U.S. Soccer closed the Development Academy league a couple of weeks ago and there has been no shortage of ideas on what the future of youth soccer in America should look like.
MLS took the step of creating its own academy league for its teams to play in and Peter Vermes, the longest tenured head coach and sporting director in the league, has some ideas on how clubs can organize their academy setups in order to maximize youth development.
“I think it’s unfortunate that it happened the way it did,” Vermes said on 810 WHB’s Sporting Kansas City Show. “But I think we’re looking at it as an opportunity now to to be a leader in that space. Our owners are investing financial people everything to, to player development. And so we should be in that area and we should be looking to be the leaders there. So I, I think it’s an opportunity for us.”
While maintaining that the demise of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy should not be viewed as a positive, Vermes did have several criticisms for the way the program was structured. He felt that a single, homogeneous structure for a vast country like the United States was crippling creativity and preventing teams, both inside and outside of MLS, from developing players in a way that was best for their clubs. He hopes that allowing clubs to handle their own training and development will create players that are better overall in a wider variety of game scenarios.
“I think all of that variety helps to create and develop better players that can function in all types of settings,” he said. “And so we have to get back to that creativity, that environment of that, but at the same time giving flexibility to the movement of players within that space, as well. And I think that we’ll create our own way of developing players in this country across the board.”
Vermes went on to lay out his three pronged plan for youth player development in a post Development Academy world that could allow clubs to maintain that variety and simultaneously create a streamlined and accessible setup for youth soccer.
The plan called for a split in youth academy plans by age with each group on a different training and game regimen.
“You would take your academy and split it in half,” Vermes suggested. “When you go 14 and below, it is one set of recommendations. When you go 15 and above, I think it’s another. All of it is a part of the pro-player pathway, but I really think it is the 15s and above where it is really focused.”
That increased focus would involve “regional, national, and international” competition that “gets more aggressive as you go up the ladder.” He feels the way Sporting KC runs their academy is a good framework for youth development.
“Where you’re building this individual player, and you’re building your foundation with the 12s, 13s, 14s, as we do it Sporting, it’s now that 15 through the rest is where you really start to focus the player,’ he said. “I think your competition has to change. 14 and below should be local and regional. I don’t think kids should be flying all over the country at 12, 13 and 14. It’s not necessary. We should be training and playing games. We can do that in and amongst our local and regional markets.”
The final piece of his puzzle is actually already underway and close to becoming a reality. He wants every MLS team fielding a second team to bridge the gap between the youth academy and the senior team. Currently, 19 of the 26 MLS teams own a team or have an affiliate in either the USL Championship or USL League One.
Sporting Kansas City’s Academy was formed in 2007 and has signed a total of 12 players to their senior team and touts the development of 25 current professional players around the world.