Development Academies vs. High School Soccer
February, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy announced it would move from a seven-month to a 10-month season starting in September. The move seemed like a natural progression to accelerate the development of youth players, but it was met with great controversy since it forced top players to choose between playing for their academy or their high school. This situation affects practically every youth soccer player (and coach) in the U.S.
(In full disclosure, I am a former youth technical director of an MLS Academy in addition to being a former high school All-American.)
The Development Academy league, a U18/U16 league comprised of both MLS and non-MLS academy teams, has made great strides funneling top U.S. talent into its system. Coupled with MLS’ homegrown player initiative, more kids are getting opportunities to sign professional contracts now than ever before in the history of American soccer.
The basis behind U.S. Soccer’s vision: the only way it can compete with the top soccer nations is to invest in youth development, creating an environment where the top youth players play against each other consistently. Kids in other nations are playing at a much higher level at a younger age than the average American. U.S. youth soccer faces extremely different hurdles than the rest of the world — school system intricacies, geographical challenges and an array of professional sports leagues that dominate media coverage ahead of soccer.
But the question remains: What’s best for the kid? Some high school coaches want to keep their star players to attain personal goals. Some academy coaches are persuading average players to be roster fillers so they can use exemptions on top players. The system is flawed because it’s in its infancy. But more so because academy coaches are in a position where they can take advantage of it. For example, if an academy team does not meet U.S. Soccer’s roster requirements, they are no longer a part of the development academy league. This is the equivalent of a bar losing its liquor license. Academies will do anything to comply with U.S. Soccer’s rules. The focus then no longer becomes about development, but rather survival.
Read More: SI