By Mike Woitalla (Soccer America Magazine)
Whether to pursue entry into U.S. Soccer's Player Development Academy wasn't an easy choice for many of the nation's top clubs, particularly in areas like North Texas and Southern California, where clubs are already entrenched in highly competitive leagues. Don Ebert, Director of Coaching of the Irvine Strikers, explained why his club decided to enter the U.S. Soccer league for U-16 and U-18 boys.
“The biggest benefit is we will let players rest and stop killing players like we were killing them,” Ebert says. “I was getting really concerned. We were spiraling out of control.”
Academy players will not participate in ODP nor State Cups. And teams will be limited in participating in showcase tournaments and simultaneously competing in different leagues.
“I'm as guilty as any one else,” Ebert says. “We were all chasing the same race and feeling we'll be left behind if we don't do every showcase and if we don't go here, and we don't do that, and throw in a trip overseas. And throw in ODP, and they want them to do five-hour training sessions. We had lost control.”
If the swift Academy launch left details unanswered, especially regarding the amount of travel required and costs, Ebert appreciates that the Federation has taken the initiative.
“You gotta start somewhere,” he says. “And you know, they did. If we can figure out how to fund it properly and make it viable for all the kids, rich and poor, then we really got something going. I'm willing to put some faith in that they'll get there.”
Circumventing ODP for national team player identification appeals greatly.
“I have been totally anti-ODP for the elite, elite players,” says Ebert, citing the fact that even his players who had already been chosen for the national pool were forced to attend more and more state and regional ODP events. “I've never liked the system of how our players got to the national teams."
“If they get after it and look at the players in the Academy and see them first hand -- I like that. I don't think we'll miss as many players as we have in the past.”