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Commentary Apr 11, 2020

OPINION: COVID-19 provides opportunity for U.S. Soccer to shut down Development Academy

By Chris Hummer
SoccerWire Publisher

[UPDATE – April 14: According to a breaking report by The Athletic, U.S. Soccer will be permanently shutting down the Development Academy.]

The heavily-circulating rumor that the U.S. Soccer Federation is planning to terminate the entire U.S. Soccer Development Academy is causing a lot of panic and uncertainty in an already turbulent period.

A Federation source has told SoccerWire that the current 2019-2020 DA season is “likely” to be canceled soon due to the repercussions of the COVID-19 crisis, though no announcements are imminent over Easter weekend. The DA’s long-term fate? That appears to be up in the air at the moment.

So to be clear, we are not reporting this as fact, but it is a very hot rumor that gets the mind turning.

Even if it proves to just be the end of the 2019-20 season, should a full shutdown be on the table at all, taking advantage of this extensive layoff during the global pandemic of COVID-19 has actually opened up an opportunity to shutter the leagues in the absolutely least disruptive way possible.

Why would they be considering such a drastic move? If true, some of the factors are sure to be:

  • The Girls DA has never taken hold as the nation’s most elite league, and has recently been losing very strong clubs back to ECNL. Having talent split between two leagues is definitely inhibiting development of the most elite players, and there is no solution in sight for getting the best players and clubs in the same environments anytime soon. This would solve that problem overnight.
  • The Boys DA has become more a story of Major League Soccer run, cost-free academies; and then the best of the rest for years. While the top boys’ talent plays in the DA if there’s a club near their homes, every year U.S. Soccer makes some type of adjustments to the competition structure and schedule. And MLS clubs have long been rumored to be on the verge of staging a break-a-away league all their own anyway.
  • Cost – U.S. Soccer spends around $9 Million on the DA’s per year, and gets little but grief for most of their investments. With an all new management team at the top of the Federation, and the very real likelihood of an 8-figure financial settlement on the way with the U.S. Women’s National Team, cutting bait now would remove a lot of distractions and sure up what may become much-needed cash in the coming years, before the expected windfalls of the 2026 World Cup.
  • Equality – Reference the issues with the Girls DA lagging far behind the boys’ version in their efforts to consolidate talent. These are modern times, and U.S. Soccer has struggled greatly in the court of public opinion over their treatment of the women’s game. I cannot imagine a world where U.S. Soccer could shut down the Girls DA and not do the same with the Boys. It has to be all or nothing if it’s indeed happening.

If U.S. Soccer is indeed planning this shutdown at any time in the next few years, it makes complete sense to jump at this “opportunity” to do so when the rest of the playing season is already unlikely to be possible. Announcing a shutdown now would give clubs and players five months to get all their teams, rosters and memberships in new leagues squared away without the annual free-for-all in players and team movement each May and June.

Imagine a world where U.S. Soccer waited until after the National Finals in July to announce a closure of the leagues. By July, nearly all of the following season’s rosters are set for next year.

Announcing the end anytime before the current competition year concluded would cause chaos among the families and clubs involved right in the final stretch. It would be hard to get teams to show up with full rosters at the final rounds of “away” league games, let alone get on airplanes for playoffs, once their hearts and minds are looking to the future.

HOWEVER, they should not announce anything until they have a LOT of answers, and have coordinated with leadership at their member clubs. Hopefully, if this is happening, they will have arranged agreements with other leagues like ECNL or experienced operators of large leagues like USL to immediately offer a similar format and open doors to membership for all the clubs that want it.

All in all, if U.S. Soccer was going to do this at all in the next few years, the timing will never be better.


[UPDATE: The 2nd paragraph of this article has been updated to reflect information received late Friday night.

The original version of the 2nd paragraph read: There is much confusion and no official word as of this writing from U.S. Soccer, while requests for confirmation or comment have so far gone unanswered. SoccerWire has also tried to reach multiple people who would likely be in the loop on such things, but the closest we could get was some feedback that the idea of terminating the league has been mentioned as a possibility at some point in the future.]

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