NCAA coaches take wait-and-see attitude on Girls Development Academy
HENRICO, Va. – College scouts travel to the Jefferson Cup from across the United States to identify and evaluate potential recruits, packing the sidelines of games in the tournament’s top showcase brackets to watch players, and hobnob with club coaches and colleagues in Richmond over several days.
As they scour events like this and others like it across the nation looking for the players that will enable their teams to excel in future years, they study the youth soccer landscape as closely as anyone.
So during the just-concluded girls showcase weekend of Jeff Cup 2016, SoccerWire.com asked several coaches from leading NCAA Division I programs what they thought about U.S. Soccer’s recent confirmation of a Girls Development Academy league set to debut in fall 2017.
The rise of a federation-funded Girls DA – news originally reported here in December – has already shaken the current youth landscape and promises to continue sending shockwaves across the system as the Elite Clubs National League, US Youth Soccer and other stakeholders scramble to adapt.
The dominant sentiment in their responses? Let’s wait and see.
“I think it’s all TBD at this point in time,” said University of Tennessee head coach Brian Pensky. “The idea behind it is outstanding – very heavily training-based, trying to get the best players with the best players, and development and growth, and potentially fewer games. We’re excited about it.
“The question will be – and right now, there are still so many leagues, with ECNL and regional leagues and this and that – how it’s all going to shake out, in terms of ECNL, the academy. It’s all TBD.”
Most industry veterans have praised the federation’s decision to throw unprecedented financial resources – USSF could hire upwards of half a dozen new staffers for its new project – at the long-neglected area of girls youth development. Yet there seems to be some implicit level of skepticism about the fed’s ability to improve on leading elements of the landscape that have grown more organically.
“If somebody’s going to make an investment in the women’s game, that’s a good thing for women’s soccer. And if there’s something that could help us to be better, then that’s great for women’s soccer,” said Clemson head coach Eddie Radwanski. “But I would agree that the ECNL, the National League, those type of leagues and organizations have done a really good job so far – because they haven’t really gotten a lot of help.
“Now U.S. Soccer has as much financial clout as they’ve ever had in the history of our federation; it’s nice to see that there’s going to be a significant investment into the women’s game. So anything we do that’s investing for the good of the game, players are ultimately going to benefit.”
April Heinrichs, U.S. Soccer’s women’s technical director, has promised that the Girls DA – which will ban high-school play and other outside competitions just like its male equivalent – will rapidly become the prime environment for colleges seeking blue-chip talent and ambitious players seeking said exposure.
Even if that proves to be the case, the coaches we spoke with suggested that their mentality towards scouting is unlikely to change dramatically.
“I think time will tell. It’s obviously a departure from what’s happened before,” said University of Florida assistant coach Alan Kirkup. “It’s another experiment to see whether it can be done differently, just like ECNL was. Whether it’s good for the game or not, I think only time will tell. I’m still on the fence.
“There are occasions when certain organizations set themselves up as, ‘this is where need to be.’ I’m not sure that’s always the case from our point of view. If you’re a good enough player, we will find you, regardless of where you’re playing. I think there’s a lot of pressure at times put on parents and players, to say, ‘if you’re not here, then you’ll never get recruited.’ and I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case.”
Both Kirkup and Pensky pledged to continue searching for players in every possible nook and cranny of the nation’s tangled mess of competing leagues and sanctioning bodies.
“What it’s going to mean for soccer 10 years down the road, honestly, it’s all TBD,” said Pensky of the Girls DA. “For us, I don’t know that it changes a whole lot. We’re going to do our best to find the best players, no matter where they are.
“In the past four years at Tennessee and before that at Maryland, we had ECNL players, we also had non-ECNL kids – kids who have been in the youth national team program who were both ECNL and non-ECNL kids. So how the DA stuff is going to shake out and impact our lives remains to be seen. The bigger picture is, hopefully it just continues to make our game better in this country.”