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U.S. Soccer introduces changes to youth development

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By DAN KARELL

In a move to align its structure in the style of some European powers, U.S. Soccer has introduced a number of changes to its youth system and structure.

U.S. Soccer is adding a number of initiatives, including the creation of a pro-license for coaches, adding an Under-12 age group for youth academies and increasing scholarship funding to remove cost barriers, and adding Under-16 and Under-19 National Team programs for both men and women with full-time head coaches, all likely at a heavy cost to the U.S. Soccer Federation.

“This is a huge step forward in our efforts to improve the development process for player and coaches across the country,” U.S. Soccer technical director and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in a statement. “As we have done with the senior National Team, our goal is to make sure we are able to provide the best possible environment and opportunity for players to reach their highest level.”

The new changes coming to U.S. Soccer focus on three areas, per their press release: assessment and identification, training and development, competition.

“It’s fundamental to the growth of the sport in our country that we examine and improve the different areas of development for our players and coaches,” U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said in a statement. “We are better situated than ever with the resources to do that. With ambitious programming for our National Teams, new investments in education and technology, and a continued effort to align our technical practices with the best in the world, we are positioning ourselves to take another important step forward.”

In the assessment and identification aspect, U.S. Soccer claims that they “will undertake an independent assessment” of their youth national team programs, development academy, and its clubs. U.S. Soccer state they have yet to choose which company will be hired to do the audit.

Last month, the New York Times reported that U.S. Soccer was planning to authorize a “full audit” of their organization by Double PASS, a Belgium-based company that has consulted with the likes of the DFB, Premier League, Hungarian FA, Belgian FA, and Bundesliga to overhaul their youth system and organization.

In the training and development aspect, U.S. Soccer state they are upgrading their coaching licenses and are introducing a new F-license for youth technical directors and a pro-license. In addition, there will be an online “Digital Coaching Center” for coaches around the country to access coaching resources, and a “national coaching education center” is being formed and will be hosted by Sporting Kansas City.

For players, the federation is expanding the development academy programs to a U-12 age group, increasing scholarship funding, and standardizing small-sided games and field sizes for youth players.

Another interesting note in the release is that U.S. Soccer are working with the NCAA to increase the length of the college soccer season, perhaps spreading it over both the fall and spring instead of just the fall.

New hire Nelson Rodriguez will be in charge of counseling and educating young national team players as they determine their professional or collegiate options.

Finally, on the competition aspect, U.S. Soccer is adding the U-16 and U-19 squads to both the men’s and women’s program to have teams all the way from U-14 through U-20 and U-23 on both sides.

No date has been set for the launch of these new initiatives and changes but U.S. Soccer stated in the release that when they are launched they will provide additional information.

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What do you think of this news? Like the direction U.S. Soccer is moving in? What changes would you like to see?

Share your thoughts below.

Comments

  1. I really like getting the NCAA to lengthen the college season by making it a spring and fall affair. As a fan of Princeton, it is pretty easy to see how the Ivy League’s late start date in the fall hampers the play of its teams. The Ivy’s typically play their first 3 games against teams that have already played 3 or 4 more games and it shows in the cohesiveness and sharpness of the players. As the season progresses the Ivy’s typically begin to do better against non-conference rivals, but by then it is too late to catch up in the RPI rankings.

    And that is only 2 weeks or so of missed training. Imagine how much better college soccer could be if they had a full spring season and some winter sessions as well as the fall.

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  2. Congrats to Mr. Karel and SBI! This is the first site that has not only given a full description of these changes but has credited JK for his part in them! Not only that, the readers are actually interested in what is happening off the field to improve the long term status of US soccer. Thanks everybody, you made my day!

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    • s passes, I agree with your comments. I also think that Herr Klinsmann has used his wealth of Fussball knowledge and experience to accelerate these developments and the growth of US soccer. WUNDERBAR and I look forward to the future US soccer accomplishments and success!!!

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  3. US Soccer should try to work some deal with the NCAA to create some kind integrated youth system that doesn’t run afoul of amateurism rules and allows promising players to play off season. I think the NCAA has a great infrastructure for producing athletes and I think they and the pro leagues should try to set up a situation where they are working together. If not the NCAA then maybe US Soccer and the MLS should pick off a conference or 2 and convince them to break off.

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    • I’d love to see more D1 soccer programs follow BYU’s lead and leave the NCAA for the NPSL (or PDL). Unlikely though in the era of conference television networks.

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  4. I wonder if we could also benefit from some funding for building soccer pitches in low income areas, to compete with pickup basketball. In “The Two Escobars” the connection is made when the bad Escobar built a bunch of soccer pitches in poor neighborhoods, sponsored leagues/tournaments, and grew the quality. There are too many neighborhood where kiddos have to drive or be driven a long way to play futbol.

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  5. It’s a start I was hoping for firing all youth coaches here that don’t know what they are doing and replacing them with Dutch coaches

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    • LOL, by the way, you can easily replace “Dutch coaches” with Spanish, German, Belgian, Argentinian, or pretty much any nation that is competent in terms of player development.

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    • LOL. the biggest difference in today’s American youth players and their development, which is leaps and bounds better than it was 5 years ago let alone 10 and beyond, has not to do with USSoccer (altho these are nice evolutionary steps for sure) or foreign coaches (LOL!)

      as a youth comp coach here in America, I have witnessed this one change that has fueled its own revolution in the progression of youth development and made any coach’s job more progressive here

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  6. After these sweeping changes, as a musician and a lover of the beautiful game, I am hoping to enroll my future kids into learning an instrument AND playing soccer at a youth academy. These are great changes that will make me feel much more at ease about youth soccer.

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    • Um, playing at a youth academy means they will have no time to excel at an instrument. If they are on a professional track for soccer, you may have to consider music as a hobby that they do in their spare time, but not sharing with their soccer career. If they are gonna be a professional musician, then soccer is the hobby. If you want them to have both hobbies, then that’s what Rec soccer is for, and perhaps lower level non-academy clubs where they still have professional coaches but they don’t travel to play. At the end of the day, you still only have had 24 hours to eat, sleep, study, practice something. Just the truth, from someone with kiddos who are in soccer, music, school, some or all the time.

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      • All too true. I went to a big time ACC school and spoke with some of the women’s players. One in particular said she had to make a decision in high school on whether to invest in her mind or her body. She chose soccer. To be anywhere close to top level at something, you just do not have the time left over to do too much else.

  7. Good. I especially like the increased scholarship funding to lower the barrier for top athletes and get away from the suburban travel soccer method.

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  8. this is fantastic news and a lot of these changes are spot on. i especially love the optimism around getting NCAA to align the college game with how the game is actually played. one of the better quotes was the recognition that college is still going to be a popular avenue for a decent chunk of our players and because of that, the college game needs to be set up the same as the professional level.

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    • I still think college soccer is poor preparation for becoming a professional but playing with real rules over the course of both spring and fall would at least be an improvement. I still think we need to move away from the college model though. It only works in the NBA and NFL because there aren’t other countries with different systems in those sports (maybe a little in basketball).

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      • Geography comes into play here though. There’s a heck of lot more territory covered for 18 years olds to play at college than to get into one of the 20 MLS academies and the big youth clubs are based out of the big cities almost exclusively.

        College is still a good thing, but maybe we just need to push out best and brightest to not go that route.

      • i think that is probably what will happen. the best prospects will likely bypass college altogether. but there will still be a large number of players in the college system that will turn out to be really good players. so making sure the college game is at a high level will always be important.

      • I get what you’re saying but this argument that college is not a good path to the pros and that we need to move away from it is sort of getting old. While it is not ideal, just based on the number of kids playing soccer in this country, there aren’t enough pro teams or academies yet to take on all of these kids with potential. Plus, some kids develop later than others. College may not develop the next Messi, but look at guys like Mullins for the Rev. 4 years at a good school and he sets up a goal an MLS Cup. College soccer will definitely still be home to many players that are capable of having good careers in this league. That being said, I’m all for changing certain rules and making the season run closer to the way a professional season is ran.

      • for sure, i agree the college game is not ideal. but the point Sunil seemed to be making was that the college game is a reality in our current setup, and that we just have to accept that. he goes on to say that knowing that, it’s imperative the college game is revamped.

        the other problem with college soccer is that if a player stays 4 years, they are going to be 23 years old and in Europe most players have already been professionals for a few years by 23. only way to help with that is to have better players at the college level so that it is as close as possible to a professional level. hopefully that happens but i am not holding my breath.

      • Gulati is naive and the NCAA will not take direction from US Soccer if it is not in its best interest. You cannot tell the NCAA what to do unless you are willing to take them on in court, and your sport is in peril if it ignores them. The fact that the NCAA has a good hold on soccer in the US should not be lost on Klinsmann or Gulati.And remember high school counselors have been educated in the benefits of college and college scholarships far too long to recommend to parents and students an alternate path and one not condoned by the high school or Universities and if US SOCCER and Klinsmann try to bypass this we not only will lose a source of soccer talent in this country but we will put US Soccer in an adversarial position.

        Klinsmann may want to adopt the Euro method because it worked in Europe, and he knows it well. But this is the USA not Germany or Spain or Britain and it may have worked in countries way smaller in population and land area than the US.

        The US has a bigger population than most of Europe combined and we are an economic powerhouse because of our collegiate system turning out scientist, managers and engineers. We also have a collegiate system that turns out a tremendous amount of athletes in all sports. The percentage of US athletes competing in the Olympics that attended or graduated from college is surpassed by no other country..

        We do not need to ignore collegiate soccer, we need to embrace it. US soccer should be willing to get high school soccer coaches all certified, have certain training regimes tailored for the sport and adopted by US high school and colleges,.coaches and sports programs, around the US it would solve have the problem of US players not having the technical experience by the time they are ready to play soccer. It would also serve identify and find the true soccer talents at the high school level and point then to a University or a college if they have the necessary academic credentials or to a soccer academy if they do not.. In short the program touted is doomed to fail or be repklaced with one more intelligently though out.

      • bottle – maybe, but he knows more than either of us and the quote on this was:

        “Gulati said that U.S. Soccer has ‘more traction than ever before’ in trying to convince the NCAA to overhaul the college soccer schedule.”

        take it for what it is, but i am not sure i would say he is naive. if anything, i think his quote saying they have more traction than they ever have before shows he knows the stubbornness of the NCAA.

        that all said, i’m not sure if you are trying to disagree with me or what is going on. if you read my comments in this thread on the issue, i have repeated a few times that college soccer is not going anywhere, that we need to acknowledge that, and embrace it. and because of that, it’s good to see USSF working to improve the college game.

      • We have absolutely no hope of competing with elite soccer nations if we rely in any meaningful way on the college system to produce players. It just doesn’t work. Sure, there will be occasional late developers but the overall level of play is way too low. The changes envisioned here are good and should be implemented but college soccer should be more like college tennis – a place where good/very good young players can compete while getting an education, but not a place where most top level players go to develop.

      • Your point is that the level of NCAA soccer is too low. Instead of abandoning college soccer as part of the infrastructure, maybe we should look to improve it. If you think about it, it is not the NCAA’s fault that the level of play is too low — that blame would go to the clubs that are developing the players up until the point they go to college.

        So, if the development academies and MLS academies (and high schools) do a better job of developing players, that is what we need to raise the level of college soccer. If the NCAA schedule is changed slightly (there is already a long fall season and a short during season, but more training time what is needed most), there is no reason leagues like the ACC and PAC 12 can’t look like lower level professional leagues in Europe.

        The only issue there is that they are not playing against older more experienced players, which is why the MLS reserve teams in USL would be a better route. Nevertheless, if development at younger levels increases to produce better players, and the college season is tweaked, why can’t it be a good place for an 18-21 year old develop (in ADDITION to other development paths)?

      • “If you think about it, it is not the NCAA’s fault that the level of play is too low.”

        I disagree. It very much is the NCAA’s fault because it set up the rules and structure to benefit the NCAA, not to develop the student-athlete. No one forced NCAA to do things the way it does.

        “The only issue there is that they are not playing against older more experienced players…[if] the college season is tweaked, why can’t it be a good place for an 18-21 year old develop?”

        Because it’s not the age or experience of the opponent that matters, it’s their caliber—which of course I’m sure you meant to imply by “age and experience,” but the point needs to be emphasized. College players won’t get to play against the best opponents because the best opponents won’t go to college: they will go where they can get paid instead of slaving away for four years to put money in NCAA’s pockets.

        That’s why I think US Soccer should move forward without NCAA. If NCAA wants to try to keep up, then great, tell them what they need to do, but don’t rely on the NCAA at all.

      • The in-game rules that the NCAA uses are very similar to professional soccer. The substitution rules should be changed, but it’s not like college games are not soccer games. The talent of the players is what needs to be elevated. The thing about the college game that needs changing the most is the schedule so that players will continue to develop throughout the entire year.

        The NCAA benefits very little from soccer. There are no huge gate receipts and no big tv deals. It has basically propped up the sport (and many others) in this country for a long time. Abandoning it because the system is not perfect (and heaven forbid not how Europe does it) would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

        The point about playing older more experienced players is not just about the quality of the players. That is the only thing that is preventing NCAA soccer from being a legitimate lower level professional playing environment. Playing with and against older players is simply part of the professional experience for young players in professional leagues, and it has many benefits that create more professional and mature prospects.

        Finally, a college scholarship and a chance to develop in an atmosphere with good coaching, facilities, and teammates is much more appealing to a lot of young players and families than chasing a pathetic first contract with absolutely no guarantees.

        If the NCAA can iron out some details to make it more of a professional environment, it would be an important step in the development of our players. Note, again, that college soccer is only part of the entire system. Not every player should go this route, but it can be improved for those who do.

      • don Lamb: I’m finding a lot of agreement between what you and I are saying. For example, we both agree that college lacks in serious ways, both in terms of schedule/rules (which can be changed relatively easily) and in competition (a much more difficult fix).

        I think some of our apparent disagreement is only in appearance. To you, I appear to be bashing the college game, suggesting that we eliminate it altogether. That’s not my point. My point is that the changes that we both agree need to be made at the college level depend on the NCAA making those changes, but I have no faith that the NCAA ever will. Thus, I’m not interested in expending a lot of energy trying to get it to.

        And yeah, for some players, the current NCAA setup is perfect (minus the slave labor part).

      • Just an addendum: I think the way to get NCAA to change is to force it to change through competition: a viable, attractive alternative for developing players, some of which plan to go to college (eventually). So I’d rather see MLS pushing those alternatives and let the NCAA try to keep up.

      • I think college soccer in the US is extremely valuable because the overall soccer IQ in the US needs to be increased. Not everyone is going to be pro player but it is important in terms of future coaches to have a soccer education beyond High School and club soccer. You want your local U-12 team to be coached by a former d-1 player not just some random well-intentioned parent who knows nothing about soccer. The more people who have soccer experience beyond High School the better. The higher the IQ the better chance we have of coaches being able to spot talent and develop talent.

        Here is a personal example of what I am talking about: I lived in Germany until I was 16. My U-16 coach in Germany was a former bundesliga player and he had to be licensed to coach and our club wasn’t anything spectacular. Our assistant coach had played in the 3rd division. There were fathers in the stands who had been former Bundesliga players. Then I moved to the US and my High School coach was the Baseball coach as well. He had never played soccer and really knew nothing about the game. He just yelled at us a lot. My club was run by parent who didn’t know the game either. I didn’t receive any real coaching again until I was in college. This is why I think college soccer is good. When former college players who have received Higher Education in soccer are working with kids we stand a better chance of finding and developing kids. Obviously former Pros are better and that day will come but for now the more people playing college ball the better.

      • Yes, this is a good point that the NCAA is set up to produce “good” soccer experience, but not to develop “great” soccer talent.

    • Hey bryan, I agree that improving college soccer is a good thing, but I don’t think US Soccer should bother being in talks with the NCAA. The key, as someone else mentioned, is to focus on the system we currently have. Push talent to go that route, encourage USL and PDL teams to accommodate college students (many already do!), and basically let the NCAA try to keep up. Entering into agreements with the NCAA is not the way to go, because then you let them dictate some of the decisions (which will be poor). If the NCAA can adapt to provide a truly great alternative experience, then so be it.

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      • What parent would advise their child to skip college to play soccer? Answer, only those whose child has already shown pretty clearly able to play at the highest level and/or whose child has struggled academically and is not likely to find much in the way of success in a college classroom.
        The siren call of professional sports may be there, but until parents stop caring about their childrens’ future, for good or bad, college will continue to play a very big role in the development of US soccer players.
        In short since there are literally hundreds of 18 year-old US soccer players who MIGHT become professional soccer players. but only a few tens of them actually will, most will be better served by college than any entry-level pro soccer development path.
        So it is imperative to improve the NCAA rules to allow much longer soccer seasons. The NCAA will push back, of course, since their main concern is (or should be) for academics, not sports.

      • You can enroll in college at any age. If a kid believes he/she has a shot at a soccer career, then go for it. If it doesn’t work out, then enroll in college at age 24 or 25. If it works out okay (i.e., a decent pro salary for a few years) then save money to graduate from college debt-free. At age 30, you’ll have a college degree and no debt, while your high school classmates will have a college degree and a mountain of debt.

        College plays a role in the poor development of US soccer players. Improving the NCAA from “mediocre” to “adequate” is just a way of encouraging a kid to do two things halfway. Currently and for the foreseeable future, many kids would be far better served playing PDL while simultaneously going to college. And it will be much easier to tweak PDL structure to make that even more viable than it will be to restructure the NCAA.

        P.S. I work in higher education.

      • All due respect, but I don’t think you are very informed about the college game. There is no way that a player would be better off developing on a PDL team than playing in the ACC.

        What makes much more sense is for the NCAA to allow players to train more throughout the school year and then those players could play PDL in the summer (as they currently do).

      • Also, and I think this is part of the new proposal, the training piece of NCAA soccer needs to include much more time in between games so that players have time to train instead of always being in game prep or recovery mode.

      • this is an excellent point, agree 100%. regarding these tournaments when they play 4 games in a weekend, crazy to me

      • i certainly see what you are saying King, but i just think there are way too many players who are in, and will continue to go through, the college system for PDL or USL to take on. i see no reason why USSF should not work with the NCAA to improve their system so long as USSF believes they actually have a shot at getting the NCAA to listen. obviously that is a long shot, but based on Sunil’s comment, he thinks they have more of a chance now than ever before. so why not try?

        like you said, if the NCAA starts making demands that are unreasonable, i trust USSF to just say F it. here are the things on the table for discussion with NCAA:

        “Rather than cramming more than 20 games into around three months, the Federation and many coaches around the country are pushing for a split season that will afford players a better balance between training and matches over both the fall and spring.

        ‘We fully appreciate that a number of young players will continue and want to continue to go through the college route. We accept that,’ Gulati said.

        The goal is to make that route as productive as possible. Convincing the NCAA to adopt conventional substitution rules and a prospective USSF summer program for elite college players that would present an alternative to the PDL and NPSL schedules also are on the agenda.”

      • bryan: I think it’s a semantics issue. When I read that “MLS is in talks with the NCAA,” I pictured a negotiation. Since I have no faith in the NCAA to make the sacrifices necessary to improve its soccer programs (or, really, to do anything right), I’m not interested in negotiations.

        Now, if the reality is that “MLS is in talks to the NCAA,” then I’m all for that.

  9. Anything that gets players the technical training they need and 10 solid months of competition, while being truly accessible to talented prospects who aren’t upper middle class is well worth pursuing.

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      • as Stinky Pete points out, but not mentioned in this recap, is USSF is going to put a lot more money into scholarships to avoid the “pay to play” BS that has haunted this game. Sunil also says that part will still be there, but USSF is doing everything they can to create more opportunity for those who can’t pay. he also touches on the challenges of doing this with some pretty good comments on the complexity of the issue.

      • This isn’t something you can fix immediately, it takes a really long time. But these moves sound like they are taking things in the right direction.

      • right, i don’t think anyone has said otherwise. it’s just nice to see them moving in the right direction.

      • Kudos to you for coaching the poor (in financial terms). Unfortunately, our youth development system is still a pay-to-play system even with increased scholarships. There would be no need to apply for scholarship but for pay-to-play model. The scholarships have been available before this initiative, but potential scholarships do not transform the basic business model of earning the money by collecting fee from parents. A club can develop zero professional players and still sustain itself by collecting pay-to-play fees from parents. As for the kids from poor families, most of them will be locked out.

    • If nothing else he is putting to good use the large financial resources that US soccer has compared to other countries. Money does matter.

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      • Yup, and this will make us find more Donovans, Dempseys, and Bradleys and making the search of “finding the American Messi” less of a needle-in-the-haystack.

      • Or we coach down our best developing players at the under-12 level in favor of taller, stronger kids who won’t pan out because the coach wants a win and possible promotion.

      • As a coach I have seen this so many times. The other coach puts up top his biggest, strongest kid who hit puberty first and everybody kicks long balls to him. The kid then out runs or out muschles the other kids and scores a lot of goals.

      • Dempsey was “found” after being drafted and playing for the New England Revolution and had nothing to do with our Youth Soccer program. That was also after playing some college ball (another No No)

      • He made 13 appearances for the U20’s, though this was during his college years. I would wager those U20 appearances improved his odds of being scouted for the draft (as most youth intl’ appearances do

      • And unless the direction of youth soccer development under Klinsmann includes college soccer and the NCAA, its doomed to fail. If you take the number of good soccer academies in the MLS and the lower divisions and even all the independents ones and multiply them by 10, it would not equal the number of Universities and Colleges who hand out soccer scholarships. every year. As I understand the article and what I’ve read, it models itself after the Euro model which dos not emphasize collegiate soccer. Well, good luck with that and have fun telling your soccer talented son (or daughter) to forgo a college scholarship to join a soccer academy that may or may not lead to pro career in the US that most likely will have you underpaid over a very brief career and have no degree or earning potential for the rest of your life.

        yeah right.. down the primrose path we go.

      • I’ve read elsewhere, sorry no links- that US Soccer is in fact including and appreciating college soccer in its developmental big picture. Apparently they are pushing to extend the college season to more closely replicate professional leagues as well as changing to standard substitutions. Both changes are much needed.

      • agreed. why not partner with the current structure and make smart changes and work together with the American resources?

      • Oh yeah, and Bradley was greatly praised for it as well…… oh wait… that’s right, in those years all we heard were endless cries of nepotism. Likely from the same miserable wretches that are anti-Klinsman obsessed.

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