MLS and U.S. Youth Soccer unveil ambitious player identification project

MLS and U.S. Youth Soccer have announced plans to launch one of the most ambitious player development projects ever undertaken in the United States.

While the exact details are being worked out, and the COVID-19 pandemic adds a layer of uncertainty about just what the program will entail and when it will take place, there are two key elements to the plan:

1. Boys and girls will be invited to regional camps and then have a chance to go to a national event. They will be selected by a network of scouts MLS sets up with USYS and its state associations.

2. All the costs -- transportation and room and board -- at both the regional and national events will be paid for by MLS.

"This is a large undertaking," Gordon Bengtson, MLS's senior director of player development, said in an interview with Soccer America, "but one that we feel is an absolutely necessary. The diversity and size of our country has historically been viewed as our biggest weakness. This makes sense to us that this should be our greatest asset and we have to do what we can do to make it our greatest strength."

What is the size and scope of the program?

With the proviso the details still need to worked out and the pandemic and its economic fall-out might dictate changes in the scope of the program, Bengtson outlined some of the general thinking about the program on the boys' side. (MLS and USYS will be talking with the NWSL and college coaches about the best approach in terms of age groups and location of events on the girls' side).

1. Players in the program can come from anywhere. This is not simply a USYS program, like ODP. Players could play for affiliated or unaffiliated teams, play in adult or youth leagues, play for USYS, U.S. Club Soccer, USSSA, AYSO, SAY or any other youth organization, or they could play for only their high school.

-- The success of the program will depend on the ability of MLS to develop and manage a scouting network that finds players in places where they were overlooked before and indeed identifies the best players.

2. The age groups will be U-14s and U-16s. The reason for that is that the national event will be held in conjunction with the Generation adidas Cup for U-15 and U-17 MLS and foreign teams that is held in spring at the FC Dallas complex in Frisco, Texas. This creates an aspirational aspect to the program, giving players the incentive that they could move on next year and play for an MLS academy team at the GA Cup.

-- Rosters for the national event will be in the range of 18-25 players, and the organization of the event will have to flexible to give everyone an opportunity to be seen.

3. The four regional camps will each include about 250 players. That's on the order of a thousand players whose costs will be paid for.

This contrasts with the ODP program, a pay-to-play program. Depending on the state association, state ODP fees, regional ODP camp fees and transportation costs can exceed $2,000.

"The ODP program has been adrift for probably the last 10-15 years," said Bengtson. "It used to be the channel for the youth national teams. That changed since the DA came in and they really only scouted in that environment."

Bengtson said the new program will give USYS's youth initiatives "a fresh coat of paint" and a new aligned vision on player development and how to grow the game.

"Most important," he said, "it will afford every player the opportunity, no matter where they are, to have a very clear pathway and remove as many barriers as possible."

22 comments about "MLS and U.S. Youth Soccer unveil ambitious player identification project".
  1. Bob Ashpole, May 15, 2020 at 10:19 p.m.

    Wow! Great words. Can they make it happen?

  2. R2 Dad, May 15, 2020 at 11:19 p.m.

    This all sounds great, but lets talk about the filters used to segregate players. I've seen plenty of these types of tryouts--never seen one that actually can determine skills, strengths and weaknesses, etc. They usually just run a few general drills, but mostly scrimmages. Can we get a 3rd party to propose the format, drills, and the assessment sheet used to break this down?There should be plenty of data and documentation generated so that players that don't get selected at U14 are given things to work on so they can try again at U16. This all would seem Duh obvious but  usually these tryouts are a big joke.

  3. frank schoon, May 16, 2020 at 7:24 a.m.


  4. Willliam Taylor replied, May 16, 2020 at 8:55 a.m.

    If that doesn't impress then you are lost!

  5. Dan Harmon replied, May 16, 2020 at 10:40 p.m.


  6. Sean Guillory, May 16, 2020 at 10:06 a.m.

    Man, I don't think anything will impress some of you guys.  This will get us away from pay to play and be a way to find kids that may not be at big clubs or Academy's already.  At least they are trying something different and the pro teams are leading the way.

  7. Wallace Wade, May 16, 2020 at 10:41 a.m.

    Let's see. Wil players be brought in from non-DA, non MLS area's. Will the best player in that age group from Louisiana, Oklahoma etc. be present? Too many times I've heard of this "scouting" only to see the scouts only at MLS DA's. I have a really bad time believing they will be scouting a player at his High School team!!!!! I'll be a monkey's Uncle...

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, May 16, 2020 at 11:12 a.m.

    I know you are more familiar with the scene than I am, but I look at it differently. I think of it as an MLS scouting effort. Looking for players for their youth teams. That is a broader net than a national team program. 

    What they had now is a very happenstance, unorganized, informal scouting effort. Some European clubs have better organization in the US. The main benefit here is if the scouting effort becomes organized. US Soccer will benefit from MLS scouting. MLS has monetary incentive to identifying and developing the best talent. USSF doesn't.

    USSF originally got directly involved in elite youth soccer because we didn't have any professional clubs. Times change. It is good that USSF is changing its approach. I think Germany has a good model for USSF to follow, but I don't see them even talking about it. (Giving free training to elite players will be unpopular with the pay to pay industry. Duh!) 

  9. Paul Berry replied, May 16, 2020 at 12:23 p.m.

    "Let's see. Wil players be brought in from non-DA, non MLS area's. "

    . Players in the program can come from anywhere. This is not simply a USYS program, like ODP. Players could play for affiliated or unaffiliated teams, play in adult or youth leagues, play for USYS, U.S. Club Soccer, USSSA, AYSO, SAY or any other youth organization, or they could play for only their high school.
    -- The success of the program will depend on the ability of MLS to develop and manage a scouting network that finds players in places where they were overlooked before and indeed identifies the best players.

  10. Bill Dooley replied, May 16, 2020 at 6:05 p.m.

    Bob A.  You nailed it.  This IS just a MLS scouting venture.  They pay.  They benefit.
        But I don't see any USSF involvement. It's US Youth Soccer, which has done such a bang up job with ODP in recent memory.  US Soccer will be resuming the Talent ID program next April.
        As to the girls side, there's this: "MLS and USYS will be talking with the NWSL and college coaches about the best approach in terms of age groups and location of events on the girls' side."  I'm (originally) from Missouri; show me  (BTW, where I live now, the TID program was selecting fewer girls for regional camps this year from DA clubs than non-DA.) 

  11. Sean Guillory replied, May 18, 2020 at 12:25 a.m.

    I'm sorry but I grew up playing in Louisiana and the level is not that great there and neither are some of the non traditional soccer states like Missisissippi.  They don't need to spend too much time there picking up soccer players or that diamond in the rough.

  12. Guy Walling, May 16, 2020 at 11:26 a.m.

    For those of you guys that have no faith in tryouts sound disgruntled! I have read prior comments by these same guys and it sounds like they simply don't understand the complexity of not only trying to manage the huge geographical issues, but also trying to do it in a pay-to-play system. I think if some of these naysayers knew what it takes to get their kids to play at the higher levels, they would understand the complexity of the system and the scouting or tryout system a little better. R2Dad needs to understand that while drills are fine, they don't determine how your kid will perform in a game! A tryout must consist game like format with little emphasis on a drill. The positive is the recognition for change is out there and the ball is starting to roll!

  13. John Soares, May 16, 2020 at 12:35 p.m.

    Realizing this is the "original" plan and changes will happen
    Details will need to be added 
    It does show promise 

  14. P T, May 16, 2020 at 11:37 p.m.

    It's not a player development program when you are selecting kids as they have in the past w a bit of a twist which may allow for greater access for player selection. A development development program helps younger kids and kids them engaged rather than allowing this cliff of dropouts that will continue in those 13+ years. This is a step  in addressing socioeconomic inequality if done properly but doesn't solve the problem of developing creativity and passion.

  15. Curt Wiley, May 17, 2020 at 10:15 a.m.

    Important step forward in this collaboration.

  16. frank schoon, May 17, 2020 at 10:26 a.m.

    Bob,R2, P T, Bill, You guys all hit the nail right on the head. I have  serious doubt as to the viability when it comes to the development of our players with this new scheme....As Bob stated, it will increase the net to find more players or better put by Bill as a "MLS scouting venture."

    Sure it will make some of those parents happy that their son, who I'm sure currently has NOT been working diligently on his left or weakfoot 1-2 hours a day for the past 2 months in order to get himself ahead of the competition,  might be noticed by a MLS scout.  P T sums it up for me.

    To me it is a quick fix to our so-called developmental youth program in light of what all has just happened; and in a way, it's an effort by these bozos in power ,who have been running our youth developmental programs, to try and mitigate all the disgruntled voices that are steadily  coming out of the woodwork. 

    I almost fell out of my chair after reading this quote,<" a fresh coat of paint and a NEW ALIGNED VISION on player development and how to grow the game"> You mean "a fresh coat of paint" on a rusty bucket called a ship. "A NEW ALIGNED VISION" , sorry guys but I'm just a little cynical after 50years of this BS.... I know a little of what developing youth players entails, but this EFFORT fits in a Monty Python script.....

  17. David Koebler, May 17, 2020 at 12:13 p.m.

    I agree and disagree with many comments here. I've seen bad tryouts run by lack luster coaching staffs that are but there through politics. I've seen perfectly great tryouts that do not identify top talent. Every coin has two sides. I personally will wait to see how this develops before weighing judgement. That said, the identification process is only one half of the equation. The real goal of a system like this is to identify the players who are not already in the DA or MLS-DA system. Players either without access or without options. Like a small state association that doesn't have a DA or MLS-DA. But let's say for argument sake this proposed scouting plan works and let's say 5 to 25 players that are not already in the system are identified as top talent. What then? Are they getting funding from MLS clubs to relocate and become a resident in their DA? If they are not relocating to play for a DA after they have been identified then the identification process falls short of the goal. We all know ODP and the filter, regional camp system is flawed. And not just in context of politics and costs. It is flawed because the frequency of training at the higher level on a more consistent basis isn't there. Its consistency is spotty at best and players of this talent level need to be constantly engaged and challenged to support continued development. That is what the DA program brought to the table. It allowed 20 players of that high talent level to train all week, all month, all year together. Sure the DA had negatives and wasn't a perfect system, but under the context of consistency it was far better than ODP. So as I stated before, the scouting system is only half of the equation. What is more important is what we do with players after being identified. 

  18. Bob Ashpole, May 17, 2020 at 10:09 p.m.

    I think focusing on "tryouts" is misleading. The important thing is the scouting where talent is identified based on their playing soccer. The camps are not what I would call "tryouts". No team is being selected, despite the teaser about the international competition the following year.  Not being invited to the U14 national camp is not a set back (assuming a good program).

    If you doubt me, consider how many Senior MNT players were on the U14 team when they were 14 in a typical year. For women, the world class players are invited to a senior team camp at age 16.  

    Done right, the scouting is not a one time thing, but periodically over the years to evaluate how fast a young player develops compared to his peers. 

  19. humble 1, May 18, 2020 at 12:11 p.m.

    Sceptical.  This is probably more window dressing that MLS actually cares about youth development.  Certainly there will be a fixed budget for this and in agregate it will not be a small sum, but it will be probably be small in the larger contect of MLS investment in and deployment of foreign talent.  The fact that MLS academies are only required to have 2 teams speaks much louder.  The other factor to watch in a project like this, is anyone accountable?  The DA for example spent milllions on the boys side over more than a decade, much of the funds going to MLS academies, and many of those academies have developed zero players, or at most a few, players playing in MLS.  To get a feel for how unbalanced MLS is, take a look down the top division of Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, Chile and even Mexico, and you will see most players that start are born and raised there.  In MLS most games, the starting 22 don't include 5 americans     

  20. Raffi Safarian, May 18, 2020 at 4:28 p.m.

    it will be interesting to see if these promises can be implemented.

  21. Philip Carragher, May 18, 2020 at 7:09 p.m.

    Back in 2012-2014 or thereabouts, my son took both the ODP and DA pathways and both had their flaws. Most interesting was Everton FC showing up here in IL and trying to sell soccer families on their online instruction called "The Everton Way". They did have real Everton coaches present and running drills and watching scrimmages, but in the end it all just appeared like Everton and ODP trying to pick my pocket. The scrimmages featured kids who were instructed to never pass, so playmakers and those with more subtle skills remained anonymous unless they transformed themselves into selfish, individualistic players. Positional soccer was absent and the next camp, the regional camp my son was invited to, cost too much in terms of time and money and didn't look like a place he'd really develop unless the goal was to unlearn the good soccer he knew how to play. We never did sign up and pay the $100 or so annual subscription to the Everton Way (although I was curious). Then, my biggest mistake as a sportparent, my son started playing DA soccer (not playing high school was the mistake). Not only did he have to travel at least twice per week 90 minutes to practice, but the road to the National team was filled by the owners with players with better connections than my son or others who were worthy of selection. A father of a player who should have been selected and I talk once in a while and, if we get to remembering the invites to the national team tryouts in Bradenton, speak with amazement about several of those who were sent. There actually were a few players that were mediocre at best (in the context of not-very-good soccer to begin with) with nothing special to speak of. It was a joke. I can see why some would question whether the tryouts will result in a good yield of strong players, but I do love that it's (apparently) open to all and for no cost; but I wonder how these players will get identified in the first place? How will that part of the selection process work?

  22. frank schoon replied, May 19, 2020 at 10:06 a.m.

    Philip, "pick my pocket" ?. I mean, how cynical of you, to think that. LOL

    I set my default very high when it comes to English coaches training my kids, which is I don't allow any English coach within a circle of 150 miles of my kid...

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