It is official. US Soccer has shut down the US Soccer Development Academy effective immediately. This is officially due to "...extraordinary and unexpected circumstances around the COVID-19 pandemic...” but SoccerWire and other news outlets suggest that there is more to the story.
Rumors, articles, social media, and blog posts have been circulating for days. Let's talk about it.
Rumor is Confirmed
On April 11th, 2020, SoccerWire carried an article titled: "Opinion: COVID-19 provides US Soccer opportunity to shut down Development Academy." This hit my Twitter feed first, and as you know, I almost reported it to you in Episode 124, but I held it back because at that stage it was still a rumor. I couldn't find any solid evidence that this was definitely going to happen and didn't want to use this show to spread rumors. We talked instead about being critical about the news we're seeing today.
It's no longer a rumor. One hour after I published Episode 124, US Soccer announced that it was closing the US Soccer Development Academy for good. The reason they cited in the letter they released was "...extraordinary and unexpected circumstances around the COVID-19 pandemic...”
I've been around too long to believe the publicly released reasons for just about anything of significance going on are the whole story. There is always more to things than the public story. So I started to dig in.
Contributing factors to closing the US Soccer Development Academy
The SoccerWire article lists four potential reasons for shutting down the US Soccer Development Academy (DA). I've listed them here for your convenience, but be sure to read the full article for the rest of the story and context.
- 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.
The 2019 Split
On August 9th, 2019, USSoccerplayers.com reported in an article titled "US SOCCER ADDS ANOTHER ISSUE WITH DEVELOPMENT ACADEMY SPLIT" that the USSF was splitting the DA into two tiers: a red upper tier and a blue lower tier, and resulting in 44 teams being demoted. The move was described as a way to even out an otherwise uneven playing field in which some DA teams were getting crushed and others were dominating. This split caused a lot of stress throughout the system, but what's also interesting is the use of the word "another" in the title. Previous issues were already on the soccer community's radar. This split was seen by USSoccerPlayers.com author, Charles Boehm, as another in a series of issues plaguing the DA and USSF relationship.
It seems clear that the DA was struggling before COVID-19, not only for the reasons listed above, but an article written in Soccer America on August 8, 2019 titled "The DA's new tiered format: The stigma of relegation without a clear path for promotion" suggests that there was growing tension between the DA and the USSF. Specific issues surfaced in that article include:
- fear of retribution for being critical of USSF (see Crossfire argument over solidarity payments for Andre Yedlin)
- unfair treatment of teams during the 2019 split
- effective relegation without clear criteria for that relegation
- No clear path for the relegated teams to get into the upper or Red tier
- a perception of favoritism towards MLS clubs over amateur clubs
Without reading you the full list of issues called out in these articles, it seems clear that a lack of trust and poor communication was affecting this relationship long before COVID-19 made the scene.
Going forward for former players and coaches of the US Soccer Development Academy
Less than 24 hours after the announcement there isn't any clear guidance that I could find that will help former DA players and coaches in the future. There was a letter published by US Youth Soccer two hours after the DA Closure announcement that suggests that former DA players and coaches will be welcome in US Youth Soccer (see letter below), but uncertainty for DA clubs, players, and coaches is a likely concern for everyone.
Other options will include a move to ECNL or possibly to USL. In all three cases, logistics would need to be worked out. US Youth Soccer, in their letter below, seems to be opening the door to talks early.
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- FIFA.com. “Who We Are - News - FIFA and USSF Unite to Identify New Talents.” Www.fifa.com, FIFA.com, 28 Aug. 2018, www.fifa.com/who-we-are/news/fifa-and-ussf-unite-to-identify-new-talents.
- Boehm, Charles. “US Soccer Adds Another Issue with Development Academy Split.” US Soccer Players, 9 Aug. 2019, ussoccerplayers.com/2019/08/us-soccer-adds-another-issue-with-development-academy-split.html.
- Woitalla, Mike. “The DA's New Tiered Format: The Stigma of Relegation without a Clear Path for Promotion.” Soccer America, 8 Aug. 2019, www.socceramerica.com/publications/article/83223/the-das-new-tiered-format-the-stigma-of-relegati.html.
- Wilson, Will, et al. “A Letter to Development Academy Clubs.” Home - U.S. Soccer, 15 Apr. 2020, www.ussoccer.com/stories/2020/04/a-letter-to-development-academy-clubs.
- Hummer, Chris. “COVID-19 Provides Opportunity for U.S. Soccer to Shut down DA.” SoccerWire, 11 Apr. 2020, www.soccerwire.com/resources/opinion-covid-19-provides-opportunity-for-u-s-soccer-to-shut-down-development-academy/.
- Casteel, Quinn. “REPORT: U.S. Soccer to Permanently Close Entire Development Academy.” SoccerWire, 15 Apr. 2020, www.soccerwire.com/news/report-u-s-soccer-to-permanently-close-entire-development-academy/.
- “Financial Information.” Home - U.S. Soccer, www.ussoccer.com/governance/financial-information.
- Scavuzzo, Diane. “U.S. SOCCER DEVELOPMENT ACADEMY CLOSES. IT'S OFFICIAL • SoccerToday.” SoccerToday, 15 Apr. 2020, www.soccertoday.com/u-s-soccer-development-academy-to-close/.
- Carlisle, Jeff. “MLS Promotion, Relegation Would Make League More Competitive - Yedlin.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 9 Dec. 2018, www.espn.com/soccer/major-league-soccer/story/4085659/mls-promotionrelegation-would-make-league-more-competitive-yedlin.