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Commentary Aug 31, 2012

Development Academy expands to U-14s – a costly move?

By Jimmy LaRoue

By next fall, at least 80 new Under-14 teams in U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy structure will begin play alongside the U-16 and U-18 teams, which comes months after U.S. Soccer announced the move for all its academy clubs to a 10-month season to begin with the current one that starts next weekend.

While director of scouting Tony Lepore said that 23 to 25 academy clubs currently subsidize its players to play, it seems the move would put more financial pressure on the remaining 55 to 57 clubs that do not. With a cost estimate of $20,000 per player for four years, and even factoring that the U-14 academy teams will travel less, it figures to add another $5,000 for a six-year commitment cost of $25,000, if unsubsidized.

Not an insignificant sum.

He said during a conference call today that moving away from the pay to play model is a part of each club’s evaluation process, and it would seem that pressure will increase on clubs to find ways to subsidize its academy players.

On the other hand, Lepore said the benefits of having a U-14 academy program would aid in a player’s development, allowing for more training, fewer and more meaningful games, and helping U.S. Soccer’s scouting by being able to identify elite players earlier on.

This is just the latest move by U.S. Soccer to expand its academy footprint, as it brought in two new clubs for this fall, and, after having the SoCal, Northwest and Texas divisions go to a 10-month season last year, all of the academy clubs this season will do so, forcing academy players to make a difficult choice on whether to play high school soccer and club soccer below the academy level, or play exclusively for their academy teams (Lepore told reporters today, however, that some private school players have received waivers to continue to play for both school and academy).

What do you think of the move? Will it enhance player development at the younger levels? What do you think the impact will be?

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