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U.S. Under-15 Boys' National Team Player Pool Benefits From Development Academy Athletes Playing at a Higher Level

CHICAGO (March 1, 2009) – After a successful first year, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy program continues to evolve and the Academy Scouting Network continues to search for young athletes whose talent and potential could one day lead them to a place on a U.S. National Team.

While identifying emerging talent in a country as large as the United States may seem to be a daunting task, scouts are often aided by clubs in identifying players when athletes are able to be tested at a higher age level. As U.S. Soccer continues to expand the player pool for the Under-15 Boys’ National Team and, in turn, the Under-17 Men’s National Team, it is important to be able to look at athletes who may be a year or two removed from that age group, but have the potential to contribute and grow by playing up an age level.

This year, the Under-15 BNT pool is made up of players born in 1994, while the rosters of U-15/16 Development Academy teams are made up mostly of players born in 1992 and 1993. According to Development Academy Director of Scouting Tony Lepore, that is beginning to change slightly.

“The current Under-15 pool is made up of ’94s and we’re seeing those guys involved in 15/16 Development Academy teams, which is great, and where they belong,” said Lepore. “It’s what’s best for them.”

Lepore points out that with the growth of the Academy, clubs are stepping up to the challenge of looking at an entire pool of players to develop, rather than focusing on a single team at a certain age level.

For the most recent camp, which took place Feb. 15-22, U.S. U-15 BNT head coach Jim Barlow was able to count on the services of players such as Geno Bigalow (Colorado Rapids Academy), Devin Devoy (New England Revolution Academy), Christian Duarte (TSC Texans), Brody Hickey (Dallas Texans), Andre Reyes (Dallas Texans), Nathan Smith (Cal Odyssey) and John Villantroy (Met Oval), who all entered the U.S. Youth National Team system for the first time after being scouted at Development Academy matches and the Winter Showcase in Lancaster.

“Last year we had very few players who were ’93s that were involved in the Development Academy clubs,” said Lepore. “There were a few, but not as many as you would like to see. But already, in year two, clubs have identified younger players that would benefit from playing up.”

With the emphasis of the Development Academy being development rather than results, clubs are encouraged to include younger players in their system. Many of the clubs do so by considering the younger players as part of their developmental roster, so they train and can play up to six games with the club’s Academy team, but they may also play for another team at the club.

Younger players on an older team tend to be smaller than their teammates, which challenges them to increase their skill and fitness levels, and often forces them to make decisions quicker than by going up against other athletes their same age. Being a developmental player on an older Academy team allows for younger players to be challenged, but to also get regular playing time as a consistent player on a different team.

In the case of the U.S. U-15 BNT, more than half of the 36 players at the most recent camp were from Development Academy clubs and several players were brought into camp after being scouted at the 2008 Development Academy Winter Showcase in Lancaster, Calif. The increased level of Academy participants included in the player pool indicates the increased involvement of younger players on older teams within Academy clubs.