A Talk With Bernie James, Crossfire Premier’s Leader — Uncensored
A Conversation with Bernie — On the Development Academy Debacle
Bernie James is a former professional soccer player with a 24-year career who played for several teams including the Seattle Sounders and the U.S. Men’s National Team. James also played indoor soccer for the Tacoma Stars. An influential and outspoken leader in the youth soccer landscape, James has a USSF National “A” License and is the Director of Coaching at Crossfire Premier SC. James joined Crossfire in 2000 and is well known for being at odds on occasion with the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.
This sudden and ignominious failure of the Development Academy will long mark the youth soccer landscape. James, however, points out that kids will still thrive playing soccer.
Last week, James moved his DA teams to The Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) saying, “The ECNL simply has more to offer.”
A Talk With Crossfire’s Bernie James
Diane Scavuzzo: What are your thoughts on the closure of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and, why did you move your DA teams to ECNL?
Bernie James: You know what, we hadn’t heard anything from U.S. Soccer about the Development Academy playoffs and if they were going to be rescheduled.
Their communication is poor. The Girls’ DA wasn’t doing well. There’s just a lot of factors that prevented them from just dropping the Girls’ DA and not the boys, and the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic made it the perfect time for them to bail.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why do you think they couldn’t have closed the Girls’ DA and kept the Boys?
Bernie James: How do you think that would have worked with all these lawsuits on gender discrimination and equal pay?
Diane Scavuzzo: That is a good point.
Bernie James: I just think it’s just the perfect time for them to bail out and I think they were thinking about it anyway.
U.S. Soccer needed to get out of running a youth soccer league — they knew they couldn’t do a very good job.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why do you think that they couldn’t do a good job?
Bernie James: I don’t know why. I think it’s just … Trying to keep MLS happy, trying to keep the club teams happy, how do you explain to other clubs they’re not in? I mean, how do you rationalize all this … It’s just really difficult. And, I’m not saying I could do it either.
Closing the DA is probably the right move — they need to get out of that business.
Think about it. How do you tell one club you’re not good enough, but another club you are?
I think they handled it poorly — I think they let MLS run wild and dictate what happened. I think that was a mistake.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you think will be the outcome of U.S. Soccer shutting down the DA?
Bernie James: Honestly, it’s like this pandemic, it’ll pass and something else will take its place.
Even in our state of Washington, the constant movement with leagues and divisions and adding clubs … Anyone that’s been in the business for a while, has seen change, maybe not this drastic, but youth soccer is ever-changing. New leagues always pop up. Jeez, there’s five national championships now. There used to be one.
The outcome? There will always be kids playing on soccer fields regardless of what leagues there are and who’s organizing them or who’s in charge.
I just don’t know if it’s that big a deal.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you think there’ll be a difference between the games in the DA and the games you’re going to play in the ECNL? You’re probably going to be playing a lot of the same teams …
Bernie James: Let’s be serious. The MLS teams and the top club academy teams — the DA was the best league for older boys ever, by a mile.
But, does it really produce more pros?
I don’t think our youth national teams on the Boys’ side have done better in the last 12 years since the DA’s been around.
I don’t know that the DA has really produced better players.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you think that MLS can do a better job developing players in their Academy than you can?
Bernie James: Well I would say yes — if they didn’t just put a jersey on the players and use club coaches as their coaches.
I’m not sure if that’s really doing a better job.
If they brought in a world-renowned coach from Munich maybe, but they basically recycle coaches around here.
And then think about this — if you have all the best players in the LA area on the Galaxy, then if two forwards are splitting time, wouldn’t they be better for their development if they were both playing all the time for different clubs?
Do you want all the best players on one team?
Do you want a team to win every game? That means players on the bench that would be starting elsewhere. Why would you want the two best forwards on the same team or the two best goalies? It doesn’t make any sense.
Diane Scavuzzo: Have you seen anything that you think really works to develop players?
Bernie James: More games and hard work. Fancy uniforms, tons of cones, heart monitors and film sessions don’t replace hard work in quality games or lots of games.
I just don’t think there’s a replacement for hard work.
Tons of repetitions and tons of games — and, for the kids that are worried about burnout, they’ll never be pros anyway. Let them burn out, let them move on to a less competitive program. There’s club Select and there’s Premiere, and then there are the top premier clubs, and then there’s MLS… There are levels.
Don’t get me wrong. You kind of need hardship.
Most of the great boxers come from poverty. I think it’s difficult to have everything and have a real drive to succeed in sports. It’s not impossible, but not likely.
Diane Scavuzzo: You’ve always been an outspoken critic of things that you think are wrong. As a former professional player, should MLS roll out a new version of a competitive youth soccer environment?
Bernie James: I think the MLS until they get the first team and the reserve team right, should stay out of youth soccer. And, until the MLS starts playing Americans, I don’t know what we’re developing players for. Of course, some MLS clubs do play Americans. FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake do and because of their budgets, that’s the way they go. But the richer teams that get great crowds, they don’t play Americans. Their academies are strictly for show and do you know how many kids they’ve signed in ridiculous contracts?
These young pros should have gone to college since they never really played in MLS.