USSF Finds New and Exciting Ways to Disservice Youth Development

Why try to reach as much talent as possible when you could somehow develop even less?

I’m going to start this out by saying this: trying to learn everything there is to learn about the various youth development mechanisms there are in the United States is like putting your mouth on a fire hydrant, until your body swells up like a Looney Tune and you go flying through the air so high that they cut to an animated map of the United States and you fly all the way from the East Coast to somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, where Elmer Fudd somehow is already, and you must foil his plan to hunt Bugs by setting off an avalanche, ridding the mountain top of snow and the only water source you had. It’s comically large, disordered, and when you think you’re really getting to start somewhere, you’ve most likely ended up back where you started.

Take the Development Academy, for example. The girl’s Development Academy, which started in 2017 and really did just pulled resources from existing, successful development platforms because it wanted to compete with leagues like Elite Clubs National League, was not a good idea, no. But on the boy’s side of things, distilled down to its purest form, the DA wasn’t such a bad idea: get all of the best youth clubs in America under one banner, and let’s centralize the development process to expedite growth. That makes sense! That seems like it should be a good idea!

Did it quite live up to those vaunted expectations? No, and there were people who still pined for the old Olympic Development Program to take precedence over the Development Academy. The instruction in the DA itself was regarded as suspect, and DA players were often criticized for their lack of fire and competitiveness, dumped in favor of adherence to bland tactical discipline. DA players had an inside track to youth national teams, sure. But the DA also did precious little to fix coverage issues around the country. The U.S. is huge, and there are still precious few scouts, precious few serious clubs that can teach young players the skills they need to actually become professional, and many of those clubs that did exist were still pay-to-play, pricing out potential talent. Either you found your way to an MLS club’s academy system, where there was an actual ladder to climb, or you played somewhere else, most likely paying quite a bit of money, just trying to get noticed by a U.S. scout or an MLS club.

Does that mean the DA was a bad idea and I should celebrate USSF closing it down? No, not really, because I think it will only exacerbate the coverage problems previously stated. MLS teams might create some sort of academy league, and presumably, that’s going to be the primary funnel for youth national teams going forward. So, instead of a pool of around a thousand players you could choose from primarily for a national team (already a comically small number), you’ll effectively cut that pool in half, and rely on MLS teams to be scouting and finding players.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a bunch of very good MLS academies. But there are also several very bad MLS academies, and still, the issue of scouting will come up again. How do you propose to reach kids when you’re already incredibly narrow league and system of scouting is only getting smaller? In a nation full of hundreds of millions of people, with our chief rivals to the South continuing to scout the U.S. better than USSF and MLS clubs do, and offer kids a better deal, a better chance to improve themselves and live their dream?

I’m not going to shed tears for the loss of the Development Academy. But I do think that this step is still, somehow, a backwards one for USSF, despite the fact that the DA didn’t quite live up to its lofty goals. Nixing bad ideas that aren’t working, only to implement ideas that are possibly even worse: welcome to U.S. Soccer.


Trivia Time

The USMNT and Liga MX have enjoyed an intertwined history ever since the early ‘90s. But which USMNT player who is not ethnically Mexican or born in Mexico (i.e. William Yarbrough is not the answer) has the most Liga MX appearances?

Yesterday’s Trivia: 8 countries have won the Men’s World Cup, and 4 countries have won the Women’s World Cup. On the men’s side, you have Uruguay, Germany/West Germany, Brazil, Argentina, England, Italy, France, and Spain. On the women’s side, there’s the United States, Norway, Germany, and Japan.