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Development Academy Alumni Make Major Impact at the Next Level

A year ago, Dillon Powers wasn’t spending much time wondering if he would be in Egypt in nine months. While he knew the African country was the location for the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup, he figured his chances of actually being named to the USA’s roster were slim at best considering he hadn’t been in with a national team since an Under-15 Boys’ National Team camp nearly four years earlier.

But things started to change in December of 2008. Powers, who was playing with Andromeda SC in U.S. Soccer Development Academy, was invited to an Under-18 Men’s National Team camp along with more than more 70 other players, two-thirds of which were Academy players. After impressing coaches during the camp, Powers was invited to go with the U-18s for trips to Australia and Portugal before getting a shot with the U-20s in June.

“I didn’t know if I would have a chance on this cycle so I was just trying to do my best and see where I fit,” said Powers, looking back on his progression from Andromeda SC to the U-20 World Cup squad. “I knew it would be ambitious for me to make the squad as a younger player.”

It may have been ambitious, but it wasn’t impossible with the improved environment Powers was immersed in when Andromeda SC joined the Development Academy in 2008. The concept of the program aims to bridge the gap between youth clubs and U.S. national teams, and that includes an increased opportunity to be spotted by a U.S. National Team scout.

“I’ve been with Andromeda my whole career, but last year was our first in the Development Academy,” said Powers, who was named the U-17/18 Development Academy Player of the Year in 2009. “The way that the Academy is different from how youth soccer used to be is that it puts a lot more emphasis on the environment and making it simulate what playing for a professional team is like. A player is only as good as the environment he is in, and the Academy creates the opportunity for players to prepare for the next level.”

In addition to training at least three times per week and playing meaningful games over the course of the nine-month Development Academy season, players are also exposed to educational opportunities to help them make the most of their training and game environment. Information on the best nutrition, hydration methods, individual training techniques and rest day activities are just some of the topics which Development Academy players are exposed to in the effort to help them take the next step. Powers is one player who took full advantage of these opportunities.

While the Texas native may be unique in having earned a spot on a World Cup roster, the story of how he maximized his opportunities for development and exposure during his time with the Development Academy is a common one. A large number of former Academy players have used their experiences from the improved club environment to garner success at the next level, whether that next step is with in college, on a professional team or a youth national team.

“It’s important for players to learn how to take advantage of the opportunities they have to raise their level of play through things they can do every day,” said U.S. U-20 MNT head coach Thomas Rongen, who is currently holding a 36-player training camp in Chula Vista, Calif., that includes 12 players who have been part of the Academy program. “Through the Development Academy, we are raising the overall standard for players, and I think that’s evident in the early success and impact that players who went through the program are experiencing at the next level.”

That impact was on display this past year in the NCAA, where a large percentage of Academy players were taking their next step, including many who have earned a scholarship at the Division I level.

Across every major collegiate conference, nearly 100 former Academy players earned post-season awards, including recognition on All-Conference teams. In the ACC, Big Ten and Big East, three of the most prestigious conferences for men's soccer, no fewer than seven Academy alumni make up the 11-player All-Freshman teams.

At the NCAA College Cup, University of Akron freshmen Ben Speas (Crew Soccer Academy) and Zarek Valentin (IMG) and University of Virginia sophomore Brian Ownby (Richmond Strikers) were named to the All-Tournament Team for their performances in the semifinals and final.

Valentin is also one of four players from the Academy who moved on to earn Freshman or Rookie of the Year honors in the 2009 college season. Northwestern's Don Anding (Albertson SC), Ohio State’s Matt Lampson (Crew Soccer Academy) and Harvard’s Brian Rogers (Albertson SC) also took home the honor, and are just a small sampling of young players who have immediately made an impact against older competition and in high pressure situations.

With the Development Academy midway through its third season, players continue to filter through the program and move on to the collegiate level. With more than 250 NCAA coaches joining dozens of professional and national team scouts in attendance at the recent Winter Showcase, Academy players continue to be in high demand.

Powers, who just finished his first season at Notre Dame, is now one of the most experienced U-20 players under Rongen as the team begins to look forward to the 2011 World Cup.