MLS has grown its elite youth development platform beyond belief
The MLS Elite Youth Development Platform has shot up in membership during its first four months of planning. The replacement for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy abolished in April, is now on pace to pass the 20,000-player population of the 13-year-old U.S. Soccer youth organization within a year.
The new youth program will quickly outpace the defunct academy. MLS immediately stepped up when U.S. Soccer closed the academy in April, after scrapping the current schedule in its 13th year. Since the boys’ program started in 2007, adding a girls’ wing in 2017, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy grew to more than 20,000 players in five age groups on about 200 teams.
That all ended April 15, 2020. But they immediately announced the league was ready and willing to step in. In under a month, a firm plan involving 26 franchises plus four expansion clubs, five USL teams, and 60 nonprofessional clubs would account for 8,000 players.
MLS knows what it will take to have the next young generation of soccer stars
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The federation blamed abandonment of the development academy on severe staff and budget slashing caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, MLS pledged to find those players needing competition and development and ensure they’re not left wanting. So the plan has remained open-ended.
Now in August, MLS announced it would account for a total of 11,000 players in six age groups. The nonprofessional groups signed now number 78. That means MLS in only four months is better than halfway to the number of youth served after 13 years of the Development Academy.
With a mission more ambitious than the Development Academy, the latest plateau reached by organizers months into its life isn’t the last word, assures Fred Lipka, Vice President and Technical Director of MLS Player Development.
He said the August announcement covered the first wave of new club expansion. The league continues to seek clubs ready for year-round competition, player identification initiatives, coaching education, and premier player development.
The only thing on the back-burner has been completing the program’s official brand. In one of the next Elite Youth Development Platform waves, MLS will introduce stepping up competition with an international tournament involving Mexico’s Liga MX Juniors.
CONCACAF has a youth edition of their Champions League for U-13 boys. FC Dallas President Dan Hunt said his organization sends a U-17 squad to the Liga MX Internacional and has the most appearances there by an MLS club. The international competition is so important that usually LA Galaxy, Toronto FC, and Atlanta United FC also send players. They face teams such as Club America, Chavas, Pachuca, and Atlas.
The ultimate result will be that soccer becomes the pillar of American society that supporters also hoped. With the youth explosion that MLS is creating, this will happen sooner than anyone thought.