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NASL looking to be on forefront as talent development evolves in the USA



NASL commissioner Bill Peterson is keeping an eye towards developing future talent.

For years, those connected with soccer in the United States have been working to put together the ideal academy system. While Europe and South America have developed ways of churning out talent fit for their region, the U.S. has struggled to find a proper system to produce players in the country’s current culture and climate.

In an attempt to forge their own system, Peterson and the NASL have left the league’s teams with certain freedoms when it comes to putting together each club’s respective academy. With no overarching system in place, Peterson has left it on each individual club to develop the system that works for them.

“You’re definitely going to see people getting serious about it,” Peterson told SBI. “Right now, from a league standpoint, we’ve sort of stayed out of any direction or any guidance because we’re trying to figure out what teams are going to find the best way to do it. It’s a very tough business and a lot of people have tried to do it a lot of different ways for many years.”

One of the teams looking to be on the forefront of talent development is the New York Cosmos, who recently added Spanish legend Raul to help overhaul the team’s academy.

Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese understands the importance of developing the country’s youth. As a veteran of both American and international soccer, Savarese values the league’s mindset when it comes to young talent and believes that the NASL is on the forefront of giving younger players an opportunity to shine.

“I think NASL provides something that is very positive, that gives the possibility to young players to participate in a more competitive environment then they’re used to in college or other leagues,” Savarese said. “I think younger players find more space in our league than in MLS, at the moment, and I think that players develop when they play.

“Now, the commitment  for a lot of teams in NASL is to have a second team, a reserve team, and we’re growing in that aspect as well, but we also have to understand, the same can be said about MLS, that it is a young league.”

Like the league itself, the sport of soccer in the U.S. is an evolving one. To this point in the country’s history, a lot of that development has come through the college game. With NCAA soccer taking the reigns during most players aged 18-22, many of the country’s prospects have seen their growth take part in the university setting.

Savarese believes that due to the rise of academies, college soccer is in need of a major overhaul. The Cosmos head coach pointed to a series of current college guidelines, including a longer season, traditional timing and the removal of unlimited substitutions, that must be removed for the college game to maintain an impact.

“If it doesn’t change, it will have no importance in the part of the development of players in the future,” Savarese said. “I think, in order for colleges to continue to be part of how the sport is growing, I think there has to be some rules and things that have to change.

“If it keeps evolving as soccer is evolving with the leagues and everything else, then I think it can have an important part, but we have to understand that right now, the ages of 19-23 years old is a gap that we have to find a way to help players develop in a much better way for the future.”

With the league set to expand to as many as 12 teams in the near future, Peterson sees his league’s experimentation with the academy system as a beneficial movement for soccer in the United States. Each team’s successes and failures will be noted, and Peterson believes that having so many ongoing styles will help the U.S. as a whole develop a proper system for producing the next generation of talent.

“We need to find the right way in this country to do it,” Peterson said. “Having 11 or 12 more teams starting to explore how to do that, I think, is going to get us to where we want to be quicker than us trying to dictate that ‘it’s got to look like this’. We’re doing everything. We’re talking with U.S. Soccer, we’re talking with all of our local clubs. We’re talking with our state associations, and everybody is trying to figure out the right way to do it.

“Like in all sports, as soon as somebody has some success, the herd mentality will kick in and everybody will follow that. I think that continues for another year or two.”

That future, as Savarese envisions in, will see the U.S. grow into one of the world’s more competitive soccer countries. The Cosmos head coach expects a lot of growth in 10-15 years, as more players enter the pool with proper development in training.

With a focus on the players’ professionalism at a young age, Savarese believes that the U.S., and its domestic game, can grow into a world player and fill the gaps that have previously held the team back on the world’s stage.

“I think right now, we are going to continue to professionalize the youth,” Savarese said. “I don’t think that we are fully there yet and I think in the near future, 10-15 years,  I believe that we are going to see a very professional youth environment in which players will understand better the directions and the paths. I just think that the sport is going to grow and they we’ll start to see more players that we are missing.

“The national team struggles to find true number 10 or creative player. We still have a need for centerbacks,” Savarese added. “There’s not that many centerbacks that are of a high level, per se, and I think the more we grow in that time, the more we’ll start to look like Germany and other countries that can form two national teams because there’s so much competition. I hope that that’s where we get to in 10-15 years.”


  1. I don’t understand what Peterson or Savarese are saying here? I really wish our lower divisions would get involved with Youth Development to fill in the cracks with the size of this country, and to allow more professional opportunities to youth players.

    But there seems to be a lot of unearned hubris here. They complain about the lack of professional options in development, but the NASL has been completely uninvolved prior and doesn’t look to be making any changes currently? Not requiring clubs to get involved means clubs won’t get involved. It sounds like the one team that will is the one in a market with two MLS clubs…

    …this needs to be legislated if NASL wants to brag about their (non)involvement. Lot’s of smoke from NASL, rarely even an ember. If they could get involved in development they’ll become an integral part of the pyramid, but that would require something besides vague and ambiguous talking points.

  2. Just fold already. Sell now while the league is worth something, so we can finally have a full fledged & supported 3 tier system.

  3. Does anyone else think it is odd that the title of this Article is about developing talent in the USA but it shows a picture of a Canadian team ?

  4. US soccer will probably continue to have to rely on imported talent. Here’s an excerpt from a recent interview with Romain Gall, one of our top young players who immigrated at age 7, on his development ( –

    “In France I learned a lot tactically, mainly without the ball. Technically as well, in terms of precision, and speed of play. I integrated things that I wasn’t able to learn in the United States. Training in America is developing but is still a little behind.”

    «En France j’ai beaucoup appris tactiquement, confirme l’intéressé, notamment dans le jeu sans ballon. Techniquement aussi, au niveau de la précision, de la vitesse de jeu. J’ai intégré des choses que je n’avais pas pu apprendre aux Etats-Unis. La formation américaine se développe mais il y a encore un peu de retard.»

    • Beachbum, you’re welcome and thank you for the response. I know it comes up, but I read sbi and listen to soccer podcasts daily and mostly people talk about problems with the college system and the need for MLS academies to do a better job.

      It is nice to hear people criticize the pay-to-play system, but I’d challenge us to go even further. If every development academy team was free, that would be progress, but we’d still be missing out on 90% of kids in cities like Philadelphia. We need a partnership of US Soccer, youth soccer associations, and pro teams to invest heavily in creating community soccer programs in every urban neighborhood. Then we eventually need at least one development academy program located in the city where low-income youth can access it.

      I had a 14 year old Colombian kid in my program who I took to a Union academy training session. To their credit, they welcomed him and told him to work on his physical fitness for a month and then come back. He never went back because his family doesn’t have a car and the Union facilities are 2 hours away by public transit. I would’ve kept taking him myself except I’m a public school teacher volunteering 30 hours a week to build up our community Kensington Soccer Club program so I don’t have the time.

      • sounds fantastic! if we can keep the infrastructure arc peaking as it has the last 10-15 years I’m encouraged we’ll look back in 10-15 years at many of the steps you see in your view of the future as realities

        doing what I can myself with hours invested year round and the whole year-round aspect with the athletes considering the realities of football, basketball, baseball pulling on the kids’ and parents’ time and efforts too

        so public school teacher and 30 hours a week volunteering…before getting married and having kids I was doing that same thing!

  5. These discussions regularly ignore the huge problem that is the inequality of soccer opportunity in this country. Millions of children in inner-cities have no access to even recreational soccer programs. And for those talented and dedicated kids who learned to play in other countries or in the rare urban soccer program, their chances to play for top clubs and get noticed by colleges or pro development programs are almost zero. Even if they are noticed and given a scholarship, transportation is usually an insurmountable barrier.

    We need to create and support community rec soccer programs and elite talent development programs in the urban neighborhoods themselves. I started the Kensington Soccer Club in North Philly to do my part to alleviate this problem, but we need so much more.

  6. Well, the problem with serious youth development is that it takes a large upfront investment. You need a infrastructure, facilities, and ideally a residential style facility where kids can also receive an education. Some of the most successful youth systems in the world provide free of charge a place to train, live and school and the soccer component is geared around a core philosophy and professional grade instruction. This is also very expensive.

    In the US such a system is possible and clearly more advantageous from a development standpoint than “pay to play” or “free put under a travelling club model”. But, a big issue is that the FIFA rules on compensation for youth players only covers developed and under contract kids. In the USA to retain NCAA eligibility, a pro contract eliminates the amateur status for scholarship. As we see all to often this means these developed players can leave, sign or go where ever and the developing system will get nothing for their years of investment.Solve that, and the economics for youth development start making a lot more sense.

  7. Influencing lasting changes at the NCAA would be a huge step forward for this soccer nation. NCAA is already reaping the benefits of better youth development, hopefully they return the favor and step up their game in terms of developing legitimate professionals.

    personally i think the whole ncaa idea needs a re-think. currently college is a basically a very expensive extension of high school but if we just want to talk about soccer related changes; play the games just like they do at the pro levels with a focus on developing professionals.

    incorporating traditional soccer things like fall->spring schedules, pro-rel, etc into MLS or even NASL has been debated to an end and will take decades before we see much progress.. that said i think that it would be a lot easier to incorporate them into the NCAA game earlier.

    • I have a better idea – let professional clubs develop professionals – they’ll do a far better job of it. And people who want to play sports while getting an education can go play college soccer. Colleges are here to educate people, not develop professional soccer players.

      • Colleges are not stopping pro clubs from developing pro soccer players. Even as pro youth development academies grow and improve, colleges will still play an important role in player development since the country is so huge and our talent development and scouting systems are so limited.

        The bigger issue is that we’re missing out completely on millions of kids who don’t have access to college soccer or pro academies. (See my comments below for details.)

  8. as for NASL and this…great! who cares how we improve developing them here, just keep improving developing them here

    the biggest difference in American youth soccer development, and US soccer development in general, are all the games on TV and the internet now imo. The Media now feeds and nurtures the development of our national soccer consciousness, truly awakened this millennium, instead of making fun of the beautiful game and deriding it, which is how it was before. it’s cool to have experienced this evolution in our country

    it’s the rising tide that floats all boats

    • Thanks for the link. Very useful in understanding the way the world works. First, minimize operating expenses, especially labor to improve capital gains. Second, show low or negative returns to avoid corporate taxes. Capital gains taxes are sharply lower, after all. Third, squeeze as much as you can out of the public purses of communities for capital costs. Finally, run a cartel (read single entity) that ensures labor subordination and lack of competition. Now that is how to make real money.

      • indeed it is, without tongue in cheek

        and magnitudes better than original NASL and all other defunct soccer league attempts here, ever, combined. it’s got to evolve, no one disagrees, but without the capital foundation ain’t gonna happen, and more to the point, wouldn’t be happening still

  9. The hostility between MLS fans and NASL fans makes no sense to me. We live in a country with 4 time zones and 316 million people. The MLS can only have eyes over so many places–mostly the markets where they have teams….which leaves plenty of opportunity for the NASL/USL Pro to gain a foothold in the markets that MLS wouldn’t regard as ideal. More teams in more areas who get involved with the youth organizations means greater probability of kids not falling through the cracks and deciding against playing soccer in favor of another sport. At the youth level in America for soccer you’re not MLS competing against NASL, you’re competing against the hockey team, the basketball team, the football team etc. The more teams we have in more places the better it is for soccer as a whole in the US.

    • truth, more MLS, more NASL, more USL, more PDL, more NPSL, more NCAA soccer programs in more towns/cities the better. this whole topic of how to grow the roots of the game in this region is a topic with a million different perspectives across millions of towns.

      a lot of people, myself included, just have a concern that the lower leagues or the vibrancy of soccer across the nation will be pushed into the one size fits all approach of MLS.

    • It’s the arrogance of NASL management and their fans especially. Just accept you are a minor league and get on with it, instead of pretending you are something you aren’t.

      • its the arrogance of MLS thinking that their way is the only way that is exhausting

        Accept that there are other ways to do things and carry on

    • Very well said. The best possible thing for soccer– the one thing we should all be able to agree on– is that the more people playing, watching, and following soccer *at any level*, the better off the game will be here. NASL services regions and subcultures of the US soccer community that MLS doesn’t or can’t fully reach. Talent flows through and between the organizations. This is a good thing.

      It shouldn’t be a concern simply because these multiple leagues exist separately in the same space. The history of most US business industries (including our major sports leagues) strongly suggests that in the event the two were hurting or cannibalizing one another, they would likely merge rather than risk a common failure. This isn’t the case right now, and that’s fine.

  10. What makes me laugh is that when they talk about soccer player development, most will use Europe as the gold standard, with most of the ideas looking like an English system.
    If anyone thinks that England is doing a good job of it, for me, it is hard to take them seriously.

    I like how Peterson doesn’t throw out any answers. Instead, let the teams figure it out and the rest will follow and try to improve on what ended up working.

    • Who is arguing that we need to imitate England when it comes to player development? Perhaps some of the entrenched English coaches and their disciples in our pay-to-play system do it, but that’s about it. In contrast, people, who talk about following the gold standard, want to learn from the Dutch, German and Spanish player development systems. Of if you have anti-European bias, you can learn about player development from South American countries- Brazil, Argentina, Columbia, Chile, etc.

    • We try so hard to be like England. We want our players in their leagues, we want their coaches, we want their old players, we want our coaches to go over there to learn , we want their commentator…….

      • England does do have few things best:

        Marketing: Selling TV rights and bringing in insane amounts through sponsorships allows them to overpay for English players as well as the best talent globally.

        English: Their English is okay. It makes it easier for us in the US to understand their commentators and coaches and old players.

        Might as well copy what is good or can be easily adapted to the American way.

    • Letting every team do their own thing, wont get anything done. You need a league wide mandate, which enforces league wide youth development.

      • I don’t know if it’s true, but when Ike was president of Columbia University, they asked him where to put the sidewalks on a new part of the campus. He told them to leave it alone, let the students wear down paths, and then put the sidewalks there. Since NOT developing young players (or having a bad rep doing it) will hurt your club, successful teams will find different ways to raise their young. Someone might hit on something special, or we might see multiple mediocre systems. As long as the kids get better, I’m not particular. We should check back in a few years to see what these NASL teams did (and MLS academies too).

      • +1 Great post. I do support league-level policies and incentives that encourage in-house development (such as HGP), but I think you’re right that leaving considerable latitiude for organic development of club programs will yield the optimum result in time.

        As you’ve said, there really is no good reason a team would want to neglect or abaondon development– most successful European teams see the identification and internal cultivation of first-team quality professionals as a “best practice”– this is the cheapest pipeline of available talent, and it helps the club grown roots and reputation within its region.

        But as for “how to best approach this”, the answer really has not been nailed down to any meaningful degree. Rather than MLS taking a “best guess” of what specific practices will work and enforcing specific mandates, I think allowing teams some opportunity to innovate and choose practices they feel are best suited to them will lead to healthy and mutually productive competition.Some teams may choose to bring over European expertise and systems…. some may try less-conventional approaches. Eventually the most effective approaches will be imitated and adopted (at least until they are themselves replaced by something even better)

    • Nothing wrong with following the English system.. They’re still developing quality players at a rate we can only dream about while our best can’t even crack their second division.
      Once we reach their level then we can talk about improving our system. Until then, we really have no room to criticize anybody since we have nothing that can come anywhere close to what they’re doing.

      • they’ve been doing it a long time but maybe they’ve been slow to adapt to the modern game? whereas they continue to value physicality and brawn too much imo other countries are more technically focused with quick/fast feet and thought at the top of the list–still tough but not first and foremost in the skillset–and they have vaulted right by England and then some. maybe it’s culturally developed in these ways too? I’ve never experienced it but I’ve read about how crazy physical just the pubs games are, and the youth games, etc.

        I’d be interested to hear some locals explain how it actually is, and I’m aware of where the US stands in the player development pecking order with regards to England

      • Considering their resources and the popularity of football in England, I’d say their track record at international level is pathetic.

      • Ignorance and xenophobia. We have more players and spend way more than England on “player development”
        Dollar per dollar and player per player England is at a much higher level than us.

      • Welll, I think you’re wrong but I also wasn’t comparing England to the US. England’s track record in major tournaments is poor, compared to actual European giants like Spain, Holland, Germany and others. Belgium has more top players than England despite having 1/5 the population.

        Also, England’s superiority to the US apparently isn’t reflected in their results – or at least it hasn’t been recently. Did you watch the World Cup?

      • um, which national team advanced to the knockout round at the world cup, and which went home early?

        Germany is the gold standard at the moment.

    • England absolutely is among the nations rich with young talent, as well as Spain, Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy… in other words, yeah, Europe, as well as Argentina, Brazil, or a list of the most talented, passionate, and tactically evolved soccer nations in the world. How can you suggest otherwise, and also why laugh at those you disagree with? Also why so hard on Peterson who seems to be a fairly smart, well spoken soccer guy? It’s not fair, rather naive, to expect this one guy to have “answers” to whatever the problem is (I personally don’t see what the problem is, is it just about wanting to win a world cup?). He seems to favor slow growth, and deserves praise for his commitment to his principles, doing it his own way despite MLS’s immediate modest successes. Maybe in the long run he’ll have grown a strong league, what do you know? Or maybe two dominant leagues can someday coexist, who the f. knows? NASL fans surely love their teams already, and that should be the main idea.

      I know the french developmental ranks a little bit; I regularly walk a few blocks to watch low division neighborhood matches on the outskirts of Paris. These are sometimes 7-8th division teams but have a clear position in the highly organized FFF pyramid. There is pressure, everyone involved wants to succeed and they know what is above them and what’s below them. I love it – tough games, good skilled young athletes, tactically rigorous, passing games. Positioning is important. Often no more than 100 fans watching, but within these tiny clubs – that are like families – systems are taught and players are brought up to think a certain way, on common ground. There are hundreds or thousands of clubs like this with a consistent approach and serious players. I’m sure it is the same in many countries. Stars are rare – they get snatched by big clubs even younger – but the depth of competition makes for a thick cream through which great players eventually rise, and in the meantime breeds a culture.

  11. The quicker one of our leagues here in the States embraces being a “seller”, the quicker you’ll see owners increase their revenue while creating an exciting market for young talent that benefits the players, owners and fans.

    Sign me up for that over aging stars, and dull parity.

    • So your strategy long term would be, become Newcastle, pretend you want to the be the best, but make sure you make money while never coming close ?

      Please mention Ajax in your response. Thanks.

      • Before we continue, let’s mention something even more relevant:

        “MLS Commissioner Don Garber says the league is not performing as hoped financially and its franchises are combining to lose more than $100 million annually.”

        Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen recently stated in a Salt Lake Tribune profile of him: “One thing that’s black and white: I will never make money running this.”

        Please tell me more about this strategy and how we should simply stay the course, and not evolve. Ajax. Thanks.

      • Remind me, how much did Dell Loy Hansen purchase his franchise for? And what it is valued at today? Thanks. Pretty tidy ~$75M gross… Boohoo he’s losing $100K a year… sniff sniff

      • LOL.

        My Seattle Mariners “lost” $1 million a year for 10 years, then sold for ten times the original price.

        The Sounders were at $40 million franchise fee in 2009. Probably a lot lower now.

      • Garber’s own words.

        $100 million loss > $1 million loss in a league without an established history, without established revenue and without established tv ratings vs in a league with an established history, with established revenue and with established tv ratings.

        To say nothing of how dull the product itself is.

      • If you believe MLS LLC lost $100 million as Garber says you are the rube of the century. Al sports leagues and teams do this when CBA’s come around…its an accounting trick there is not $100 million in real loses they are book loses and likely dont even include the payouts the operating members of MLS LCC receive through their various affiliated investments.

      • BTW,

        I understand that the screwed up way soccer has played out means that everyone is a seller to the biggest.
        I just take issue with teams that don’t have to be on a full scale, not really even trying to win, just in it to move players and make even more money.

        And they are in the glory days of money making for MLS right now…inspite of the CBA slanted talk.

        MLS teams should be buyers, buying Bradley in his prime.

      • I just take issue with teams that don’t have to be on a full scale, not really even trying to win, just in it to move players sign retired stars and make lose even more money.

        Parity driven and free relegation is where it’s at! Said no one (certainly not viewers/ratings).

      • MLS is growing and it is succeeding beyond question–attendance growth in the past decade alone shows that people are most certainly buying what they are selling, and the investors are noticing,

        These people who are lining up around the block right now to pay $100+million for a franchise fee– this is not the first time they have bought and built businesses. They are not out there to lose money or overpay for worthless assets.

        Certainly the league hasn’t been able to crack the riddle of TV viewership just yet. Does this surprise you? Fact is, there are some very big, heavily entrenched sports and competing entertainment options it logically has to displace to do so, and this will take time (at least another decade if history is any guide)

        There is no magic bean or tweak to the cometitive structure that will make this happen overnight. But the league is doing well, regardless of whatever smoke Don wants to blow at the players’ union.

      • MLS clubs might be losing 1 million a year, but you have some European clubs losing 50 plus million a year. And according to forbes list, Ten of the league’s 19 teams are making a profit (in terms of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization). That is not including the earnings from Sum,the leagues marketing arm. MLS TV revenue continues to increase, with reports saying Brazilian TV networks are bidding for MLS rights. The Sounders are now the league’s most valuable franchise at $175 million, a massive 483% increase over its 2009 sale price. And in May of 2013 a new ownership group paid $100 million just as an expansion fee to start a team in New York City.

  12. hmmmm
    MLS’s stupid rules about player movement and ownership and drafts and eligibility create an opportunity for NASL to come in and do it right.

    But who? Who has the wallet and the ambition? The Cosmos and Minnesota, maybe (if Minny sticks around), but that doesn’t seem like enough.

    Also remember that Mexican and European clubs are looking to develop young American talent and have them completely sidestep MLS or NCAA

    • Well, I would be interested to see what foreign clubs could do for talent here.

      They can’t take them abroad until the players are 18 (dual citizens excluded) (Mexican teams would have a much bigger advantage here).

      There aren’t youth contracts in the US because of NCAA concerns, though perhaps that can change.

      Can they figure out ways to get training compensation, especially from MLS/NASL clubs?

      Will they be able to get these players to Europe/elsewhere when they do turn 18?

    • Non latin-american kids are not going to move to mexico in great numbers. its viewed as a dangerous third world country.

      Euro clubs generally can’t sign players until they are 18–this should provide MLS with plenty of oppotunity to retain most of the best talent.


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