On April 15, 2020, US Soccer announced that it is ending the US Development Academy. The program has been around in US soccer for over 13 years. In a post on their official blog, US soccer cited financial difficulties exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for the termination of the program.
The US Development Academy is a leagued intended to develop elite soccer talent in the US. It consists of the best youth soccer talent across the nations. Large youth soccer clubs and MLS teams alike field Development Academy teams. Restrictions on coaching license requirements and number and proximity of youth clubs that can have teams keeps the talent pool high.
This change will have tremendous effects on the landscape of youth soccer development in the US. The USDA’s largest competition, ECNL, will certainly see a huge boost in participation as a result. It is likely that many Academy teams will move to that league. However, at the same time as this announcement, the MLS also announced the formation of a new youth soccer league to fill the void. They also expressed interest in inviting non-MLS clubs to participate. This could bring about well needed change in youth soccer development, as reports have indicated that the USDA was poorly run and mismanaged.
So what’s next for elite youth soccer in this US? From this announcement, it seems most likely that teams and money will pour into the ECNL and new MLS youth league. But it also opens a huge door for new opportunities and ventures in youth soccer development. New independent clubs and academies could form across the nation without the proximity and licensing requirements from US soccer. Just as there is much uncertainty in the world with COVID-19, this news creates huge uncertainty with US youth soccer. It could be the boost that US youth soccer needs to bring it on par with many other countries. Could it be that youth academies similar to those in Europe develop? Now more than ever, it is a real possibility.
As a youth soccer player growing up in North Carolina, the USDA provided the best (and only) opportunity for playing elite youth soccer. During my youth playing career, there were no MLS teams in the entire southeastern US. With no other professional teams even relatively close, independent youth club academies were the only option. This is certainly changing, however, as the MLS recently announced Charlotte FC as the newest expansion team for the MLS. The future direction of youth academies is unclear, but the MLS is expanding rapidly and likely has the best shot of developing a highly talented and well funded youth development league.
This news brings about tremendous change in youth soccer in the US. The future for the elite development of youth talent is uncertain, yet bright. There is a real opportunity to make real improvements and grow the sport tremendously across the country.