Boys Development Academy shakeup: U.S. Soccer moves 44 clubs into lower division at U-18/19

U.S. Soccer has split the Boys Development Academy’s U18/19 league into two divisions for the 2019-20 season that kicks off on Aug. 31. Several clubs that have traditionally been among the USA’s most successful will be playing in the lower division. The DA's MLS clubs are all in the higher division. There will be intra-division play at the newly introduced DA Cup, the showcases, and the national postseason playoffs.

The implementation of the tiered system, which will not yet be applied to U-16/17 and U-15, comes in the wake of MLS clubs complaining that their schedules included too many games that didn't provide challenging competition. Last January, U.S. Soccer’s Chief Sport Development Officer Nico Romeijn confirmed  MLS clubs were considering leaving the DA and that U.S. Soccer was contemplating altering the competition format.

All of the DA’s U-18/19 teams from MLS clubs -- which include 2020 expansion team Inter Miami but not the Chicago Fire, which is no longer fielding a team in the oldest age group -- were placed into the higher “Red” division, which is comprised of 36 teams, 14 of which are non-MLS clubs. The non-MLS-only lower “Blue” division is comprised of 44 teams. Sixteen red division teams and 8 blue division teams will automatically qualify for the 32-team postseason playoffs. They will be joined by the eight highest ranked teams from the new DA Cup, which will merge with showcase competition.

“Our decision about games and schedules has always been about meaningful competition,” said Development Academy Director Jared Micklos. “We took a first step in that last year, and that’s where you saw an unbalanced schedule that was about providing top teams with more games against top teams, and more games between mid-level tier against mid-level tier teams, etc.

“Our goal, whenever we complete a schedule, whether it be the regular season, the new cup competition, or event-related schedules, it’s always about making sure the clubs have the most meaningful games, which is a key component for player development for us.”

The criteria U.S. Soccer used to divide the clubs was: "performance history, player production, market and the ability to provide meaningful games." The new format also introduces different geographic divisions. FC Dallas, for example, will play in the Red Frontier conference while the Dallas Texans will compete in the Blue Central. That's only one example of traditional rivals no longer playing league games against each other in oldest age group.

Washington State's Crossfire Premier finished in first place the last two seasons in the highest age group of the Northwest Division, which included regional rivals Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps, and the San Jose Earthquakes. Crossfire Premier has been demoted to the Blue division and now its nearest league games will be 800 miles south, in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment on a club specifically, because we look at it holistically," said Micklos. "When we look at the data, we're not looking at a single year. It's not using just the past year. It's using data from across the age groups, and across years. And it's also looking at the market and we're constantly evaluating where the top markets are. Just like the academy map, in a remote market, you have one club.

"In the most concentrated markets, in New York or L.A., you have multiple clubs. We're trying to get the right amount of representation. Just like when we decide on an academy club being part of the program in the membership, we do the same thing when we're looking at meaningful games. Because if we have the right number of clubs in the right market, that gives us the best chance to get meaningful games."

After the 2019-20 season, U.S. Soccer will reevaluate the U-18/19 tiers and structure, and may move teams for the 2020-21 season. U.S. Soccer will also consider expanding the two-tier format to other age groups.

A number of club directors contacted for a reaction to the new format indicated that they were blind-sided by the news of their club's demotion, and asked for more time to assess what the impact may be on their clubs before commenting.

(This article was updated at 12:20 a.m. ET 8/2/2019.)

23 comments about "Boys Development Academy shakeup: U.S. Soccer moves 44 clubs into lower division at U-18/19".
  1. Eric Jensen, August 1, 2019 at 10:05 p.m.

    Am sure that this schedule had nothing to do with crossfire’s request to fifa drc re: solidarity payments

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, August 2, 2019 at 12:28 a.m.

    This is the only case I have ever heard of where the defending champion is relegated! Three cheers for promotion/relegation as the solution to the problems plaguing the MLS clubs.

  3. Wallace Wade, August 1, 2019 at 10:26 p.m.

    Yea, The Dallas Texans don’t have much history of success?!?!

  4. Bob Ashpole, August 2, 2019 at 12:21 a.m.

    This can only lead to greater travel costs and lost time.

    I don't understand why USSF insists on including both professional and amateur teams in the same league and now the same division. The only reason I can think of is that it is more profitable for pay-to-play clubs in the top division. 

  5. James Rose replied, August 6, 2019 at 1:21 p.m.

    MLS DA teams are no better than club teams in regular or post season play in looking at previous seasons. My son’s DA club teams regularly beat MLS DA teams. MLS DA and clubs playing in the same league allowed for the players to be able to show their talent to US YNT and international scouts. The club DA teams are the best US Youth and US Club players the country has to offer. These players were developed by non-MLS clubs. Every MLS DA player today developed under this system. Under this new model players from non-MLS DA teams such as Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, DeAndre Yedlin or Alejandro Bedoya would have been left behind. The idea that MLS DA teams have a lock on quality players is a joke and a huge mistake.

    MLS shut down the residency program at Bradenton in 2017 under the threat of leaving the DA and the promise that they were going to build their own residency programs. Today, less than a third of the MLS teams have residency programs. It was also stated at the time by MLS said that their formations and coaches were better than YNT coaches. This cynically manouver was only to reduce the number of US players headed to Europe at 18 and deny the best players a chance to develop. With MLS now seeking solidarity payments for their players headed elsewhere it is clear what their reasons are.

    The idea that MLS DA teams should be given a roughly 50% chance (4 of 8 teams) of auto qualifying for playoffs where clubs now drop to a 20-25% (2 of 8-10 teams) chance of making the same playoffs is a joke. Before this many MLS DA teams did not make playoff as they were not that good.  Today the marginal MLS teams can make it through under this rule. The only one this change is good for is MLS, not US Soccer.

    How again is this better for US Soccer development?  

  6. frank schoon, August 2, 2019 at 6:53 a.m.

    As usual the Change on the developmental side of the players takes place on the structural /administrative side of thing which is much easier  for the “bean counters” to understand and handle.
    Nothing new and surprising to me and furthermore it also has a sneaky element of control in it for it requires spending more money for travel to join this “exclusive “ group.  

  7. Wallace Wade, August 2, 2019 at 8:23 a.m.

    The actual truth is The Dallas Texans have 13 National Championships, Texans-Rise, used to be Houston Texans, won the DA National Championship last year or the year before. That means they defeated all the MLS DA’s. This is anti-competitive. This is about politics and $. Just like everything in US Soccer. Another move to placate MLS Clubs

  8. Donald Lee, August 2, 2019 at 9:18 a.m.

    Wow.   This is sure a bad look for MLS and USSF.  

  9. Tim Lenahan, August 2, 2019 at 10:20 a.m.

    The biggest issue is travel. No where else in the world are teams forced to travel by flights to play in a league game on a regular basis.  Atlanta, Miami, Michigan and Illinois teams in the same division?    How do 10  hour trips on the weekend help player development?   

  10. Brent Boone, August 2, 2019 at 10:21 a.m.

    Agree with Eric, Crossfire not being included in the top Red division is an absolute joke and has everything thing to do with their lawsuit involving the Yedlin case.  The champion of the Northwest Division the last two years, which includes multiple MLS academy teams, and they have not earned the right to be in the top division is an embarassment to US Soccer and the DA.

  11. R2 Dad, August 2, 2019 at 10:38 a.m.

    Would like to hear the opinions of coaches. Does the fact that people/clubs are demanding meaningful/challenging matches reflect the fact that practice sessions are not meaningful/challenging? Everything I've read about top level training says practice is supposed to be more difficult than matches....

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, August 2, 2019 at 12:32 p.m.

    Depends on age level. At the later stage of development the focus is on learning how to win matches. A challenging opponent is necessary, but challenging opponents are everywhere. Boys can play up or against men's teams. Girls can play up or against boys teams.

    Out-of-state travel is necessary only to have a "league" competition. It is not necessary to develop athletes. Learning how to win a league championship is not on any athlete development curriculum I ever heard of. The league competitions only serve commercial purposes.

  13. Carlo Palazzese, August 2, 2019 at 1:36 p.m.

    So how about Inter Miami CF with no history in the Central Red but Bradenton IMG Academy, Miami Kendall SC and Weston FC (Ft Lauderdale) with all with greater tradition and history placed in the Southeast Blue.

  14. Mike Coliton, August 2, 2019 at 1:46 p.m.

    This is a scam money grab by influential brokers to freeze out their competiton.  This will only reduce the number of players in the development pool and thus a detriment to the development of players in our country.

  15. Bob Ashpole, August 2, 2019 at 2:38 p.m.

    What does the USSF Board of Directors think of this decision?

  16. beautiful game, August 2, 2019 at 4:01 p.m.

    Continued incompetence of U.S. Soccer; the political mentality is part of the swamp.

  17. Jim Martineau, August 2, 2019 at 4:53 p.m.

    Not sure if this is the best way to do it and I sure would be pissed if I was Crossfire, however, this has been a long time coming. 

    The MLS clubs wield singificantly more influence and the financials don't even compare.  Given those are the huge drivers in this, it's not surprising at all.

    Let's face it, if you're a top player near an MLS club, why would you pay (more) money to play for a non-MLS club.  You wouldn't (just ask the Dallas Texans about their player pool).

    Before we get started on hammering the "pay to play" model, let's realize that no coaches or administrators are looking to take a pay cut so the USMNT will get better.

    Instead, let's work harder on getting more kids involved in youth soccer (numbers are declining) and do a better job with them once they get in the door.  Not just the rich kids, but have US Soccer support real community outreach programs where we can develop kids as people and players (the future supporters of US Soccer)

  18. Bob Ashpole replied, August 2, 2019 at 10:20 p.m.

    It makes no sense for USSF to be supervising professional club's youth development programs. USSF wants to keep the professional clubs in the DA because it will lead the parents to think better of the amateur clubs that play "in the same league" with the pros.

  19. Eric Jensen, August 3, 2019 at 7:17 p.m.

    Having had a day or so to think about it, the ironic thing is that if US Soccer had included a formal promotion/relegation aspect to the new u19 scheduling when they rolled it out, I think that most clubs in the 2nd tier might have grumbled but would have been fine. 

    In our local competitive club league, every year, as teams age up, in each group, the top two teams are promoted up and the bottom two teams are dropped down. It's automatic and everybody is aware and it happens for all age groups. Exceptions occur on a case by case.

    If USSDA did this, would suspect that everybody would be all good.

    The Tier 2 clubs would have their opportunity to show what they got, and the MLS clubs - since academies cost soooooooo much money - would have to put their money where their mouth is to stay in Tier 1.

    The optics of what happened to Crossfire and the Dallas Texans is not a good look, but it's not too late to fix things a bit.

  20. cony konstin, August 3, 2019 at 8:20 p.m.

    First of all at the u18/19 the players in South America are not playing kiddy soccer anymore. They are playing with and against adults. So that is the real change that should be happening. 

    I believe that the DA must continue for our ladies. And there should be a another  tier we’re USSF invest by taking our best 15-18 year old ladies and pay for their college and get them a pro contract on the Nwsl teams. USSF HAS 150 million dollars in their war chest. In the finals of the U17 fifa women’s World Cup the starting Spanish and Mexican teams are playing pro soccer and not high school. If the USSF wants our women to stay on top they must invest in working to make our women’s pro sustainable and strong. 

    Meanwhile the MLS must define itself that they’re in the business of making Pros. And rest of youth b oys soccer is in the business of making nice kids. s of making Pros. And the rest of youth boys soccer is in the business of making great kids. 

  21. Bob Ashpole replied, August 3, 2019 at 10:18 p.m.

    Well said.

  22. Dan Allen, August 3, 2019 at 9 p.m.

    My son pays at the academy level.
    We've watched from the time has was 10 how clustered the academy program is.

    There was a time when us soccer mandatedt every Academy play a 4-4-2 formation. This was all in the attempt to build a strong national team program through consistent player development.

    Well that didn't last long. what we have now are academy's being run in completely different ways. There's no oversight. I've seen coaches belittle their players to the point of quitting all of the name of building mental toughness. But if I'm not allowed to challenge back how tough am I really being? I'm only learning to be a follower not a leader.

    Some clubs train 4 days a week and some clubs  train 3. No oversight even though the rules dictate 4 days a week.

    MLS academies are covered by the MLS program while private academies the players have to foot the bill, in other words pay-to-play.
    So many top players are being left behind.

    Now let's get real and look at motivation :
    The MLS clubs are looking for the next pro player and all the rest are there with dreams but actually are just filling the roster.
    Non MLS academies are trying to put the kids into college.

    Two competing sets of motivations create competing methods for training and development.

    Imagine if baseball minor leagues were not all pointed towards the Major leagues.

    Given that Talent is cyclical it's absolutely inane that the head of US soccer development Academy program would slot programs based on their current strength. 

    If you feel compelled to divide the teams up then simply make two separate programs:
    When grouping is for MLS and 1 grouping is for non-mls

    and if you really really want these players to represent our national team then for God's sakes stop adding so many academies. It's so diluted that there are players on the academy level that have no business even being in a second-tier club team.

    Take a look at how many academies are in the San Francisco Bay area.
    It's kind of a joke.
    it used to be making an academy was a badge of honor. Now it's just whoever can afford to pay the high fees and the travel... Well that is except for the special MLS clubs.

    Or let's get really radical... instead of battling for talent maybe the MLS should sponsor and control the entire Academy program just like major league baseball controls minor league program.

    Honest to God it's like tab Ramos and all of the other wanna be heads of soccer whose only pedigree is a fact that they played soccer, just throw shit up against the wall to see what sticks.
    Well the only thing that's sticking is the growth of the caliber of player in men's US soccer.... It's sticking like mud in one place.

  23. Keith Brunell, August 5, 2019 at 1:27 p.m.

    Crossfire has always done all it can to put its teams
    and players in the most challenging situations to grow, learn, develop and become better players without the resources, staffing and financials as MLS clubs. DA at older ages is fully funded and the club has produced and exported talent that they get little credit for, they have always played meaningful completion and make the teams around them better because they play and compete. 
    The reason why they send many of their teams and players (both boys and girls) to Europe is so they can see and play against the best players and clubs in the world and expose them to what World Cup and UEFA winning teams are made of so the club and kids can benchmark what we luck here stateside and better develop. And not just to be the big kid in the local neighborhood who expects everyone to join them because they have MLS on their arm. US Soccer continues to struggle and needs a wider casting net around the player pool because the MLS clubs do not always get it right. Look at Solar, look at De Anza, look at many other non MLS clubs, many of these kids left or did not want to play for the big club down the block for many reasons.
    They must have made this decision in isolation and not looked at the facts. The teams are traveling further and to parts of the country that are even more expensive. It seems like this was done on purpose to further try to isolate non MLS clubs. Michigan to Florida? It is already difficult on the kids to balance school and soccer, now they made it more difficult. 
    So why create a relegation system they would never consider to adapt at the MLS level, because it is about botton line financials and funneling everything to satisfy the MLS clubs owners and teams. 
    This should only fuel and make the clubs in D2 more hungry to develop and win. 

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