2012-13 Academy in Review: Academy and YNT Reap Benefits of 10-Month Season
The 2012-13 U.S. Soccer Development Academy season wrapped up in mid-July, and it was a pivotal campaign in many regards.
First and foremost, the Academy’s sixth season was defined by the across-the-board 10-month schedule for all teams. This format maximizes the growth of the top-level youth players in the U.S. as clubs train approximately four times per week and the weekends incorporate fewer but more meaningful games.
“This was the first year where all 80 clubs were on a 10-month calendar, so there were a lot of benefits from that,” Development Academy Director of Scouting Tony Lepore said. “The value was apparent during the culminating events – the Academy Playoffs and Showcase and Finals Week. We had really strong representatives at Finals Week, and that clearly showed our progress.”
The season capped off with the New York Red Bulls U-17/18 team earning a thrilling 2-1 overtime victory against Shattuck-Saint Mary’s Soccer Academy and Real Salt Lake AZ’s U-15/16s defeating Texas-based Solar Chelsea SC 4-2 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
Real Salt Lake AZ garnered its first Finals Week crown and the Red Bulls earned the club’s second championship, following up its 2012 title at the U-15/16 age group.
The competitive scope beyond the title winners was impressive, as well. At the U-17/18 age group, for example, St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri had one of the strongest regular-season runs in the second half of the season to sneak in as a wild card team for the Academy Playoffs. SLSG Missouri turned around a near-elimination season to post a 1-0-2 record at Playoffs to advance to Houston. Then the club won two games at Finals Week for a fifth-place showing.
Another defining characteristic of the 2012-13 season was the Academy’s evaluation process. The Academy has nine full-time technical advisors on staff in support of the 10-month season.
“We’ve been able to see more matches, monitor more players and now there are more players on our depth chart,” Lepore said. “A technical advisor in the Central Division a year ago, for example, had a lot more ground to cover. With the season getting underway in September, the TAs already know the clubs really well before December. It’s not as much of a sprint and they can spread their observations and evaluations over the 10-month season.”
That also has translated to a stronger process at the international level for U.S. Soccer’s YNT pool.
“With everyone on the same calendar, that helped with our Youth National Teams and monitoring players,” Lepore said. “In previous seasons, you might have to wait for one conference because they are starting later and another conference starts a bit earlier, but this season there was consistency and continuity.”
Looking Ahead to 2013-14
Launch of U-13/14 Age Group: Every year, the Academy continues to progress in youth player development, and the upcoming season marks another major step with the launch of the U-13/14 age group for the 2013-14 Academy season. Earlier this year, U.S. Soccer announced the addition of 22 clubs that will be taking part in this inaugural campaign.
The clubs are based in key markets to expand the elite player pool in this important age group to minimize the cost for league play and the amount of travel. Twelve clubs are based in California and 10 clubs are situated in various markets along the east coast.
Incorporating Futsal Component: Along with the addition of this younger age group, the winter portion of the season will include a futsal component. U.S. Soccer, in partnership with Nike, has already focused on this integral element of the game with invitational events in Philadelphia and Los Angeles earlier this year. U.S. Futsal National Team head coach Keith Tozer caught up with ussoccer.com to discuss the importance of spreading futsal to the youth level.
“I think it’s going to be tremendous for our players,” Tozer said. “It’s just logical. Small-sided games have been something that everybody has preached around the world; getting more touches on the ball, being able to think quicker and react quicker, and being able to answer the soccer equation no through a kick but through technique. I think futsal is going to be another great benefit for us.”