U.S. Soccer Development Academy — Will It Keep Growing?
How many players are impacted by playing in the DA and opt out of High School soccer?
Youth Soccer News: Elite player development in the United States changed dramatically with the launch of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy in 2007. This season, the Academy expanded programming to include a Girls Development Academy.
The Debate on High School Soccer has been in the news recently: As only a tiny fraction of the millions of soccer players are opting out of playing high school soccer in pursuit of more focused training, I often wonder why so many adults are in an uproar. I rarely, if ever, hear DA parents complaining. I wanted to know the actual number of high school age players impacted by the DA, so we asked.
The U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy (DA) has recently selected 36 additional youth soccer clubs to join the exclusive player development program.
The DA’s philosophy of player development focuses on more training in professional environments and more meaningful competition using international rules of competition.
Since the launch of the Girls DA, there has been a greater uproar on the DA restricting players from participating in High School soccer.
A choice to play or not play high school soccer is a personal one and the first of many decisions in a young person’s life.
As someone very smart said, “There is an opportunity cost to all our decisions and that does not mean a decision is bad or good, it just means you chose one over another.”
Players need to find the appropriate level of training to pursue their dreams, whatever they may be.
What is the latest on if Development Academy players can play high school soccer? What does the future look like? Is more expansion of the DA planned?
Here is the first part of our multi-part series on the impact of the U.S. Soccer DA on youth soccer in America.
Diane Scavuzzo interviews Jared Micklos, Academy Director, Academy Operations & Strategic Vision:
Diane Scavuzzo: Are you still looking to expand the Development Academy more? Is the DA reaching enough different markets?
Jared Micklos: Good question. The goal is to build a pyramid or a pathway for players. There’s not a desired ‘set’ number of youth soccer clubs. And, we always start with the markets that have either shown history of player production or that show the potential to produce players.
There could always be a new market in which we may add clubs and it also could mean that we’re establishing more clubs in an existing market that we think can expand to provide more opportunities for players.
There’s not a specific number of clubs.
It’s finding clubs that are aligned with the philosophy of developing players and passing them on and creating a clear, aligned pathway for players.
Diane Scavuzzo: Are there very many youth soccer clubs with the U17 age bracket that do not have a full boys’ DA? In the recent rollout, several of the clubs which had the U17s age received the U19 bracket, making them full Development Academies.
Jared Micklos: There are very few youth soccer clubs that do not fit into one of the two traditional categories; either offering the younger ages of U12, U13, and U14 or full DA.
The expansion is based on a plan that the club submits. Some clubs have requested to build out their DAs over time, others have applied for the entire academy and through dialogue, we’ve determined that it may be best to grow it and you’re seeing this trend happen.
This is a trend actually being driven by the professional clubs who were the ones to initiate the growth model of building it long-term from within. What this says about a club is that they want to develop their players, retain their players.
You are seeing that model happen in LAFC now. It’s also happening at Minnesota United. It’s a calculated growth where the DA can develop their own players and build the model year over year.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you think is the difference between the MLS DAs and the non-MLS DAs? Besides the pay-to-play model.
Jared Micklos: The first differentiator is an obvious one — there are the pro clubs and there are the amateur clubs.
By virtue of being a professional club, you have the ability to develop a player to play for your first team so the end goal for those clubs is the potential to develop and sign a homegrown player to play for them.
What you generally hear from clubs is that they’re trying to develop the players holistically and they’re trying to develop them to reach their highest potential.
If a player is capable and ready to play at the next level and the club can’t provide it, then the idea of the academy is there’s a pathway there to another club that exists at an older age group. For example, when a player moves from a club with a U14 team to a full academy, Or from an existing club to a professional club.
It is the end-goal that really differentiates the Development Academies. How they operate is dependent on what their philosophy and strategy are.
Diane Scavuzzo: How much does U.S. Soccer dictate or direct that philosophy? U.S. Soccer has mandates and player development guidelines ….
Jared Micklos: It always starts with the club. The clubs develop the players and the clubs need to create an identity for themselves. They need to develop a type of player that fits within their club. There’s not one type of player.
There’s not only one way to develop a player.
It’s often thought that each club can do it in a unique way. Obviously, there are consistent factors in developing a player but there’s not one specific way.
Diane Scavuzzo: There has been a lot of conversation on players in the Development Academy not being able to play high school soccer. How many high school age youth soccer players play in the DA?
Jared Micklos: The numbers represent less than 1% of high school-aged players.
Here is the player count for this current DA season:
Players FT Status
Boy DA players
|Age Bracket||Count of Player|
|Total Boys in DA||13,135|
Players FT Status
Girl DA players
|Age Bracket||Count of Player|
|Total Girls in DA||5,410|
Diane Scavuzzo: Did the DA ‘stop’ girls from playing high school soccer this year?
Jared Micklos: The decision to allow girls to play high school was a choice of the player and the club and, during this first year, we allowed players in Girls DA to stop and restart in the DA.
And, just to clarify, the Boys DA rules do not allow a full-time registered player to leave and return to DA.
We want our players to play in one environment because we believe players need to be in one consistent environment to develop to reach their potential.