The U.S. Soccer Federation announced Friday that the U.S. Development Academy, the top level of youth soccer, will be extended to a 10-month season from seven and not allow players to compete for high school programs. Officials say the changes are necessary to develop players of a higher caliber and move forward the growth of the sport.
“If we want our players to someday compete against the best in the world, it is critical for their development that they train and play as much as possible and in the right environment,” U.S. national team coach Juergen Klinsmann said in a statement released by the USSF.
“The Development Academy 10-month season is the right formula and provides a good balance between training time and playing competitive matches. This is the model that the best countries around the world use for their programs, and I think it makes perfect sense that we do as well.”
The move to a 10-month schedule had already come in some pockets of the country: Southern California, Texas and the Pacific Northwest, and was chronicled in The Post last May.
The change will only affect a small percentage of D.C. area players, though they are among the most elite. Area academy team pools include about 50 players across age groups, meaning the rule changes would impact about 150 players locally. The USSF said the new schedule will impact only 1 percent of high school players nationally.
Players who attend private schools, such as DeMatha and Gonzaga, in order to play soccer will likely feel the biggest impact.
“Going to a 10-month season is an important step in the evolution of elite player development,” USSF youth technical director Claudio Reyna said. “The format provides the ideal platform to place an increased emphasis on the value of training on a regular basis, and offers the opportunity to play in quality, competitive games throughout an extended season. This schedule puts our elite players in line with kids in their age group internationally, and places the appropriate physical demands at this stage in their development.”
The changeover has created much debate in U.S. soccer circles, with some coaches saying it is a necessary change and others, including University of Maryland Coach Sasho Cirovski, arguing that the academy can function alongside high school and was initially designed to do just that.
Cirovski said he attended the MLS draft and heard “something like six of the first seven picks” thank their high school coach along with club or college influences.
“I think the ultimate choice should come down to the player,” Cirovski said. “I think there’s certainly value in going 10 months and playing academy, but there’s also tremendous value in kids having the high school experience. And I think the ultimate decision should rest with the player and I think there’s still a win-win scenario.”
In an email sent to Potomac Academy and pre-Academy players and parents and obtained by The Post, Potomac director of academy programs Kris Hazard outlined the move to a 10-month schedule.
“U.S. Soccer understands the concerns and disappointment in not being allowed to participate in high school soccer as well as the financial challenges clubs face with the additional expenses and logistics that the expanded season would present,” Hazard wrote. “However, in light of these concerns and challenges, US Soccer feels that this programming and environment offers more emphasis on player development by providing meaningful competition and consistent, focused training as a team.”
In the e-mail, Hazard said that Potomac would consider its options for the 2012 season.
D.C. United will participate in the new 10-month schedule.
“We’ve made a lot of strides forward with the Development Academy since 2007 when we began this new approach to developing our best young talent,” United President Kevin Payne said. “The move to a 10-month season and the focus on an increasing number of high-quality training days for our players is a logical next step and an important one which we believe will bear fruit for us in the future.”