Developing world-class players remains the priority for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and has since the inaugural 2007-08 season. The 2014-15 regular season wrapped up in mid-June, closing out what proved to be another productive year for player development. With the Academy Playoffs & Showcase kicking off on June 19, it's time to delve into the best moments of this past year and recap the Academy’s growth over the course of its season.
The Academy's eighth year was defined by an increased focused on several core areas: assessment and identification, training and development, and meaningful competition.
"The 2014-15 season has been another year of growth in the Development Academy with increased programming and resources focused on our goal of world-class player development," said Development Academy Director Jared Micklos. "The Academy clubs continue to improve their everyday environments, and we are excited about the opportunities to continue investing resources and supporting clubs that show an increased commitment to player development."
For Country and Club: The Academy continues to focus on creating a pathway for youth players. The growth and development of players is evident in clubs across the nation, both domestic and international, and more than ever on the U.S. National Teams.
The U.S. Men's National Team played archrival Mexico on April 15, 2015. The game marked the very first time four Development Academy alumni were been named to a Men's National Team Starting XI: Joe Corona (Nomads SC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders Academy), DeAndre Yedlin (Crossfire Premier and Seattle Sounders Academy), and Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy). The alumni led the U.S. MNT to a 2-0 victory over its CONCACAF foe as Jordan Morris scored in the 49th minute and Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls Academy) added the goal for the infamous score line in the 72nd minute.
Additionally, there is perhaps no clearer example of the success of the Academy than the strong presence at the international level for the U.S. Soccer's Youth National Teams pool. Throughout the 2014-15 Development Academy season, 89% of the YNT call ups had ties to the Academy. Not only did Academy players have a strong presence at each age group, but they also contributed to many of the successes of the YNT program this year.
On May 1, the U.S.Under-15 Boys' National Team defeated Austria 3-2 to win the 12th Tournament delle Nazioni in Italy. It was the first time the USA captured the title in this competition. The group had strong ties to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, with 18 of the 20 players in the group having been involved with it in some capacity. Furthermore, the U-20s most recently competed in the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup and advanced to the quarterfinals, where they lost in a heartbreaker penalty shootout on June 14 to Serbia. Fourteen players on that World Cup roster had ties to the Development Academy. Finally, the U-23s captured third place at the prestigious Toulon Tournament in France on June 7 after defeating England 2-1. The third-place finish matched the best finish for the USA in the renowned tournament. The last time was in 1989 when it similarly defeated England, 2-0. Twelve players had ties to the Development Academy.
Still More To Come As Post Season Play Begins: One of the Academy's most exciting moments is the playoffs following the end of the regular season. Slated to begin on June 23, 64 teams have earned a playoff spot, 32 from both the U-15/16's and U-17/18's, each competing for the No. 1 spot. It was another wildly entertaining season in the Academy, and here are some of the highlights:
Monster defense from Montreal: The Montreal U-17/18's closed the year out clinching the top overall seed in U-17/18. Montreal stifled opponents defensively all year and led the age group with a 0.65 goals per game against average. At one point in the season, Montreal went on a stretch of nine consecutive clean sheets from Sept. 28-Dec. 7. The team recorded 17 shutouts in its 26 matches.
New York Red Bulls Roll: The New York Red Bulls U-15/16's concluded the regular season with a 23-1-2 and finished with the best record in the entire Academy across all age groups. The Red Bulls U-17/18's also qualified for the playoffs, finishing at the top of the Atlantic Division.
Real Salt Lake, Real Scoring: Real Salt Lake U-17/18's finished the regular season with 100 points and 161 goals scored – an Academy record. They averaged a staggering 4.12 goals per game and boasted an unbelievable goal differential of +128. Real Salt Lake has scored four-plus goals in each of its last 10 games.
Defense, Defense, Defense: At the U-15/16 age level, seven teams had goals allowed averages under 1.00. These were: Orlando City SC (0.97), Crew SC Academy Wolves (0.88), Sockers FC (0.85), New York Red Bulls (0.73), Philadelphia Union (0.69) BW Gottschee Academy (0.57), and the New England Revolution (0.57).
Stand Strong Shattuck: For the second straight year the Shattuck-St. Mary's U-17/18's finished with only 3 losses.
The Importance of Futsal: This past winter was the second time that the Academy incorporated its futsal period, which has proven to be an important element moving forward for the U-13/14 age group. U.S. Under-14 Boys' National Team head coach Brian Johnson is in a unique spot to see firsthand the end product of his players' training on the international level.
The majority of the U-14 BNT players are groomed through the Development Academy system. The Futsal Period is integral in enhancing the players' skills as they continue their pathway to a world-class level. YNT and Academy clubs are always driving home the importance of technical play and attacking style, and futsal reinforces that approach.
Midfielder Tim Bielic, who plays for Sockers FC and the U.S. U-14 Boys' National Team, said this is his first time playing futsal at a competitive level. During the Chicago regional futsal event, he saw many areas in which he needed to be quick on his feet with improved decision making.
"In futsal, you need to have a plan before you make a play or make a pass," Bielic said. "Since everything is so fast, you need to have a plan right before you pass the ball or shoot the ball, and that's very different from outdoor. In outdoor you have more space. I have been working on my touch a lot more during the game of futsal, and when I go outdoors to an 11-v-11 game, it makes it a lot easier to control the ball and make good plays.”
As he returns to Academy play or gets called into the U.S. National Team, Bielic is now one of many players who sees and understands the value that the futsal program provides.
Futures Camp: This past May, U.S. Soccer held its first Boys' National Team Futures training camp. The camp, which consisted of players who were born in 2000 and 2001, was held with the goal of improving U.S. Soccer's long-term objectives for talent identification and individual development of young players. Director of Scouting Tony Lepore called-in players for the three-day camp, focusing on identifying the most talented players in the '00 and '01 birth year that appear to be on a later physical development growth path and/or are born in the second half of the year. Ultimately, the camp’s aim was to reduce the impact of physical maturity and relative age effect on identification and evaluation of talent.
"We are scouting with a long-term objective by focusing our evaluation and selection on the qualities needed to become a National Team player in the future," Lepore said. "The Futures Camp recognizes that players in these younger age groups who can typically have the biggest impact and make a difference are the ones who are physically superior and more mature, but this doesn't necessarily mean that they are the most talented. When scouting young players among the same age group, we see big differences in performance based on birth month and maturity."
Looking Ahead to 2015-16 and Beyond: U.S. Soccer has made an unprecedented commitment to development of world-class players and coaches. In the effort to influence and impact development at an earlier stage, U.S. Soccer will add an Under-12 age group to the Development Academy program beginning in the Fall of 2016. The Federation continues to support coaching education efforts and has introduced Academy specific coaching licenses and programs. In addition, the Federation will increase funding for the Development Academy Scholarship Program, removing barriers to elite participation and allowing more players to play at a reduced cost.
Four New Clubs Added for 2015-16 Season: Three east coast-based clubs and one west coast club will be joining the U.S. Soccer Development Academy to open the 2015-16 season. Baltimore Armour from Maryland and Sacramento Republic from California will field teams at all age groups, which include U-13/14s, U-15/16s and U-17/18s, to become full members beginning this fall. In addition, Florida-based club Boca United, who currently fields a team in the Academy at the U-13/14 age group, will play the 2015-16 Academy season at all three age groups adding teams to the U-15/16 and U-17/18 levels. New York City FC will be joining the U-13/14 age group at the beginning of next season and become part of the Academy for the first time.