D.C United Academy Coach Tom Torres, a former high school coach at Westfield, believes what may make the transition from a seven- to 10-month season more difficult in this area is the impact on private schools like DeMatha, which recruit many of the area’s top players.
The change to a mandate would affect only a small percentage of the area’s players, though they are among the most elite. Academy pools include 45 to 50 players across age groups, meaning the rule changes would impact about 150 players from the area. Even if the change is made, players will still have the option of playing for non-Academy club teams.
Some of the area's most talented soccer players talk about the choices they make between playing for their club, academy or high school teams.
“For D.C. United it’s an issue we wrestle with every year,” Kasper said. “We’re getting kids who are missing practices, getting kids who are forced with choices. . . . We’re not getting half the time [European clubs] are to develop these players. And it’s a challenge.”
One thing few debate is that the Academy is a major step forward in the development and identification of higher-level players for MLS and the U.S. national team.
D.C. United started three former Academy players — Andy Najar, Bill Hamid and Ethan White — in several games this season, and has signed a fourth, Conor Shanosky.
MLS teams have signed 26 Academy products since its inception, and Lepore said that more than 30 others are now playing professionally in Mexico or overseas.
The model more closely resembles the European system and fast tracks promising young prospects into the professional environment and national team pool. D.C. United has specifically studied the system of famed Dutch club Ajax, which is widely considered as the standard in elite youth development.
Previously the U.S. system has had one residential academy in Bradenton, Fla., for the elite young players who had been identified.
“Our system is developing good players but we’re not developing enough good players and enough international stars,” Kasper said. “Talking about players who can go into Spain, who can go into the top clubs in England and be a star. We don’t have any players like that. We have players that can do well and have successful careers in Europe, but a nation as big as the United States, as advanced as we are, we’re still behind in world soccer.”