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U.S. Soccer Development Academy Conference Call Quote Sheet with Director of Scouting Tony Lepore


U.S. Soccer Development Academy Conference Call
Director of Scouting/U-15 Boys’ National Team head coach Tony Lepore
Aug. 31, 2012


U.S. Soccer Development Academy Director of Scouting Tony Lepore participated in a conference call with the media in regard to the recent announcement of the expansion of a U-13/14 division beginning in the Development Academy in the Fall of 2013.

Tony Lepore’s opening remarks:
“This is a huge next step and I think we’ve always looked at the Development Academy as a long-term investment to help raise the level of the game and we know how important it is to invest in the youth when we look at those long-term goals. This is a new idea we’ve been talking about since the start and we’re excited that we’re finally ready to take the next step.”

On the choice between playing in high school or in the Development Academy:
“We think this will help. This is an age group of players, some entering high school and some in eighth grade, and I think it’s much easier to make the decision when you’re in an Academy structure and in the Academy environment and you know what to expect. The other side would be that it is a new choice and they don’t really know how to make the decision. The hardest decisions are for the players that have gotten a taste of high school and in more cases it’s been that social draw that has pulled them back. With the U-13/14s, they’ll enter into an Academy environment early enough that they’ll be more educated and we think the top players, when they get in this environment early, will know how to make the best choice for themselves. The Academy is not for everybody, but now young players will know sooner.”

On what the benefits of player development are for players that start with the U-13/14 level:
“I think the first one that comes to mind is training hours. We know that’s where the players develop and now we’re moving to four times per week. That’s a big increase in training hours in the top environment. It’s a lot of the same philosophy that we applied to the U-15/16 and U-17/18 Academy divisions and we wanted to spread that philosophy in the younger level. That’s more meaningful games, games where they are held accountable for technical execution and decision making. Similar to the U-15/16 and U-17/18, this is an age group that needs that calendar cleaned up and that model cleaned up, and also shifting the focus to development ahead of results. The big benefit will be with increased hours in the training environment and more meaningful games. In terms of their technical development, that’s a priority.”

On the possibility of adding clubs from outside the Development Academy structure:
“There are three parts to that. We want to spread the philosophy of the Academy, the principles and approach to player development. We also want to fill in some travel gaps. We know that the current match schedule for the U-15/16 and U-17/18s doesn’t fit the U-13/14 group and we’ve known that we couldn’t just take that schedule and apply it to the U-13/14s. There are certain parts of the country where the U-15/16 and U-17/18 schedule would just be too much travel for the players. The other piece is that we want to cast a wider scouting net. The Development Academy has always been an extension of our Youth National Team programming and we start at the U-14s there. We want to cast a wider scouting net with younger players which is in line with our training centers now as well, which are going into U-12, 13, and 14s as we scout Youth National Team prospects. Bringing more clubs in helps with those three things, but in terms of what we’re looking for (in a prospective club), I think we know very well what we’re looking for. It’s been five years now and we know what it takes to be an Academy standard team now. We’ll be careful about expansion just as we’ve done with the U-15/16 and U-17/18, and there will probably be markets where we won’t expand at all because it would dilute the competition. We have nine full-time technical advisors and through the training center models they know the Academy clubs and they also know a lot of non-Academy clubs and they’ll use that knowledge as part of the process and we’ll be looking for coaching, philosophy, history of player development and we also know it takes good facilities, availability and quality and we’ll also look at their funding model. We continue to push for no pay-to-play at the youth level.”

On how to manage the costs to teams:
“That’s part of the reason we know we need to expand outside the current Academy clubs. The travel is not just the burnout factor, but it’s also the cost factor. That will be taken into consideration. We can’t add clubs that are too far from our current clubs because we know that gets too expensive.”

On the development and implementation of the application process for clubs:
“We want to open it shortly. It takes some time for clubs to prepare, but it will probably be a little bit ahead of our timeline for the U-15/16 and U-17/18s, so we’ll hope that by the winter we will have a pretty good idea of where we will be expanding and to which clubs. That timeline will be released soon. All of our current Academy clubs have U-14 teams except for a few, but we will want to help the new clubs with orientation and getting them prepared.”

On the transition for all of the Academy clubs to the 10-month season:
“The transition started before the announcement with all the conversations with our clubs to identify all the challenges they would have. We relied a lot on our nine full-time technical advisors. There was a lot of work done around the planning stages. We did town hall style meetings around a lot of the clubs and with some of the high school constituents in key areas. We were just working closely with clubs when it comes to player-to-player and this has really forced our clubs to know the situation of every player, which is a good thing. The technical advisors have been working very closely with their clubs and everyone’s challenges are a little bit different. The schedule is a big piece of that too and we’ve worked closely with our clubs to come up with the best schedule. … The integrity of that training-to-match cycle is going to be huge in player development this year.”

On whether or not there will be a national championship for the U-13/14 age group:
“We know the league needs to be competitive, but at the same time we want clubs to put development ahead of results and we want to be careful about the showcase model. Right now, we are leaning toward not having a national championship because we want to regionalize everything, including the travel.”

On whether or not clubs can participate in other non-Academy competitions:
“We are probably going to build in a longer break period in the winter for this group. We are going to implement a Futsal program because we know the benefits of Futsal during the wintertime. It’ll be the same standards in terms of approved events outside the Academy that meet our standards. The Dallas Cup and Disney (tournament) is another one and it will be similar for the U-13/14s. We are also encouraging all these age groups to consider international experience during these open windows. The same guidelines apply where a player would only be allowed to participate within the Academy and Youth National Teams.”

On the progress among non-MLS clubs in alleviating costs for the Academy:
“We’ve seen progress, but we still have a long way to go. There are a number of clubs that are non-MLS that are providing full scholarships for their players so they have moved away from pay-to-play. The MLS academies are leading the way, but that has motivated the others. We’re making progress, but this is a big task and it’s really important and we still have a long way to go. We keep really close statistics on this and I think this has been a piece of the public evaluation that has motivated the clubs as well.”

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