Within minutes of U.S. Soccer's announcement that its Development
Academy was ceasing operations on both the boys and girls side, Major League Soccer came out with its own announcement that it will be creating a new development league for its own academy teams,
non-MLS teams that were in the Development Academy and even teams not previously in the Development Academy.
A lot of the details of the new MLS league -- the age groups, the teams and most important and unknown a timetable for its launch -- still have to be hashed out. Right before its announcement, Todd Durbin, MLS's executive vice president of competition and player relations, gave Soccer America an overview of the league and how it hopes to start, given the current pandemic.
SA: Who will be the age groups of the league?
TODD DURBIN: "That is an issue we are still trying to finalize, to be perfectly candid with you. What I think is reasonable to say is that we're going to be participating in two age groups, the most likely being the U-17s and U-15s, but we're also considering whether to also participate regionally with the U-19s as well. A lot of that at some level will become a function of how the geography lays out and the ability to move and travel, which I think will have an impact on the total number of teams. Our current thinking and current plan is we have competition and programming for those three age groups."
SA: When will the league start and when will teams begin to travel, given the reluctance of parents to have their children travel?
TODD DURBIN: "We're going to have to ensure that the competition platform takes into account travel and the ability of players to travel safely. As we hope the country comes back online over the next several months, you'll start to see some expansion of [travel]. But it is difficult, you can imagine, to forecast how that is going to happen. In the short term, as in the case of all activities involving kids and groups working together, the most important thing is their health and safety, and we're going to have to be constructing and reflecting that in the competition we have. But it is going to be important going forward that these players have the ability to continue their development and to continue their training and have a place to play."
SA: Will all MLS clubs be required to enter teams in the league?
TODD DURBIN: "I don't know if I would use the term 'requirement.' Based on our initial conversations that we have with people, I suspect teams will have the same level of participation as we have now." [Editor's note: All current MLS clubs except for expansion Nashville SC had a slate of teams entered in the 2019-20 Development Academy."
SA: Will MLS academy teams outside the age groups of the league be allowed to enter teams in other leagues?
TODD DURBIN: "A lot of that are some of the issues we will have to work through. We all found out about all this in the last 24 hours or so, so we are reacting in real time. My guess is in the next 7-14 days we'll have a lot more detail. The most important thing is to let everyone know that while U.S. Soccer is ceasing operations [of the Development Academy], it doesn't mean that the need for elite programming and an elite platform goes away, and we're going to step in and ensure that we are providing, certainly for our existing teams but also see how that will integrate and involve the participation of other former DA clubs and even beyond that."
SA: Will MLS academy teams continue to keep their territorial rights to youth players in their markets?
TODD DURBIN: "Right now, it will remain status quo. We don't have long-term plans to adjust them."
Photo: Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire