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U.S. Soccer Launches Development Academy to Expand Opportunities for Players Nationwide


CHICAGO (August 14, 2007) – In a move designed to improve the development environment for players throughout the country, the U.S. Soccer Federation has taken the initiative in formalizing a nationwide development academy slated to begin Columbus Day Weekend, October 6-8, 2007 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif . The U.S. Soccer Development Academy will feature 64 elite youth soccer clubs from around the country in its inaugural season.

Created to provide players with the best possible opportunity to develop, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy is being initiated after a comprehensive review of player development systems in the United States and around the world.

Each Development Academy club will not only serve as a home for the nation’s top players, but also as a destination point within their community for shared learning and experience. One of the major advantages of the program will see players receiving integrated oversight from both youth club coaches and U.S. Soccer coaches, while training in their home environment. In turn, the Development Academy will provide an improved scouting environment for college, professional and U.S. National Team coaches.

“After completing an extensive review and discussion across the country, we feel that it is the right time for U.S. Soccer to lead a change in the sport at the youth level,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “We need to shift the focus of our young elite players from an ‘overburdened, game emphasis’ model to a ‘meaningful training and competition’ model. This will ultimately lead to more success and will allow players to develop to their full potential.”

To begin that process, U.S. Soccer is using the Development Academy to create a wide-reaching movement within the grassroots soccer environment that will educate parents, coaches and players on the value of expanding national player development directly to the clubs. Using the current U.S. Under-17 Residency Program as a model, the youth clubs chosen to be part of the Development Academy will increase the amount of time spent on meaningful training while also increasing the quality of their matches.

"It's a concept that youth soccer in this country desperately needs and our goal is to truly shift the focus towards increasing player development,” said U.S. Soccer’s Under-17 National Team head coach John Hackworth. “I think it will create a day-to-day training environment that will allow players the opportunity to develop to the best of their ability. Right now we have only 40 players in that type of environment (at the U-17 Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla.), but this Academy will allow us to put thousands of elite players in a similar environment, which will help us raise the entire level across the nation."

With an emphasis on creating a superior everyday training environment, teams in the Development Academy will have a clean slate for a calendar and will be required to train a minimum of three times a week, eliminating the growing trend of clubs playing an excessive quantity of games in lieu of consistent training patterns. To maintain an emphasis on training, Development Academy teams will compete against other teams in the program and will not play in any other leagues, tournaments or State Cup competitions, and players will only be allowed to compete on their designated Academy team (with exceptions for high school soccer and national team duty).

Clubs that are not part of U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy will continue to play in traditional youth soccer competitions, with the longtime Olympic Development Program also continuing unimpeded. With Development Academy players no longer being seen at ODP events, those spots will now be open for additional players to be seen at an elite level.

"I'm very excited about the establishment of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Program,” said U.S. Men’s National Team Head Coach Bob Bradley. “It is very important for U.S. Soccer to work with our top clubs to ensure that our best young players are constantly being challenged in an environment that best promotes player development. With a tremendous amount of reach, this program will help focus training sessions and matches on the areas that are critical to elevating our young players' ability to compete at the elite levels of the sport."

The Development Academy has been divided into eight conferences comprised of eight teams based on geographic proximity. Academy teams will play 30 matches across a complete season with the winner of each conference participating in the annual Academy Finals at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. The Academy clubs will be comprised of Under-16 and Under-18 age groups, with a minimum of 20 players on a roster. Younger players in the Academy system will also be allowed to play “up” within their club.

Academy clubs were chosen by U.S. Soccer’s coaches from more than 150 applications based on number of criteria, including a club’s history of elite youth player development and past success in elite competitions. The Academy will feature 63 clubs, representing 24 states and the District of Columbia, plus the U.S. National Team from U.S. Soccer’s Residency Program, playing at the Under-15/16 and Under-17/18 age levels.

"The Academy is a comprehensive approach to help develop some of the top players across the nation, but it is also designed to be a working model for the grassroots level,” said U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Education & Youth Development Bob Jenkins. “All the clubs involved will be moving in the same direction giving us a similar approach to player development, and then these clubs will act almost like satellites out in the country helping to spread the message out to the clubs around them."

The Academy will also serve as a better coaching development platform, with each participating club receiving two invitations to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Best Practices seminars. The development platform for U.S. Soccer referees will also be enhanced in the program, with U.S. Soccer assigning referees to all Academy matches.

With the framework of the boys Development Academy serving as a starting point for discussion, a similar initiative to enhance the development of female players will also be explored.

U.S. SOCCER DEVELOPMENT ACADEMY – STRUCTURE

Objective: The focus of the Academy is on player development and providing players with the best possible opportunity to develop to the highest level they are capable of achieving
Standards: A minimum requirement of three training sessions and one rest day per week
Teams: 64 of the top youth soccer clubs in the U.S.
Age Groups: U-16 & U-18 teams (minimum roster of 20 players); providing opportunities for more than 2,000 players
Competition Format: Divided into eight conferences with each team playing 30 home and away matches during an eight-month season. Each conference is comprised of 8 teams based on geographic proximity. The winner of each conference will play in the Academy Finals at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

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