Seismic Changes To Rock the Youth Soccer Landscape
This is an ongoing, developing story that SoccerToday held off running until it could receive confirmation from multiple sources and, we ran our first version of this story at 1 AM PST. Now, we have confirmation from U.S. Soccer, and here is the updated version.
The U.S. Soccer Federation has decided to shut down the U.S. Soccer Development Academy program for both boys and girls effective immediately, according to multiple sources. And our sources were correct.
There had been endless rumors over the past few days which are finally silenced by U.S. Soccer’s announcement that they are closing the Development Academy, effective immediately.
It is with profound disappointment that U.S. Soccer has made the determination to end the operation of the Development Academy, effective immediately. pic.twitter.com/WdnmrsIqZr— Development Academy (@ussoccer_da) April 15, 2020
“It is with profound disappointment that we have made the determination to end the operation of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, effective immediately.”
While stating that the decision was difficult to make, and blaming the “unanticipated circumstances around the COVID-19 pandemic,” U.S. Soccer cited finances as the reason for discontinuing the DA.
The DA is now done.
There were some who tried to save the Development Academy with the concept of the DA being privatized and run separately from U.S. Soccer, however, these attempts failed to save the dying program dedicated to excellence.
The awkward quagmire just unraveled too fast to be saved.
It would take both MLS Academies and several elite youth clubs to work together to secure an alternative plan to transform the DA and allow it to continue.
The current DA season was suspended by U.S. Soccer on March 12 in response to the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Players, coaches, clubs and even colleges expected the current DA season to resume after the pandemic.
Up until now, there had been no distinct reasons offered by U.S. Soccer for the rumored closing of the DA.
This year, the DA provided competition for U13 and through U19 teams with an estimated 160+ clubs. Annually, hundreds of boys and girls teams participate in the DA’s competitions and top college coaches have relied on these DA games and showcases for recruiting.
The big question is what will these youth soccer clubs do if U.S. Soccer closes the DA?
The top tier of youth soccer, the MLS Academies, will remain together and strengthen their commitment to developing players for their first teams.
This should benefit the MLS and its youth players. Going forward, there should provide more opportunities for today’s aspiring hopefuls to advance from the 26 MLS Academies to their First Teams — after all, not only do these young players know the style of play of their MLS team but as homegrown players, they earn much lower salaries than transfer talent in the after-pandemic economic pinch.
Contrary to the MLS Academies, it is the levels of youth soccer below the top tier of professional academies that will be impacted the most— this is where the uncertainty blooms into opportunities in the murky waters of youth soccer.
When one door closes, another one opens.
What could take the place left by the DA?
What will happen with the remainder of the 2020-2021 season for these players? In the days post the Coronavirus COVID-19 when we can return to the fields and begin to play soccer again, it will be important to keep costs down and travel to a minimum. In an effort to do away with massive travel, multiple regional competitions would be smart.
A new, high-level, elite youth soccer league is expected to launch after the demise of the DA, and we are told that it may be called the United League and is expected to offer regional competitions.
Working with both US Youth Soccer (USYS) and MLS, the new league could provide new opportunities for DA teams and even ODP — a tier of youth soccer that has been trying to resurrect itself as a pathway to professional soccer and the collegiate game.
And, of course, the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) will most likely absorb some of the very top teams abandoned by the DA. Welcoming these elite youth soccer clubs will benefit US Club’s ECNL and provide great competition for these teams.
More than 9 teams have already announced leaving the DA to join ECNL before the official U.S. Soccer announcement was released.
There is also the Development Player League (DPL), which was designed to expand the Girls DA player pool for participating clubs and has been successful. This regionally based league currently has 27 clubs competing in three conferences.
What Went Wrong With The DA?
One of the nagging issues that could be blamed for the end of the DA era is its Girls’ program. Many people have asked if the Girls’ DA even necessary when Christian Lavers already had the highly successful ECNL program developing girls across America? Formalizing a U.S. Soccer / ECNL partnership could have been beneficial instead of launching a competitive program that splintered the player pool.
These questions may never be answered but since so many of the Girls’ DA members defected to ECNL, there were clearly unresolved issues. In fact, the Dallas Texans, Real Colorado, NC Courage and Georgia’s United Futbol Academy had all left the DA for ENCL in the last few weeks. And, of course, there was the eternal conflict over DA players not being allowed to play high school soccer.
Or is this purely a financial issue? Could the DA close its Girls side and keep the Boys side open?
A Moment to Reflect on The DA:
Looking back, it is important to credit the DA for its significant contributions to the youth game.
The Boys’ Development Academy launched in 2007 raised the level of play. Its purpose was to ensure elite youth soccer players — all across America — were able to compete against one another in an optimal development environment with a balance between games and training.
According to the DA website, its purpose was to “develop world-class players by providing elite, driven youth talents with development environments, which meet the highest standards, that empower them to reach their full potential.”
The goal was investing in the future, yet many critics claimed the DA never produced the world-class players promised.
Regardless of the complaints, the DA succeeded at providing great competition for many teams with the final score of games usually close — at least on the Boys’ side. And, to offset the high costs of participation, U.S. Soccer contributed nearly $4.2 million to award scholarships for 3,000 players, mitigating the pay-for-play business model. These scholarship dollars helped set the norm for youth soccer clubs to offer their own scholarships.
Overall, the DA improved many aspects of the game, from the emphasis on coaching education to game day procedures as well as several initiatives tied to the betterment of player and coach development.
Whatever happens, it is likely it will be a new chapter in the world of youth soccer.
And, that is exciting — even if it is happening at a time of such unprecedented uncertainty due to the Coronavirus COVID-19.
Additional sources of information: NBC’s U.S. Soccer to terminate Developmental Academies for boys, girls earlier today and SoccerWire: COVID-19 provides opportunity for U.S. Soccer to shut down Development Academy
Images of Girls DA courtesy of the Development Academy. Images of the Boys DA Showcase: Diane Scavuzzo
Editorial Note: This article was updated on 4/15/20 at 2 AM to reflect the possibility of a new entity reorganizing the DA.