by: Seth Casiple / @scasiple
US Soccer renovated the Development Academy, what does that mean for youth boys and girls? What does that mean for ECNL? Is this one step forward, or two steps back? Fostering youth development in a dynamically pay to play system.
On April 15th US Soccer announced the disbandment of the previously known Development Academy soccer league. The league that spawned thousands of college commitments and notable US stars such as Tyler Adams and Cristian Roldan, will still exist but rather in the control of Major League Soccer. Already, the DA’s direct competition, ECNL the Elite Clubs National League, has expanded its leagues adopting independent clubs who have lost academy status. Over 135 Boys clubs competed in the Development academy, with 7 of them simultaneously holding a membership in ECNL. Twenty-nine of those 135 are direct MLS academies and will not have any decisions to make come the new structure. The other 99 clubs will either join ECNL or possibly wait for a clearer picture before making a decision.
The Development Academy was made up of youth MLS teams and select clubs around the nation who were able to field competitive teams. For almost a decade this was the most efficient way to scout talent. The league with its regional competition and bi annual college showcase was a hotspot for US Soccer coaches and college coaches alike seeking to find their diamond in the rough. So why scrap it? “The nation has outgrown the Academy framework” says Real Salt Lake manager Freddy Suarez.
The US seems poised for a soccer breakthrough, we have a half dozen legitimate talents in European giants, a decent core of players that have champions league group stage experience, and the league has developed technically and financially to attract exciting players.
So what next?
If you model the system after the world rather than American sports you give complete control of the youth system to the clubs. Compared to baseball, high school soccer is not a priority for the aspiring pro or college player. There is not a pipeline to the Big Show of coaching and scouting built into the school systems. A major hurdle American players face in our domestic league is that they come out of college at 21. These adults lose the hope to make a break in the professional game while in the rest of the world legitimate talents are given opportunities to train and play with men at 15. A six-year gap. Six years to grow mentally, physically, and tactically.
So, the Development Academy or a youth system that is run by clubs rather than US Soccer. International competition is a juicy notion. If clubs had more control over their teams’ schedules it could open up spaces in the year for international competition at tournaments all over the world to showcase their young talent and boost club profits. In the world of soccer that is the recipe.
Either your owner has plenty of cash…….Newcastle…….or you make some profit off of developing your own talent and shipping them off to a more affluent club. The schedule would still include independent clubs as that is the most efficient form of competition regionally but the real money is attacking the scouting market of the globe and putting US soccer on the map.
Furthermore, the ECNL has been the elite girls competition since 2009. The Development Academy has only been available to girls since 2017. Yes, 2017. It was conceived as an arena for boys competition in 2007.
The ECNL has 89 clubs in competition ranging from u-14 to u-19 while the DA only has about 60. Can the MLS and US Soccer devise a landscape for youth soccer that equally includes women?
Recently a federal judge ruled in favor of US Soccer in a gender inequality suit seen here, and in the past it has not made its responsibility to youth development equal. Can the NWSL partner with ECNL to structure girls youth soccer at the level the new development academy could? The United States arguably churns out the best female soccer talent in the world. Having a unified, with a solid scouting base would only exemplify Women’s soccer excellence in the United States.