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September 21, 2007
The New Landscape

The U.S. Soccer Federation has integrated the country''s top youth clubs into the national team program.

By Mike Woitalla (Soccer America Magazine)

This fall marks the launch of a youth league in which every game will be an audition for the national team program. By creating the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, for U-16 and U-18 boys, the Federation is in effect cutting out the middle man when it comes to identifying talent for its national team program.

Sixty-three clubs and the U.S. national team will field teams in each age group. The players will not participate in the traditional player identification scheme - the U.S. Youth Soccer-run Olympic Development Program - because they'll be scouted by Federation staff coaches in their Academy league play.

The Federation began accepting applications from clubs for the Academy on June 4 with an Aug. 1 deadline.

"I don't like to use the word overwhelming, but the response was overwhelming," says U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati. "We received over 150 applications. I'm very pleased with that.

"It was a program that was thought about for a long time, but from the start to finish on the application process it was very quick. It shows there was a demand for it."

Seventeen of the clubs in Soccer America's 2007 Top 20 Boys club rankings are among the teams accepted into the academy.

"Many of the who's who of top clubs are in the Academy and a very large percentage of clubs and programs that have produced many of our national team players," Gulati says. "That's all very good."

The most conspicuous absentee is the Dallas Texans, the only club in Soccer America's Top 10 Boys Clubs of 2007 that didn't enter the Academy.

Texans director Hassan Nazari says that upon the announcement of the Academy launch he met with officials of the Dallas area's Classic League and his state association and promised he wouldn't enter his club in Academy for its first season.

"The Academy league is a great concept," Nazari says. "The country is ready for it. At this moment, nobody has all the answers and there are unknowns. But it's going to be successful because the people involved are successful people with a lot of knowledge.

"At the same time, the Classic League here in North Texas, the people that we have been involved with, have done a tremendous job creating a very competitive environment. We didn't just want to pack and leave them hanging."

While Nazari says the Texans will consider applying in the future, their North Texas rival Solar SC has come aboard. It is the only team from the soccer hotbed state of Texas in the Academy.

Solar SC will continue fielding teams in each age group of the Classic League while forming new teams for its U-16 and U-18 Academy squads. Players for those teams can come from within Solar or join from other clubs. North Texas restrictions on player movement between clubs will not apply to Solar SC's Academy teams for the fall season, says Solar SC chairman David Ringer.

"We thought about it long and hard," Ringer says. "We made a very deliberate decision on the basis that the Federation was behind this, was going to push it. Although it might be awkward for us in how it fell in our time calendar, we wanted to be a part of this type of competition."

Solar SC director of coaching Kevin Smith says, "We have something special here in North Texas with the Classic League. League games can be as competitive as a semifinal in a showcase tournament.

"We've been producing pretty good players here with the way we've had it. But maybe this will take it up another level. We're giving players a choice to try this. We'll be training them with the curriculum the Federation wants us to use. It's always been my aim to develop players and this is another opportunity."

Academy teams are not permitted to take part in state cup play, which leads to US Youth Soccer National Championships. And their participation in showcase tournaments will be restricted. Those restrictions and others that include skipping ODP events will cut down on travel and expenses for players, but in Academy regions where clubs are spread out, travel demands will be significant.

Clubs are awaiting details from the Federation on how, and to what extent it will subsidize the Academy.

Each of the Academy's eight conferences comprise eight teams. The winner of each conference advances to the Academy Finals at the Home Depot Center.

The inaugural season kicks off in October. Teams will play about 30 games during an eight-month season. Weekend games will consist of "individual conference games, travel partner weekends and showcase weekends to provide them with the optimum balance of playing rhythm, economy of travel and exposure to scouts."

The Academy clubs represent 24 states and the District of Columbus. D.C. United is one of seven MLS teams fielding teams. More MLS teams are expected to come on aboard next season.

California fields the most clubs, with 10, followed by Florida and New York, with five each.

The ultimate aim is to include 80 clubs in the program.

"We decided to limit it to 64 the first season," Gulati says, "because it allows for additions for next year. And also to make sure we get our arms fully around the operational issues."


THE ACADEMY CLUBS

Sixty-four clubs are fielding teams in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy U-16 and U-18 boys leagues. After an eight-month season, winners of each conference meet in the Academy Finals at The Home Depot Center.

Northeast Conference
Club (State) Director of Coaching
Oakwood SC (Conn.) David Farrell
South Central Premier (Conn.) Bob Dikranian
Greater Boston Bolts (Mass.) John Kerr Jr.
Seacoast United (N.H.) Karl Edmonds
Albertson SC (N.Y.) Paul Riley
Blau Weiss Gottschee (N.Y.) Ben Boehm
FC Westchester (N.Y.) Sean Kenny
Met Oval (N.Y.) Giuseppe Balsamo

Mid-Atlantic Conference
Club (State) Director of Coaching
DC United (D.C.) John Maessner
Baltimore Bays (Md.) Steve Nichols
Potomac Soccer (Md.) Dave Kelley
Match Fit Academy (N.J.) Malcolm Murphy
New York Red Bulls (N.J.) Bob Montgomery
PDA (N.J.) Gerry McKeown
FC Delco (Pa.) Alan Mezger
PA Classics (Pa.) Steve Klein

Atlantic Conference
Club (State) Director of Coaching
CASL (N.C.) Jay Howell
South Charlotte SA (N.C.) Brad Wylde
Bridge FA (S.C.) Clark Brisson
Greensboro Youth SC (S.C.) Steve Allison
North Meck SC (N.C.) Bryan Thorp
Richmond Kickers (Va.) Leigh Cowlishaw
Richmond Strikers (Va.) Carlos Martinoli
VA Rush SC (Va.) Dave Dengerink

Southeast Conference
Club (State) Director of Coaching
Birmingham United (Ala.) Eric Dade
Clearwater Chargers (Fla.) Peter Mannino
IMG SA (Fla.) Tom Durkin
Kendall Soccer Coalition (Fla.) Victor Pastora
Schulz Academy (Fla.) Josef Schulz
AFC Lightning (Ga.) Bob Moullin
Atlanta Fire United (Ga.) Massoud Roushandel
Concorde Fire (Ga.) Gregg Blasingame

Great Lakes Conference
Club (State) Director of Coaching
Carmel United (Ind.) Russell Gee
Michigan Wolves (Mich.) Brian Doyle
Vardar (Mich.) Morris Lupenec
Empire United (N.Y.) Chris Apple
Cleveland Alliance (Ohio) Ali Kazemaini
Columbus Crew (Ohio) Sigi Schmid
Internationals SC (Ohio) George &
Louis Nanchoff
Ohio Elite (Ohio) Tim Lesiak

Mid-America Conference
Club (State) Director of Coaching
U.S. national team (Fla.) John Hackworth
Chicago Fire (Ill.) Louis S. Mateus
Chicago Magic (Ill.) Mike Matkovich
Metro United (Ill.) Dale Schilly
Sockers FC Chicago (Ill.) David Richardson
Scott Gallagher (Mo.) Kevin Kalish
Solar SC (Texas) Kevin Smith
FC Milwaukee (Wisc.) Peter Knezic

SoCal Conference
Club (State) Director of Coaching
Arsenal SC (Calif.) PJ Brown
Chivas USA (Calif.) Dennis te Kloese
Irvine Strikers (Calif.) Don Ebert
L.A. Galaxy (Calif.) Trevor James
Nomads SC (Calif.) Derek Armstrong
Pateadores SC (Calif.) Mike Gartlan
Real So Cal (Calif.) Marwan Ass'ad
San Diego Surf (Calif.) Colin Chesters

West Conference
Club (State) Director of Coaching
Colorado Rapids (Colo.) John Murphy
Colorado Rush (Colo.) Tim Schulz
Real Colorado (Colo.) Lorne Donaldson
FC Portland (Ore.) Steve Elliott
De Anza Force (Calif.) Jeff Baicher
Mustang FC (Calif.) John Doyle
Crossfire Premier SC (Wash.) Bernie James
Washington Premier (Wash.) Reece Olney

(This article originally appeared in the August 2007 issue of Soccer America magazine.)















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