation [adidas] Cup they organize.”

For some MLS clubs, the free weekends provided so far aren’t enough to satisfy their quest to take international trips or they fall during inconvenient times of the year.

Romeijn says he can envision MLS continuing in the DA with a different format in which MLS clubs are given more flexibility. But …

“There are, of course, limitations,” said Romeijn. “One cannot say, all 23 clubs, give your schedule and we will adapt. That's impossible. Because you cannot build a competition on that."

An example of adjusting the DA schedule to please MLS clubs would be to allow, within the DA structure, more games between MLS clubs.

“You can imagine Philadelphia and Red Bulls,” Romeijn said, “and they say, OK, not only two but four of these games are really valuable for them when you're looking at player development. And that's what we want to do. Focus on player development.”

Because of the investment required to travel in a country as large as the USA, it would be difficult to imagine MLS creating its own type of youth leagues similar to Mexico's Liga MX, in which U-17 and U-20 travel with the first team to play in a national youth league that mirrors first-team competition. More likely, MLS academies could design a combination of national, local and international competition for their youth teams, and perhaps combine with USL youth programs.

Alternatives to MLS pulling all of its teams out of the DA include keeping its younger teams in the DA and MLS creating its own competition for the older age groups. The DA, for its part, could propose a tiered format based on the quality of its clubs to placate the MLS clubs that believe they’re playing too many games against weaker competition.

“We are now in the process of having these conversations,” said Romeijn. “Nothing has been decided yet.”

13 comments about "MLS clubs consider leaving the Development Academy".
  1. P T, January 10, 2019 at 9:29 p.m.

    You don't need international competition to test something we already know - our ball skills are lacking and travel just doesn't help improve skills. Why test something when you know the answer. This exclusivity of soccer continues to migrate down into the youth academies. Why not open up these DAs and MLS teams to inner city youth and other kids in the area and build back the collapsing attrition rate of youth soccer participation. You will find pearls in one's backyard. They just need to expand the tent and keep kids engaged and playing.  Instead of building a 100 million dollar shrine for soccer training in KC; help communities and just keep kids home and playing in their back yards. 

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, January 10, 2019 at 11:02 p.m.

    Why tell professional clubs how to run their program?

  3. R2 Dad replied, January 11, 2019 at 12:51 a.m.

    Because MLS owns a monopoly, Bob, and won't come to decisions that serve the larger community unless they lead to profit. Garber has already seen the jewels of the academy system run off to Europe as soon as possible, greatly crimping the upside of DA investment. So Cordeiro must establish guidelines for MLS to follow that allow MLS to grow the business yet still serve the development interests of players. 

  4. Michael Saunders replied, January 11, 2019 at 8:46 a.m.

    Spot on PT .....   nothing more to be said ........ 

  5. frank schoon replied, January 11, 2019 at 9:58 a.m.

    Guys, you all make good points, here, but all this talk to me is comparable to discussing what kind of icing to put on a not well made cake . That's the problem I see,and it hasn't changed for over 50years.
    The DA program is a joke...it amazes me that someone finally came up with the idea that the travel time for teams is inefficient. I'll take it a step further, you think Pele, Cruyff, Messi, Maradona, got good due to the travel schedules playing different teams. There is such an emphasis on teams as the developmental agent for players, which is I think is wrong.  Can you imagine if you took all that traveling time and put it to better use, for example intra-squad game playing only using your left foot, or just work dribbling ,shooting, crossing, trapping a ball under pressure with the weak foot.... I'm willing to bet none of the DA teams have produced players who can play with either foot. The DA program need to stress individualism, First, team second, but the former is totally missing.
    I know when soccer is on its way and established when, instead of reading an article like this, I read that kids having trouble find space to play pick up soccer.

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, January 11, 2019 at 11:01 a.m.

    R2 Dad, so you don't believe in the efficiency of market dynamics and competition? MLS is not a true monopoly, and MLS clubs do compete against each other economically and athletically.

    USSF is being the typical bureacracy and simply wants to control everyone. They should leave the professional clubs to develop players how they see best, and focus on the rest. Do you think the German FA micro manages the professional clubs in Germany? No, and in Germany you have to pick baby names from lists of approved names. So it isn't about freedom of the individual in Germany. It is about efficiency.

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, January 11, 2019 at 11:04 a.m.

    R2 Dad, what would really disturb me is if the "greater good" you wanted was for MLS teams to travel around the country to the benefit of the pay-to-play clubs in MLS. I hope that is not your concept of greater good.

  8. frank schoon replied, January 11, 2019 at noon

    Bob, just a comment on "Team Building" . I'm not a supporter of it ,I think it is just another 'newby", introduced by new generation of coaches who think soccer can be learned done by following  the numbers of how to play... In Holland some of the teams, play "paint ball', climb trees, canoe together and all touchie-feely, which has absolutely no application to playing well together. Playing well together takes insight and game savviness and soccer knowledge, that you get from canoeing or play cowboys and indians together. BTW, they have introduced also a'mental coach" ,I'm sure that will help you trap the ball under pressure better... The great soccer playing teams, Brazil '70, Dutch'74 and Ajax of the early 70's, etc, never had this garbage, likewise Barcelona...
    Players on the same team will form a camaraderie,regardless which comes automatically, and there will always players who don't click together due to personalities. But in the end, like Cruyff states , I will either win playing with my enemies if not friends, bottom line. 
    Van Hanegem, likewise not a fan of this garbage, stated,  a team is made of players whose job it is to help each other during any moment in a game situation, and this can be done by moving away creating space, or avail yourself for a pass, or come to the ball, etc. That doesn't require having had touchie-feelie prior experience but pragmatism, pur sang. 

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, January 11, 2019 at 1:23 p.m.

    Here is my take on it Frank. I thought the best way for a coach to build a team was to play soccer together in a positive friendly environment, shift the groups so everyone played with and against everyone else, teach players how to support and communicate in the game, allow social interaction between the players that doesn't disrupt training, and above all make playing fun.

    I also believe that coaching girls is different than coaching boys. Most girls have social expectations, needs that must be recognized and met, in addition to just playing soccer in order for the team to be a successful and positive experience for both players and coach. Girls also generally develop social skills faster than boys. It is an advantage. Also with girls rotating the groupings is especially important to avoid forming cliques. You want the social group defined as the team rather than a part of the team.

  10. frank schoon replied, January 11, 2019 at 1:36 p.m.

    Can't argue with that... I'm talking more on a pro-level not on kids level as you mentioned....
    I think automatically ,if you love the game , you always make friends with whom play with ,with some better than others which is only natural.
    Girls are different , I'v coached some teams...Boys are more competitive and therefore less social...

  11. Bob Ashpole replied, January 12, 2019 at 1:42 a.m.

    Professionals are a different situation. I agree. My experience with professionals is in other areas, not sports. I agree professionals should need little coaching in that aspect. When you do have problems, they are usually major and not fixable except by moving people. Most of the sports psychology I have heard about is aimed at enhancing performance through mental exercises. The nature of professional sports has enough built into it as you said. The players see an awful lot of each other through the year (travel, meals, team meetings, even signing autographs at a meet and greet, all are shared experiences outside of playing the game).   

  12. Right Winger, January 11, 2019 at 10 a.m.

    International competition is a waste of money as our program stands today.  PT hit the nail on the head when it comes to ball skills.  Look at our youth national teams U15,16,17 and even in the U20 they are technically mal nourished.  Our players can outrun a chetah for 90 minutes but they can't get near the goal because there are very few players with the ball skills to be creative.  We can chase it, catch it and then we don't know what to do with it.  Our coaching looks for athletic ability vs soccer sense and ability.  We have some kids with great skills but they are overlooked because our program does not concentrate on ball control.

  13. humble 1, January 11, 2019 at 2 p.m.

    Could it be that MLS is awakening to the reality the DA is a poorly conceived system?  We mostly agree that we need the centralized US Armed Forces to defend our country - but certainly not that we need or want the FBI making local laws and doing our local policing.  Why would we want a beaucracy in Chicago, IL directing how we ID and develop soccer talent in Texas?  This is a no brainer.  DA has not demonstrated that it can identify talent or develop players effectively.  Over more than 10 years it has yet to turn out a world class player.  The about face on boys U12 DA was very telling.  Recall that U12 was implemented the year after they blew up (boys and girls) teams accross the country with the calendar year change.  In my neck of the  woods U12 boys DA created massive turnover for clubs and the training at DA teams was not supperior.  I agree with others above that it is better to for MLS clubs to ID and develop their own players as they see fit in their own unique context, even if they give up the money they get from DA, which is some, but not much.  And thinking of that, this is probably a necessary pre-curser for MLS Clubs to start accepting recompensation - as it would be tricky for them to claim such - with the DA affiliation whatever it is.  I am pretty sure that it is not the norm internationally for FA's to be involved in player ID and development, for this very reason.     

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