Newest U.S. Soccer Development Academy Teams Benefit from First Showcase Experience
As U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy Winter Showcase comes to a close at Lancaster Soccer Center in Lancaster, Calif., all 74 clubs will leave with a better understanding of the Academy’s mission, especially the 12 new clubs that were involved in their first ever Showcase.
Dec. 8, 2008
Building upon a successful inaugural season, the Winter Showcase demonstrated how the Development Academy is providing players with a superior environment to achieve their potential as elite soccer players. With competitive matches, individualized SPARQ training, Gatorade hydration testing and ProZone analysis, players had multiple experiences geared towards improving their development.
For the new Academy clubs, the Winter Showcase was their first clear glimpse into the program and how it serves as a platform to provide educational opportunities to players, as well as exposing them to competition against the elite youth teams from across the nation. The 12 new clubs include eight from Texas, two in the San Francisco area, one in Los Angeles and one in New England.
“The part that is been most beneficial is the fact that we're competing against the best,” said Under-17/18 New England Revolution head coach Mario Prata, who went up against teams from Washington, North Carolina and Texas. “That alone makes the players better. The level of the games is always good and the players are forced to become the best that they can be.”
The Dallas Texans, who have long been of the best clubs in their region, now has the opportunity to play some of the best clubs in the nation on a regular basis.
“The competition is outstanding,” said Dallas Texans U-17/18 assistant coach David Hudgell. “It's what we expected and it's why we came into [the academy], to have the opportunity to play those teams on a regular basis. Obviously, you get better by playing the best teams.”
Along with playing competitive games, the new clubs are also finding that the structure of the matches – including the no re-entry rule and playing only one game a day – is also a key element to players’ development.
“Their preparation is something that I can see has improved tremendously,” said Texas SC U-17/18 head coach Scott Dymond. “I think they’re better players already because of it. This is a program that is for the players, to better the players. I think in other areas, it’s not necessarily geared towards what’s best for the players. Our kids now, they put so much effort into one game, they couldn’t turn around and play a second game like they normally would in these other tournaments. It’s great to be with the best clubs in the nation.”
For many clubs, even the travel has been a benefit for the players as they have to adjust to a different schedule and make sure they’re fully prepared to play competitive matches.
“(The Development Academy) has been so beneficial for the players and also for the coaches,” said Texas SC U-15/16 head coach Scott James. “We struggled a bit with the travel and playing this morning, so maybe it’s a learning process for us to get in a bit earlier. The experience of traveling, sleeping in a strange bed, playing in quality game after game, it’s new to them. Before, they would only do that if they made a national final or a regional final, and now we’re regularly getting the quality games. It’s only going to help the players in the long run.”
The players on the new clubs – along with every player at the Winter Showcase – were also observed by U.S. National Team Scouting Network and more than 250 college coaches who are in search of future talent. The U.S. staff utilizes specific evaluation criteria including technical ability, tactical knowledge and athleticism to classify players in the Academy. During the inaugural season, 105 Academy players were invited to National Team camps at the Under-17, Under-18 and Under-20 levels.
During the entire 2008-09 Academy 10-month season, more than 2,000 games are scheduled across the country, all building up towards a playoff weekend in June. The top three teams in each division, along with the top five fourth-place teams, will qualify for the 32-team Academy Playoffs at Bryan Park in Greensboro, N.C. The top eight teams from each age group will then qualify to compete at the Academy Finals Week in July.
The next large Development Academy event will be the Spring Showcase on Memorial Day Weekend from May 22-26, 2009, at the Sarasota Polo Grounds in Clearwater, Fla. More details on the Spring Showcase will be coming in 2009.