Bernie James on the DA's collapse: 'To just abandon everyone creates panic and problems for everyone involved'

Crossfire Premier, based in Redmond, Washington, 15 miles east of Seattle, joined U.S. Soccer’s Boys Development Academy upon its inception in 2007. It began fielding teams in the Girls ECNL upon its launch in 2009, and in the Girls DA when it started in 2017. Bernie James  has been Crossfire Premier’s Director of Coaching since 2003.

SOCCER AMERICA: U.S. Soccer has pulled the plug on the Development Academy. Crossfire Premier had already left the Girls DA before this season …

BERNIE JAMES: The moment it changed for us was when some of our best girls quit the DA in their junior and senior years to play high school and ECNL at our club rather than play DA for free. That really opened our eyes.

I called Jared [Micklos, then the DA director] a number of times telling him that this was going to be a real problem. And their answer was always the same. "You need to change the culture."

We're doing our best, but when some of your best girls quit free soccer -- we were paying approximately $7,000 per kid a year for DA travel -- then I think that program is not the right program for us. That model wasn't working for our girls, at least at our club.

SA: On the boys side?

BERNIE JAMES: Like I've said many times, the Boys DA at the older ages had been a phenomenal league. It was the best boys league competition without question, until they started fiddling with it. Until people who have no idea about American soccer – about travel distances and so forth -- started screwing with it. It was an expensive league, especially for us, but a really good league. Believe it or not, I loved the DA in the older age groups. That will never change. I just hated the way they started running it.

SA: Like when last year shortly before the season they tiered the oldest age group?

BERNIE JAMES: In August, when we had no other options of course, they told us our closest games are going to be 900 miles away when we have three DA partners [Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps] within 150 miles that are awesome teams -- that we're competitive with because we won the division the last couple of years.

I don't think there's any pro sports team in this country that has their closest game 900 miles away. Once they tiered it, once they listened to the Dutch guy or whoever was in charge, they ruined it. I knew that if that was going to continue we were going to have to leave. You can't have your closest game 900 miles away.

SA: Crossfire Premier, which had been also fielding teams in the Boys ECNL, will now also field its top teams, its former DA teams, in the Boys ECNL. But shortly after U.S. Soccer’s announcement, MLS announced it would start a development league and include non-MLS clubs. Will that affect Crossfire?

BERNIE JAMES: Everything MLS does affects us one way or another. But honestly, I can't trust them or U.S. Soccer -- and they seem to be the same thing -- after what they did to us last year, and then how they left us and all the other clubs hanging with no plan.

We've been in it 13 years, put in millions of dollars, and we heard nothing until they sent out the email to everyone. We were sending out weekly updates to our players and families trying to ensure we're on top of this thing and trying to get things going. And we got nothing from U.S. Soccer.

To just abandon everyone creates panic and problems for everyone involved. I'm sure it's a problem for MLS clubs, and they just answer quickly with some makeshift plan I don't what it is.

SA: Are you open to playing MLS youth clubs?

BERNIE JAMES: We'd be happy to play any team in practice games and be part of a practice game schedule.

SA: Even before the pandemic problems, clubs complained that the DA had too many restrictions on issues like outside play. So perhaps not having U.S. Soccer be in charge of the top youth leagues is a positive, because club coaches are in a better position to guide the players they work worth daily, instead of being dictated to by Chicago …

BERNIE JAMES: Or Holland. ... Let's be serious. If you do a good job, the players come to you. If you do a poor job, they leave. It's the same in the food business. If you keep making terrible hamburgers, people don't come to you. I think that takes care of itself. …

American soccer isn’t going to improve by having young players wear heart monitors at practice, or with filming and video review. We’re overkill in America with those kinds of things. You get better by playing six hours a day in the street, and when you're older applying those skills you acquired in a more organized environment.

SA: It was clear on girls side before the coronavirus outbreak that the Girls DA was going to struggle because so many clubs were already moving to the ECNL. But U.S. Soccer said it was pulling the plug on both DAs because of financial problems caused by the coronavirus outbreak …

BERNIE JAMES: Regardless of if it was that or U.S. Soccer realized that the federation shouldn’t be running a youth league and are using this pandemic as an excuse [to get out], the least they should do is have an exit strategy and a plan for the clubs, work with ECNL and other organizations to absorb it and have it well thought out.

SA: How is Crossfire handling the pandemic interruption?

BERNIE JAMES: We're just like every American group. We just have to wait, be patient, do the right thing. But we've had nothing but positive feedback from our parents and players. We send the players all kinds of video and online stuff to do and try to keep them busy since they're not in school either. And we've had a great response to that, like most other clubs probably have. But there's only so much we can do right now and we're looking forward to getting back on the field ...

Hopefully in a month or two, we can have small group training in the summertime and it will be great to get back out there. It will be different, for sure. But we're going to make the most of it.

Our families are absolutely wonderful. We haven't had one complaint about anything we've done or anything we've tried to do. Crossfire has been a great family.

And we've been able to pay our coaches. We haven't had to let anyone go for financial reasons. They're contracts run out in May. New contracts start in June. We're committed to paying them through September even if we never practice. When things start getting desperate and we have absolutely no money left, we have to start looking at the drastic measures.

Maybe there will be games in September with very few spectators. That's what we're hoping for. Probably no tournaments in the summer. I hope we have a tournament or two, but we're planning on having none. It's something we have to go through.

Bernie James joined the NASL's Seattle Sounders straight out of Bellevue (Wash.) High School in 1977. He moved to the Edmonton Drillers and made 74 NASL appearances in 1980-82. His 24 years of pro ball included 10 seasons in the Major Indoor Soccer League. A defender, he finished his career in 2000 after seven seasons with the A-league Seattle Sounders. James played for the USA's 1979 Pan-American Games team and earned two caps in 1988. He started coaching youth soccer in 2001 and became Crossfire Premier's director in 2003.

SA: However the recovery from the pandemic unfolds, I would think clubs will be limited on travel. How much of a challenge will that be for Crossfire, to play highly competitive games locally?

BERNIE JAMES: The Seattle area is a hotbed for soccer. We have great competition here. And believe it or not, some of the academy teams we played are not as good as some of the local teams. So, we're going to have great competition here with some great clubs in the area.

We're not going to be making a lot of money because we're not going to have tournaments in the summer, but we're not going to be spending a lot of money because there's not a lot of travel coming up.

We'll just have to put up with it. Deal with it. Local competition is great. It’s what we were doing 13 years ago. We're fine with going back to that. I'm sure when travel opens up, we’re going to be ready to go.

SA: How important is the travel, to showcases, for example?

BERNIE JAMES: The players who are very disappointed right now are the juniors and seniors who were looking forward to a great year to wrap up a college deal.

Lots of seniors have already committed to colleges. If you’re good enough, they’ll find you. But for the middle of the road ones who aren’t going to a UCLA or North Carolina, showcases are very valuable. That’s why they have them, whether it’s the Disney Showcase, ECNL, or DA.

A showcase in the east is where players get exposure to East Coast colleges. You don’t need to take seven flights a year, but for juniors and seniors, and sophomores on the girls side, a couple flights to showcases can be really important.

We might see players going to community colleges or taking a gap year.

SA: Generally speaking, besides the disappointment of the juniors and seniors you refer to, what do think the attitude of the players will be?

BERNIE JAMES: Most get involved to play sports, they love soccer. To me, the bottom line is keep them busy, keep them out of trouble, keep them healthy, and then they kind of get out of it what they put into it. The ones who get serious about soccer and excel, if it’s a college soccer scholarship, or getting into a college you normally wouldn't get into, or playing professionally, that's just icing on cake. …

Not having national championships right now I don't think is nearly as big a deal as all the other problems we're facing.

I think they'll just adapt as they always do. And we'll adapt and have soccer in some form. As long as those kids have those beautiful fields down there, they’re going to play no matter what leagues they are in or who's running them.

22 comments about "Bernie James on the DA's collapse: 'To just abandon everyone creates panic and problems for everyone involved'".
  1. frank schoon, April 21, 2020 at 10:44 a.m.

    Thanks, Mike for an eye-opener of an interview, for it gave me a much better overal view although without surprises of how Top Down structure screws up our player development which hasn't gone anywhere in the past 50 years and it continuous..... I almost fell out of my chair when I read parents were paying $7000 a year on travel expenses....Like this is part of how you Develop players????? WOW... Give me 10 of these kids for a year and pay me $7000 each and I will have able to cross,shoot,dribble,place, and receive the ball under pressure with either foot , just for starters which I know these kids aren't even getting now at a DA program.  

    I'm asking WHY are we seeking player develop in such far away places like having to travel up to 900 miles for a stupid game against kids who are at same level your kids are at ,trained by the same level licensed coaches who have similar playing ability, some less or some more; who employ similar jargon, and who themselves are similarly formed and instructed by the US coaching School and employ similar 'programmed' training routines. Stay in your own area and play Men's teams or older youth teams who are more experienced and play better brand of soccer and at the same continue working on improving skills, functional ones, which AMERICAN KIDS SORELY NEED.
    GET AWAY FROM LINEAR SOCCER DEVELOPMENT as it is currently practiced in our player development today...

    The problem is the TOP DOWN advocates sees development basically as playing top level competition. I'm not against playing top level competition, but very ,very, sparingly, employed only as a check to see how players are doing, but not as main meal that these DA programs push...

    Bernie is right, listening to Chicago or to some 'professor' types with a Dutch coaching license who themselves have difficulty doing Wiel Coerver training exercises and who are good at talking soccer to a plotted plant for an hour as Wiel Coerver himself puts it. This is kind of TOP DOWN expertise US Soccer employs, which only tells you ,they are clueless.

    NEXT POST....

  2. humble 1 replied, April 21, 2020 at 2:32 p.m.

    He said they - the club and DA were paying $7k a year for the kids to travel - and the parents still pulled them put to play ECNL where they would have to pay-to-play and pay for travel - but probably something less that $7k.  That was the point.  The Girls DA was doomed from the start - it was clear - they are lucky the plug was pulled so quickly because - Frank - along the lines of what you talk about with pickup - but not pickup - but suppose if you will that someone came along to your pickup groups and select what she thought were the best players and said - they will play in an 'elite' pickup group and no longer with the 'normals' - oh and they'll get lots of perks too - that the 'normals' don't get.  How would that effect your pick-up groups play?  That's essentially what they did with Girls DA and much much more destructive side-effects, parent panick, envy, jealously that rubbed over to the girls, all the stuff that would be the oposite of what you want to stimulate or cultivate a 'pick-up' environment which is one of equality to play the game and have fun. 

  3. frank schoon replied, April 21, 2020 at 3:15 p.m.

    Humble , pickup to me is that you learn to play , have fun but there is also a serious side to it. Yes , there were kids playing pickup, who were not as serious as I was and played  only for social fun in mind.  But other kids played pickup to learn and get better and therefore played constantly pickup. But within that pickup culture some kids at times  decided to play and invited only the better ones to play which you also have in other sports like in Basketball you mentioned...So there is a whole overlap of things. So yes there was equality of fun and play but also inequality, for example some better players might leave a particular pickup area and go to another area where perhaps there were better players in order to learn from....

  4. Ben Myers, April 21, 2020 at 10:48 a.m.

    "To me, the bottom line is keep them busy, keep them out of trouble, keep them healthy, and then they kind of get out of it what they put into it. The ones who get serious about soccer and excel, if it’s a college soccer scholarship, or getting into a college you normally wouldn't get into, or playing professionally, that's just icing on cake."

    Bernie James has his head screwed on straight.  Would that people in charge of other clubs thought the same way!

  5. Dan Woog, April 21, 2020 at 10:52 a.m.

    A very insightful, honest piece. Crossfire is lucky to be led by soccer people, who have the players' best interests at heart.

  6. Sean Guillory, April 21, 2020 at 11:05 a.m.

    Love this guy and wish he was the head of our club.  My son woudl be lucky to play for him.  He just gets it and to have someone with US Soccer to teall him to change the culture is laughable.  Bernie, keep doing what you are doing.

  7. frank schoon, April 21, 2020 at 11:48 a.m.

    This quote sums it all up and Bernie has opened his eyes through this experience <" You get better by playing 6hours a day in the streets and when older applyihg those skills you acquirein a more organized environment"> BINGO!!!!!!!  This is how I learned skills back in the 50's in the street soccer days and then played organized ball at Ajax. What is so important is that almost 60years later this is still the BEST way to form and develop a youth. We need study all the elements of street-pickup soccer and apply it to our kids today.  Some will complain that you can't play in the streets, but pickup soccer can be played anywhere but I would highly recommend that part of playing pickup should be on a CONCRETE SURFACE as well as other surfaces like on lousy fields, cow pastures, in order for players to learn to concentrate better on the ball. DON'T THINK THAT PLAYERS SHOULD ALWAYS PLAY ON NICE , ASTRO TURF SURFACES, just think of how those 3rd world kids learn to play...ALWAYS PLAY WITH MIXED AGES. 

    THis quote is so right on< American soccer isn't going to improve by having young players wear heart monitors at practice...we're overkill in America with those kinds of things">  Van Hanegem, considered the second Cruyff in Holland had a great column, a few months ago called..." We are going away from the essence of the game". We're losing the simplicity of the game which was all about the ball. Somehow, more and more professors types have come involved in the game, types who if attempting a chest trap a ball the numbers on the back their jersey would fall off, others attempting to play would look like they haven't taken their shoes out of the box or couldn't trap a bag of cement. But somehow they have become the camels nose stuck underneath the tent and taken over the tent. Van Hanegem, stated looking at the bench of pro-team bench half the bench if filled with coaches, dietician, psychiatrist, track coach, goalie coach,etc., all studiously writing down esoteric information on a pad. When making a player change, the substitute is shown flip over charts of instructions of what to do. This is what you get when have professors of soccer running the show. Van Hanegem questions how can you instruct  a player what to do when the game is so fluid from second to second, it's not Subbuteo out there. Van Hanegem sees soccer that needs to be played between the ears and carried out with the feet, like Cruyff states..


  8. frank schoon, April 21, 2020 at 12:06 p.m.

    Van Hanegem questions the heart monitors for it doesn't improves one's insight into the game or skills. One pro team he coached , in his first day he closed the 'weight' room for he states it's great for beach girls  but it doesn't do anything ones skillss. All this frivolous new applications has not improved the skill level of players for when watches professional game the skill level of players is so poor, today, and it is not getting any better. He states we need to go back to the basics of soccer, the ball.

    The suggestion to players to watch games on youtube or video is fine. But what I suggested is that when watching they need to be told what to look for, specifics. For example when you watch wingers like Stanley Matthews, Garrincha, Johnstone, Keizer, Dzajic, for example, it would help to point out what each do differently in their cuts, how they receive the ball. For players can watch all day and not realize the finer elements of their play which has to be told to them. Just like watching a game, a coach needs to give them an outline of how the two teams play. Give them a direction some specific things that can help their mental part game.

  9. Justus From SoCal, April 21, 2020 at 12:38 p.m.

    Thank God for Bernie.  What a great Doc and I wish Socal had someone like him.  My dd was told "no HS Soccer." I had one Doc said is she leaves the GDA for HS Soccer, no YNT opportunity.  My dd had a little dream to one day play for the USA.  She was forced to make a quick decision that no 8th grader should have been faced with. ((USSF changed their rules on the fly for any club that had connections)) GDA and the dream or HS Soccer with her friends?  She chose HS with freinds.  Howver, the kids who parents had a few bucks got waivers so they could do both.  Now these same clowns are so happy that the girls can play HS Soccer now.  The same guy who said two years ago it's horrible.  WTH?  These was and is the biggest scam ever.  Plus, they promised kids parents who had no business playing top tier soccer , :If you practice 4 days a week, 10 months out the year, I can develop your player into a World Class soccer player."  They stole the Elite playersd and their clubs because they had the YNT List now.  This was so wrong.  Then the old crew took off and left the sh*t for the new crew.  New crew sent out a one page letter blaming in all on Corona.  This same company sent out hundreds of pages and told us all why we needed to change to birth year and band social hs soccer.  I look at every top college program and every top player was Gatarade HS player of the year, CIF chanp, tema leader as so on.  I've had questions that no one can answer.  Great Q & A Mike :)

  10. Justus From SoCal, April 21, 2020 at 12:41 p.m.

    Plus, my dd did did the GDA the first year.  Those stupid tracker things were used to yell at little girls because they didn;t run enough in the game.  One ass used to to show one girl how lazy she was and how much weight she just gained.  Not all coaches used these things right.  4 days a week, 10 months out of the year for what?

  11. frank schoon replied, April 21, 2020 at 1:30 p.m.

    Justus, was this a licensed coach who yelled at the little girls with trackers on....UNBELIEVABLE!!

     That these professors can promise you he can your kid into  making him a world class player with a straight face tells what a Wild West this whole soccer situation is here. Reading your post tells there is so much BS and so much money wasted by parents who really don't know better and are being taken advantage......Once we have a Pickup Culture so much of this will fall by the wayside. 
    Good luck with your daughter...

  12. Kent James, April 21, 2020 at 2:13 p.m.

    Bernie seems like he's got things under control and is adjusting well to difficult circumstances.  I agree with Frank that two very important things Bernie said are the importance of soccer in the streets (hours spent playing pick-up) and the ridiculousness of young players wearing heart monitors.  

    Travel is clearly an issue. Sure it's fun to travel and play new teams every now and again, but if you're doing it regularly, it's a grind.  While I agree that it is important developmentally for players to be challenged, and to get to play with and against players better than they are, you can do that without travelling.  Move players (or whole teams) up in age groups, or even to adult leagues.  That will challenge them and save time, money (and the environment).  The US is simply too big to have these skilled youth teams constantly playing each other (especially in remote areas); find other ways to get them competition (let them scrimmage college teams, or lower level pro teams, e.g.).  

  13. humble 1, April 21, 2020 at 2:45 p.m.

    Interesting that he feels (1) the plug was pulled with no warning and no exit strategy - and - (2) the MLS really does not have an Academy plan.  I agree with both points.  I do think there are folks that could help the MLS build the right academy system - but I think most of the MLS owners don't want to be bothered with Academies but are forced to - and those that should be heard will likely not be given a voice and there will be some kind of 'compromise' that will be sub-optimal.  The intersting thing in all this is that ECNL began their boys program in 2017/18 - in response to or at least correlated with DA Girls opening - and this relative start-up on the boys side will be the largest benefactor of the DA implosion.  Boys ENCL all of a sudden in the cat birds seat - they will see a lot more revenue as there's no free lunch in ECNL.  Hope they keep the kiddos and what's best for the game at heart.    

  14. Wallace Wade, April 21, 2020 at 3:41 p.m.

    Closest match 900 miles away!?!? These Morons have to be purged from Soccer in this Country!!!!!

  15. Bob Ashpole replied, April 21, 2020 at 5:51 p.m.

    USSF singled that club out. You tell me why. The club finished top of region ahead of 3 MLS DA clubs. Next thing it is announced that DA will have A and B divisions and this reigning champion was put in the B division which was located (at least) 900 miles away. 

    Pretty obvious that USSF was for all intents and purposes dropping the club from the DA. Who would expect a club to continue under the conditions that they placed on that club.

    What is strikes me hardest is the callousness of USSF toward the club and its players. 

  16. R2 Dad replied, April 21, 2020 at 7:34 p.m.

    That was the DA/MLS/USSF response to winning the league: "Happy now? We'll give these Crossfire wankers whatfor. You're relegated! Now you'll lose all your players to other DA teams, like  MLS intended! Unless you can come up with the $2M franchise fee--then you can stay up."

  17. Bob Ashpole replied, April 21, 2020 at 9:18 p.m.

    R2, I often say that the problem with youth soccer is coaches who want to improve their teams through player recruitment instead of through player development.

  18. R2 Dad replied, April 23, 2020 at 7:21 p.m.

    Exactly, Bob! Stealing players from other teams is way easier than having to actually develop the ones you already have.

  19. frank schoon replied, April 24, 2020 at 2:46 p.m.

    R2, Well put....

  20. Mike Lynch, April 22, 2020 at 4:54 p.m.

    Well asked Mike and well spoken Bernie. Lots of truths in this interview. Time will tell if we honor them. Players need to play, play lots, and it cannot be structured more than unstructured, and they cannot travel more than they play. If COVID-19 forces local/state play only, I think lots of people may be surprised how well that works for not just saving money and time, but also player development, player joy.

  21. Philip Carragher, April 24, 2020 at 11:22 a.m.

    My son played DA and is happy he did so despite missing out on high school soccer. He said DA play improved his soccer and I'm sure he is correct and believe it was simply because he played against strong players during practice. Most of the DA players and parents, when asked what the player learned playing DA was, "nothing". I disagree. My son learned how to travel: pack a suitcase, manage his clothing and equipment, deal with airports, delayed flights, hotels. He may not have made it to the big leagues but he's a heck of a traveler.

  22. frank schoon replied, April 24, 2020 at 2:45 p.m.


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