U.S. Soccer

Matt Dacey, Rob Elliott Appointed U.S. Soccer Development Academy Technical Advisors

CHICAGO (Aug. 8, 2017) – As part of its ongoing effort to make soccer the preeminent sport in the U.S. by developing world class players, coaches, and referees, U.S. Soccer has appointed Matt Dacey as the Boys’ Development Academy Technical Advisor for the Pacific Northwest region and Rob Elliott as the Atlantic region Technical Advisor.

In their roles, Dacey and Elliott will manage the talent identification networks in their regions, which consist of U.S. Soccer scouts who attend training, games, and Academy showcases to identify elite talent. As the next step in the development pathway, they will provide scouting reports and player-specific data to the Director of Talent Identification and Youth National Team Staffs.

Dacey comes to U.S. Soccer after serving as Technical Director for the Oregon Youth Soccer Association. He has previously been a part of U.S. Soccer, working as a National Instructor in 2017 and Network Scout in 2016. Since 1998, Dacey has been a prominent force in the Pacific Northwest soccer community, holding roles at Tualatin Hills United SC, Jesuit High School, Portland State University and BSC Oregon of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.

“For the first time, we have a Technical Advisor just for the Pacific Northwest,” U.S. Soccer Boys’ Development Academy Director Aloys Winjker said. “[Matt] lives in Portland, so he’s familiar with the region. With his background as a Coach Educator he will be a big benefit not only for the Academy but also for the whole youth soccer landscape in the Northwest.”

Before his time in the Northwest, Dacey held positions in Colorado as a member of the State Instructional Staff for the Colorado Youth Soccer Association and Virginia as the Director of Player Development for Virginia Rush Soccer Club.

“Representing U.S. Soccer is an honor and a privilege,” Dacey said. “The opportunity to support the clubs in continuing to build toward the future is exciting. Working alongside the dedicated and talented staff will provide great opportunities for my own ongoing professional development.

“Given the opportunity to serve as a Network Scout provided insight into the great effort of numerous individuals in improving the environment for players to develop to their fullest potential. As a coach educator, I relish the opportunity to support the Northwest clubs in their growth and development as we provide the best environment to provide the players with the greatest opportunity in the country.”

Elliott, who takes over the Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania Atlantic region, comes to U.S. Soccer after working for the New York Red Bulls as their Director of Scouting and Premier Development League head coach. As the organization’s PDL head coach, Elliott led the Red Bulls’ to a 12-1-1 overall record and runner-up finish, earning 2017 PDL coach of the year honors. As the club’s Director of Scouting since 2014, Elliott was responsible for identifying, evaluating and recruiting players for the Red Bull’s first team, USL team and Academy teams.

“Adding a TA to the East coast is big step forward for the Development Academy,” Winjker said. “Robert Elliott, with his experience at a high level, is a big benefit for the TA group and the Development Academy in the Atlantic market. I believe he can help to raise the level of the Academies in the Virginia, Pennsylvania and the D.C./Maryland markets.”

Before he became head of scouting for the club, Elliott was the head coach for the U-15/16 U.S. Soccer Development Academy club. Notable U.S. National Team players developed under Elliott’s tutelage including Matt Miazga, Juan Agudelo, Matthew Olosunde, Alex Muyl and Tyler Adams.

“I’m really excited to get back into growing the game every day in this country,” Elliott said. “And this position allows me to get my feet wet and get in on the ground and hopefully have a real impact in terms of helping grow the base of players with the end goal of producing world class players for our National Teams.

“I was in it when the Academy started, on the coaching side, with Red Bulls. I think there has been a great deal of change in the last 10 years, from the quality of play, but also from the professionalism in every aspect: from the coaches, to the players to the administrative side, all of that. It’s become a lot more professional, which I think is going to benefit the players down the road. I think the future is bright with all the initiatives that U.S. Soccer is implementing.”

All U.S. Soccer Technical Advisors are required to hold a minimum U.S. Soccer 'A' license and complete the Academy Directors Course. On a day-to-day basis, TAs support club efforts to elevate the everyday environment by providing consistent, meaningful feedback while helping identify players who deserve consideration for U.S. Soccer Training Centers and Youth National Teams. TA’s strive to create synergy and relationships with member clubs for the development of the players and the sport.

U.S. Soccer's increased focus on club and player development will ensure both TAs integrate and align with the six Sport Development departments: Development Academy, Coaching Education, High Performance, Youth National Teams, Refereeing and Membership. The Technical Advisor role will work closely with clubs to support Academy Directors and staff to achieve their goals through U.S. Soccer’s Player Development Initiatives.

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ACADEMY Aug 8, 2017

Development Academy Signs Multi-Year Agreement to Hold Summer Showcase and Playoffs in San Diego

SAN DIEGO (July 28, 2017) – As part of its ongoing mission to impact everyday club environments to develop world class players, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy announced a multi-year agreement with the City of San Diego to host its signature end-of-season event, the Development Academy Summer Showcase and Playoffs, beginning June 18 – July 1, 2018.

The announcement marks the first time the Academy has signed a consecutive multi-year agreement with a host city for its marquee summer event. More than 32,000 out-of-state visitors and an additional 14,000+ Californians are expected to attend in 2018.

“We chose San Diego for a simple reason: we want a world-class environment for our players,” U.S. Soccer Development Academy Director Jared Micklos said. “Everything about San Diego fits our criteria, from the amazing soccer venue, the temperate climate, to the impressive soccer support in the region.”

The 11th Summer Showcase and Playoffs will not only kick off for the first time in San Diego, but the event will also feature Girls’ Development Academy Showcase and Playoffs games for the first time when the program concludes its inaugural 2017-18 season. The Academy’s event will also continue to provide development and training events for players, coaches and referees.

At the 2017 Summer Showcase and Playoffs, 4,266 players were registered across 237 teams. In 2018, 426 teams and 9,798 players are expected to make their way to San Diego.

In partnership with Surf Cup Sports, the San Diego Tourism Authority, the San Diego Sports Alliance and the City of San Diego, the 2018 Summer Showcase and Playoffs will be held at Oceanside’s 104-acre SoCal Sports Complex. The facility is managed by Surf Cup Sports.

Surf Club Sports Park - Del Mar, Calif.
Surf Club Sports Park in Del Mar, Calif.

“We couldn’t be more proud to host the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Summer Showcase,” said Mike Connerley, Surf Cup Sports’ President and co-owner of the So Cal Sports Complex. “We’ve always been committed to promoting world-class soccer talent. The selection of our facilities as the location for the Development Academy’s signature events is truly a testament to everyone at Surf Cup Sports who has worked so hard to make this venue what it is today.”

The full list of Development Academy alums to have been capped for the U.S. Men’s National Team continues to expand, including two players who featured at the 2017 Gold Cup Championship whose Academy roots come from San Diego: Joe Corona of Nomads SC and Paul Arriola of Arsenal FC/LA Galaxy.

About the U.S. Soccer Development Academy:
Following a comprehensive review of elite player development in the United States and around the world, U.S. Soccer created the Development Academy in 2007. The Academy Program's philosophy is based on increased training, less total games, and more meaningful games using international rules of competition. The Academy has recently expanded programming to include a Girls' Development Academy that will begin in Fall 2017. The Academy has 197 total clubs, comprised of teams across six age groups in the boys program: U-12, U-13, U-14, U-15, U-16/17, and U-18/19 and four age groups in the girls program: U-14, U-15, U-16/17, and U-18/19.

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ACADEMY Jul 28, 2017

A Decade of the DA - Rise of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy

When United States Under-20 coach Tab Ramos gathered his players together after he selected his roster for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup earlier this year, he made a careful point to place the challenges ahead in perspective.

As he recalls now, in the wake of reaching the quarterfinals in Korea Republic last month, Ramos said he congratulated his players for making the team and outlined the responsibilities created by their own hard work and facilitated by players who did not make the trip with them.

Although Ramos pared his squad down to 21 for the tournament, he named other players for the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship and navigated through the entire process without some who might have otherwise featured.

The best U-20 player in the program, Borussia Dortmund midfielder and emerging U.S. National Team star Christian Pulisic, did not feature at all due to his other commitments. Other players missed out because their European-based clubs did not release them to participate. One of the key midfielders, Gedion Zelalem, played less than a half before picking up an injury to rule him out of the tournament. Influential defender Cameron Carter-Vickers only played during the tournament itself.


Current U.S. MNT and Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic in his early years with DA club PA Classics.

Even with those availability issues, the U-20s survived and thrived because they boasted the depth to cope with the absences. They leaned on a 17-year-old forward who emerged during the CONCACAF Under-17 Championship as a potential option for this group and turned out for a St. Louis Scott Gallagher Soccer Club when he wasn’t scoring for fun with his country. They trusted players who developed with New York Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union, Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City to form the spine of the team. They formed a pool deep enough to pick two competitive teams, albeit ones with different characteristics and qualities, according to Ramos.

“There are a lot more players to choose,” Ramos explains. “There are good players who don’t make it. It opens the options for us. … We could have never had this conversation two cycles ago. The results create awareness.”

Those achievements also reinforce the importance and the success of a program started 10 years ago to shepherd players through the youth ranks and into the senior National Team. The proof is in the numbers: 17 of the 21 players in Korea Republic featured at one point in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. The influence and the presence of those players – and the corresponding success in the Youth National Team Program over the past few years – at the highest levels underscores the vital strides made to create a streamlined and viable pathway from the club through the National Team system over the past decade.

***

The creation of the road now commonly known as the Development Academy emerged after a measured evaluation of a particularly convoluted soccer landscape.

Youth soccer in the United States emerged organically in a complex, unique fashion designed to fill a void left by the absence of development driven by professional clubs. Cities and towns offered a chance for any player with a ball and the desire to play. Clubs and leagues sprouted up to provide opportunities for players. Colleges and high schools fielded teams for their students.

The widespread interest fostered a boom in participation over the past 30 years, but it muddled the way for the best players to emerge from the pack. The patchwork system did not offer a clear way forward. The best players bounced from club to club, team to team, tournament to tournament in search of insightful coaches and meaningful games. Some talented players navigated their way through. Many didn’t. Others never even hit the radar for one reason or another.

U.S. Soccer Coaches Tony Lepore and John Hackworth
U.S. Soccer Director of Talent Identification Tony Lepore and U-17 head coach John Hackworth.

U.S. Soccer Director of Talent Identification Tony Lepore illustrates the impact of those demands with one anecdote from his time as an assistant with the U-15 Boys’ National Team before the start of the Development Academy.

Lepore participated in a larger evaluation camp one August where hopeful players assembled in a bid to stake their claim for a continued place in the pool. The players were excited and eager to impress, but they faltered physically and mentally during the first couple of days.  

In an attempt to figure out the root cause of the problem and set up a schedule to allow them to show their best, the staffers asked all of the players to fill out a survey.

“In the end – and I’m going to approximate here – we asked them how many games they had played this year and we walked them through that process,” Lepore said. “The average was somewhere between 100 and 110 games in one year. And not just with one team or one club, but with many different ones. And when we compared this to the number of training sessions, they were all playing in way more games than actual training sessions. The games to training ratio was totally backwards for optimal player development. And we knew at that time the map for a top player or pathway to the National Team was like a bowl of spaghetti. We actually drew it with arrows [to connect all of the disparate points].”

***

In order to create a more cohesive route through the program, U.S. Soccer gathered support to establish the Development Academy in 2007. The fundamental concepts – a focus on more high-quality training sessions to foster improvement and replace many of those games, a mandate to meet certain established technical criteria to ensure quality control and a willingness to pare down the schedule to around 30 games per year and reduce the focus on results – represented a massive shift in the market and required significant time to influence clubs to join the fledgling concept.

“There were so many people in U.S. Soccer who were working on this so hard,” U.S. U-17 coach John Hackworth said. “For example, I know that [U.S. Soccer General Secretary and CEO] Dan Flynn and [U.S. Soccer President] Sunil Gulati had to have so many conversations just to get the constituents and the membership of U.S. Soccer aligned to support it in the early days. From a technical side, there were just so many conversations that had to happen with clubs that were willing to take that leap of faith, who were willing to join.”

Ramos found himself in the middle of those discussions after he founded NJSA 04 in his native New Jersey and steered the club to title after title. NJSA 04 applied for inclusion after the initial wave of 64 clubs founded the Development Academy in 2007 and joined in time for the 2009-2010 season. Even at that point, the current U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director said the possibility of providing a better experience for his players compelled the jump to the Development Academy.

“At the time, I had already taken part of the craziness that youth soccer was throughout the country,” Ramos said “Although my club had won everything there was to win, I felt that the environment we provided had to be better and the environment of the clubs we played against had to be much better. The DA offered the possibility of competing at the highest level but held clubs accountable to follow certain standards of training and playing. The DA provided actual opportunities for players to improve not to just win trophies or ridiculous ranking points. It was completely player-centered.”

***

At its core, the Development Academy exists to develop players and provide a pathway to shepherd them through the National Team system.

Collective achievements and Development Academy titles are still important pursuits, but the foundation remains the consistency of the day-in, day-out work over the 10-month campaign. The effects of the program rest on the importance of those training sessions week after week, the reinforcement of one or two competitive games at the weekend, the strides made from a technical perspective to nurture players in possession, and the willingness to find new ways to prod the best prospects forward by providing different challenges along the way.

“It has been a massive component to the improvement of our players,” Ramos said. “Players are spending many more hours on the field with or around the ball.”

The information gathered during the past decade led to tweaks along the way to accelerate and encourage development. The continued expansion to new clubs (165 in the 2016-17 season) broadened the geographic reach and scope of the program. The evolving and improving coaching standards guaranteed continued alignment and improvement on the technical side. The addition of an under-14 division (2013), the subsequent split into single age under-13 and under-14 divisions (2015) and the unveiling of an under-12 program (2016) expanded the reach to those critical younger age groups. The impending arrival of a Girls’ Development Academy this fall supplies a chance to exert similar effects on the women’s landscape in the years ahead.

2018 Girls Development Academy Technical Staff
The Technical Staff of the inaugural Girls' Development Academy season, which begins August 2017.

Those efforts – combined with the investment of resources and time from the clubs – continue to push the Development Academy forward even as it evaluates how to accelerate and sustain the progress in the coming years.

“It’s not just about the structure and the standards, it’s also about empowering and supporting the clubs” Lepore said. “What our clubs and the Federation together have done is keep looking to raise the level. Every time we take a step, we raise the bar again. And the clubs are right there with us, and our top academies taking ownership of their improvement process.”

***

When Hackworth returned as U.S. U-17 coach after spending four years with Philadelphia Union’s first team in 2015, he noticed the impact of the Development Academy setup on the options at his disposal straightaway.

Instead of surveying a narrow band of players for inclusion in his team, he found himself running the rule over five, six or seven players at every position. The base level of the top Development Academy players – plus the introduction of selected prospects from outside the structure as they were identified by Training Centers or nurtured by capable clubs and teams outside the Development Academy structure – raises the level of competition across the board.

“When you have that much depth in a player pool and you have a natural maturation that happens from player to player, that’s what has really excited me about the future,” Hackworth said. “Now I can tell that this is working. The player pool is better. The quality is better. The depth is significantly better. And that’s the thing I look at and say, there’s no question that this is the right way to go.”

Atlanta United U-15/16 - 2017 Development Academy Champions
2017 U-15/16 Development Academy champions Atlanta United boast U.S. U-17 internationals Andrew Carleton (center, hand raised) and
Zyen Jones (inside row, second from right) among their ranks.

The composition of the player pool across the board and results in Korea Republic and elsewhere offers proof to vindicate the claims. Ninety percent of U.S. Youth National Team players feature somewhere in the Development Academy system. Those players constitute the bedrock for an undefeated 2016 U-18 team, loom as a critical component for the U-17 group headed to FIFA U-17 World Cup in October and present the options for a National Team Program with competitive teams in single age groups. At the apex, these players even make the step up to professional clubs and the U.S. National Team (including nine players with Development Academy ties on the U.S. roster for the CONCACAF Gold Cup).

The initial returns over the first 10 years offer encouragement about the next 10 years ahead as the Development Academy continues to mature. The structure is firmly in place and the benefits are starting to manifest, but the job isn’t done yet. There are further advancements to make, and many more players to develop, to propel U.S. Soccer towards its ultimate objectives of developing world class players to succeed at the highest levels of the game.

“We have to keep pushing,” Ramos said. “The players can continue to get better. We have a good start. We can’t rest on our laurels. There’s a lot of work we still have to do.”

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ACADEMY Jul 19, 2017

Academy Showcase and Post-Season Provide Key Opportunities for Referee Development

As the play on the field continues to improve year after year in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, so too does the standard of refereeing. But that improvement doesn’t happen by accident, it is the result of many initiatives put in place by U.S. Soccer that continue to raise the level of refereeing in the United States. 

One of the key places where the development and continuing education of referees takes place is at the annual Development Academy Summer Showcase and Playoffs. As Rick Eddy, the Director of Referee Development for U.S. Soccer, explains, referees do more than just work the games at the Summer Showcase.

“Referees get one game a day at the Summer Showcase,” said Eddy. “They get to be evaluated by their coaches and the next day we put it into practical application by using field sessions. We do classroom sessions, we do video review and we bring in special guests so they can see a different perspective. We had Matt Hawkey (Director of Performance and Sport Science) from the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), run through a warmup and a presentation of how they measure a referee’s performance using analytics.

“We had (NFL referee) Jeff Triplette attend the Showcase because we want a different perspective from a different sport. It doesn’t matter what sport you referee or officiate, it is all about people management, how you build relationships with players and how you manage them during stressful situations.”

Not only does the Development Academy Showcase provide an opportunity for additional referee education, it also provides a platform for increased interaction between referees and referee coaches, a group that is comprised of former referees from the highest levels of professional and international soccer.

“That’s where the real development happens,” Eddy explained. “In those one-on-one situations with the referee coach and the referee crew. Everyone is encouraged to speak freely and since we have gone from an assessor model to a coaching model, the referees are more receptive of that. They are more apt to open up and say things like, ‘I really did make a mistake here, how can you help me?’ That is a big plus we have had in the last two years.”

Just as the players playing in the Development Academy Showcase hope to advance to higher levels of the game, so do the referees. One such example of an official who worked in the Development Academy and has moved on to the professional ranks is Cameron Blanchard, an assistant referee who made his MLS debut in 2015; then worked the NASL Championship match in 2016.

Many of the referees working the Showcase and the Academy post-season in general are hoping to follow in Blanchard’s footsteps, including Nick Balcer. A 15-year soccer official from Hudsonville, Mich., Balcer worked his third U.S. Soccer Development Academy Summer Showcase and sees this event as a great place to give back to the game while also developing as a referee.

Referee - Nick Belcer

“I love being a referee in the Development Academy for the fact that I’m around the game that’s given me so much for so many years,” said Balcer. “I played for 17 years, my entire family has been involved in the game and to be able to be around the game that so many people around the world love and have it at such a high-level right here in the United States, it’s a lot of fun and it’s a passion of mine.

“To be able to see every single day what we do to grow the game, both from a player and referee standpoint, in a Development Academy event like this is really exciting.”

Like Eddy, Balcer sees the Development Academy Showcase and Playoffs as a great platform to learn and grow as an official because of the opportunity the event provides.

“An event like the Showcase is great to develop us because of the coaches and teams that we have here,” said Balcer. “The referee coaches are the best in the country and they are able to see us on top-level matches, so they are able to breakdown our game from watching the top players at the youth level.

“This is where it starts, our development and training toward the next level. To me, that’s where it’s so important for us as referees to absorb as much knowledge as we possibly can because they are the best of the best and that’s how you learn, that’s how you grow.”

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ACADEMY Jul 16, 2017
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