U.S. Soccer Development Academy Implements Changes to Build Upon Successful Inaugural Year; 2008-09 Season Kicks Off Saturday, Sept. 6
CHICAGO (Sept. 5, 2008) – U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy will kick off its second year this weekend with the continued mission of providing players with a superior environment to improve their development and achieve their potential as elite soccer players. The first matches will take place on Saturday, Sept. 6, with six South Conference games taking place in the Under-15/16 and Under-17/18 age groups. (Full Schedule)
The Academy’s second year will build upon the successful foundation that was built during the inaugural eight months in 2007-08, looking to improve upon one of the most comprehensive overhauls of American player development in history. Even before last July’s Finals Week at The Home Depot Center, the Development Academy Technical Staff had already begun evaluating the program’s role in the development of American players, coaches and referees. The Staff recognized room for improvement, and will implement changes in its second year that will allow further opportunity for growth.
“From the beginning of the Development Academy, our goal was to do everything possible to provide players, coaches and referees with an environment to help them develop and we definitely accomplished that during our inaugural year,” said Development Academy Technical Director John Hackworth. “We know we can improve and we’ve implemented some positive changes to our programs that we feel everyone can benefit.”
All 62 clubs who participated in the first year will be returning, while 12 new clubs have been added in the 2008-09 season, including eight new clubs in Texas, two in the San Francisco area, on in Los Angeles and one in New England. With 74 clubs, the conferences have been realigned into four conferences with nine divisions to provide a schedule that will necessitate fewer flights for each team to help reduce costs.
During the 2008-09 Academy season, more than 2,000 games are scheduled across the country, including two Showcase weekends in December and May. The Winter Showcase will be held at the Lancaster National Soccer Center in Lancaster, Calif., from December 5-8, and the Spring Showcase will take place on Memorial Day Weekend, May 22-26, at the Sarasota Polo Grounds in Clearwater, Fla.
The 10-month season will build into 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. In 2008, Finals Week was broadcast live from The Home Depot Center on ESPNU.
In addition to conference and inter-conference matches, clubs that demonstrated excellence both on and off the field will have the opportunity to test themselves against the Under-17 Men’s National Team, which will play exhibition matches against the selected Academy clubs as they build up for World Cup Qualifying in the Spring of 2009.
U.S. Soccer’s vast network of scouts have utilized the scouting opportunities presented by the Academy, with every team scouted by a National Staff coach at least 10 times. With specific evaluation criteria including technical ability, tactical knowledge and athleticism, 105 players were invited to National Team camps at the Under-17, Under-18 and Under-20 levels during the first eight months of the Academy program. Academy players also make up nearly half of the current 40-player Under-17 Residency Program. Beyond the National Team, international and domestic professional team scouts and college coaches have made their presence felt throughout the season.
The Academy league will continue to serve as a platform to provide educational opportunities to players, coaches and referees to enhance their development. Players and coaches will benefit from individualized SPARQ training programs, Gatorade hydration and nutrition information, exposure to top professional coaches and players, video analysis from ProZone and Dartfish and a multitude of other resources applied at the Youth National Team level.
Referee development and identification will continue to be a key component of the Academy program. The Academy will continue to serve as the initial step in the Professional Referee Development Track. In it’s first year, over 75 new referees identified last year for the professional referee development track. U.S. Soccer Referee Department will continue to mentor referees at Academy Showcases and Referee Symposiums held throughout the country.