U.S. Soccer has shut down the Development Academy, the nationwide youth league for boys and girls in several different age groups, announcing the move on Wednesday.
“This was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but the extraordinary and unanticipated circumstances around the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in a financial situation that does not allow for the continuation of the Development Academy into the future,” the USSF said in a statement. “We know that suddenly discontinuing a program that has been with U.S. Soccer for many years is shocking, but these unprecedented times required taking action now.”
Finances certainly played a role in the decision. The DA reportedly costs USSF around $12 million annually to operate.
The DA announcement came on the same day Major League Soccer announced the launching of its own youth setup featuring its own academy teams and other non-professional youth squads from around the country.
All 26 MLS teams had youth academies that were part of the DA. They played matches against each other, as well as other non-professional youth teams from around the country.
For now, many non-MLS clubs that were affiliated with the DA have joined the Elite Clubs National League, a program formed in 2009 that originally focused on providing opportunities for young female players, but has since expanded to include a number of boys’ programs as well.
U.S. Youth Soccer is also courting former members of the DA, announcing in a memo that it is “excited to invite” any disenfranchised clubs to their ranks and to help them create an elite youth setup.
The Development Academy was formed in 2007 as a way to streamline the player development process in youth soccer, but was met with criticism from many of its member clubs. MLS youth academies felt the level of competition was too low thanks to the inclusion of many non-professional clubs. They have long sought higher levels of competition than the DA provided.
Clubs outside of MLS were also unsatisfied with the system. They felt the system was organized in favor of MLS at their expense, leading to limited recruiting ability, and that the federations ban on players at member clubs playing for their high schools, which limited game opportunities.
Without U.S. Soccer involved, youth development will now be in the hands of professional clubs in MLS and the USL, as well as amateur clubs across the country.
“Major League Soccer is deeply committed to developing world-class players through an elite competitive pathway, from our academy teams through the professional game,” said Todd Durbin, MLS Executive Vice President of Competition and Player Relations in a league statement. “As we look ahead to the 2026 FIFA MLS World Cup here in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, now more than ever it is incumbent on us to establish a competition that sets a new standard for elite youth play and allows athletes to achieve their full potential.”
The MLS youth league is initially expected to be much smaller than the DA, which featured upwards of 80 clubs at the U-15 level and above. However, the league is also exploring the possibility of including clubs from outside the former Development Academy setup as well as starting up a girls’ program in the future.
Their league hopes to feature season matchups as well as regional and national tournaments with teams from the United States, Canada, and international youth squads.