September 28, 2011
U.S. Academy 'closing the gap'; MLS teen debut; Why no keepers at U-8 level

As the U.S. Soccer Development Academy entered its fifth season this month, nearly a third of its 78 clubs moved to a 10-month season, no longer taking a three-month break during which players would commonly play high-school ball, or in the case of Southern California, in the Coast Soccer League.

By Mike Woitalla
(from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

Clubs in three of the 10 Academy divisions -- Southern California, Northwest and Texas -- will play a 10-month season. That might not make high school coaches happy, but Federation leaders hail the move.

“Around the world, kids at the U-15/16 and U-17/18 age level play for 10 months and they train more than our kids, so this helps us close that gap,” said Claudio Reyna, U.S. Soccer’s Youth Technical Director.

Said Texans SC Houston Director of Coaching Scott James, “Here in Texas we have been playing from September through December, taking three and a half months away from each other and then we have to cram nine to 12 games into a two-month span. We didn’t have to be sold on moving to single-game weekends or having more training sessions. It was a no brainer for us to move in that direction.”

Tony Lepore, the Academy's Director of Scouting, said by fall 2012, all the clubs will be on a 10-month schedule.

“We’ve added at least two months of high-level training and meaningful games into their schedule where otherwise they were doing something else, in most cases high school,” said Lepore. “It’s just more continuity and, again, more time spent training.

“These clubs will have fewer double fixture weekends, more single fixture weekends, so in turn they’ll be able to have a more consistent schedule with a more productive rhythm between training and matches which will help narrow their focus.”

… The U.S. Soccer Academy kicked off in October of 2007 with 64 clubs. There are now 78 -- including 15 MLS clubs -- each with a U-15/16 and U-17/18 team for a total of 156 teams. Check out the Academy map HERE. …

… Georgia United and Vancouver Whitecaps are this year’s Academy newcomers. Cosmos Academy West has merged with Chivas USA. …

2007-08 Carmel United (Ind.)*
2008-09 Derby County Wolves (Mich.)
2009-10 Chicago Fire
2010-11 Los Angeles Galaxy
* Changed to name to Indiana United Academy following year.

2007-08 Baltimore Bays*
2008-09 Indiana United Academy
2009-10 Vardar (Mich.)
2010-11 Pateadores (Calif.)
* Now called Baltimore Bays Chelsea.

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TEEN DEBUT. Zach Pfeffer, who turned 16 in January, made his MLS debut last weekend, starting and playing 63 minutes for the Philadelphia Union in a 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew. The midfielder was signed as the Union’s first “homegrown” player at age 15. He also played youth ball for FC Delco Academy's U.S. Academy U-15/U-16 team, as well as for the Upper Dublin, Cheltenham, YMS and Montgomery United youth clubs. He spent the spring semester of 2010 at the U.S. U-17 Residency in Bradenton, Fla.

Union and Fox Soccer commentator JP Dellacamera observed, “Young Zach did well in his 61 minutes of work. If he was nervous out there on the field, he sure didn’t let us know. He seemed composed on the ball and confident while playing on a field with some players more than double his age. No doubt that playing in Reserve League games, plus international friendlies, has helped Pfeffer make good progress."

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QUAKES EXTEND YOUTH REACH. The San Jose Earthquakes have linked up with the Evergreen United Education Foundation (EUEF) to develop soccer and education programs for local youth in East San Jose. The partnership will mix soccer with academic tutoring for pool of 13,500 children involved in after-school programs. The club, San Jose Earthquakes EU, will feature U-9 to U-12 teams in AYSO and NorCal Premier and will be run by former Quakes assistant coach Jorge Espinoza.

All participants in the soccer program and tutoring program will receive tickets to attend Earthquakes home games with their families. The program participants will be bused to the games and then bused back to school sites following the games.

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FURTHER READING. ... On his SidelineSportsDoc.com blog, Dr. Dev Mishra addresses the question of whether there are more injuries from playing on artificial turf than natural grass. “I don’t think there’s any better playing surface than a well-maintained grass field, but I’d prefer one of the newer varieties of turf fields over a poorly maintained grass field any day,” Mishra writes. Moreover, the type of shoes worn can have an impact on injury rates. Read the article HERE. ...

... Ryan McCormack, at TheShinGuardian.com, offers "A Treatise: The State of American Youth Soccer," which looks at the Top 6 issues Jurgen Klinsmann needs to address with U.S. youth soccer. Among his conclusions: "To create a soccer culture here, practices need to be less about drills, winning, and X’s and O’s, especially at the younger ages. The game itself is the greatest teacher, and kids should be encouraged in practice to take risks and try new things. They’re more likely to get more touches on the ball away from practice if they are having fun at competitive practices.". Read the article HERE.

... There are some good reasons why games should be played without goalkeepers until the U-10 level and they're addressed by AYSO's National Coach Instructor John Ouellette and Sam Snow, U.S. Youth Soccer's Coaching Director. Both AYSO and USYS discourage the use of keepers at the U-8 level and below. Snow writes, "The U-8 age group is still in an egocentric phase of psychological development, which tells us that we should allow these children to run and chase the ball, to be in the game –- not waiting at the end of the field for the game to come to them. It is more important at this age that they chase the game. Children this age want to play with the toy (the ball) and they need to go to where the toy is to be fully engaged." Read Snow's article HERE. …

Ouellette reiterates that point and also notes that, "In their early experiences with soccer, we want young players to shoot on goal as much as possible because striking the ball is such an important skill for players to master. Young kids are more likely to shoot often when there's no goalkeeper." Read Ouellette's article HERE.