Project 2010 Look Back: Part II, National Youth Structure
In our ongoing look back at Project 2010 as we enter 2010, this seemed an appropriate time to look back at Carlos Quieroz’s recommendations regarding the structure of club soccer in the United States. Given the labor troubles brewing in the top flight MLS, the possible complete collapse of USL-1 (which was called the USL A-League in 1999/99 when this report was written), as well as the addition of a new league, the NASL with several former A-League clubs this seemed like the best time to review these recommendations.
The following excerpt is from the Q-Report which was submitted to the USSF in 1998. The US Soccer Federation must be applauded for taking the initiative to have this report printed, but many of its core recommendations were never acted upon, or were implemented too late to positively affect the 2010 World Cup cycle. However, some of the changes the USSF has made in recent years will positively affect the 2014 and 2018 cycles.
The Umbrella Concept
• The object of the umbrella concept is to organize the entire base system (clubs and other organizations). Web-Families, on top of which are placed the professional soccerclubs, to act as the spider of the system.
• Considering that some states in the nation do not have clubs of professional soccer (MLS, A- League, Youth Super Clubs), we would utilize the academies or the Community Program to substitute the spider in some locations.
• The Federation, professional leagues and the soccer foundation would be from one side partners and founders of all the families. Private sponsors would be specific partners of different families.
• The entire identification and development system of talent for one specific family would be under the autonomous responsibility of their organization.
• Free market and aggressive competition. With all the spider they would have the right to allocate the number of talents defined by age groups (U20, U18, U16, U14, U12).
• The status of the Spider Club would be obtained from the 2010 Steering Commission after they meet all of the requirements in advance as previously stated by the guidelines.
ä Number of training sessions—coaches—technical qualification
ä Number of players
ä Organization and System
France, the country that won the World Cup in 1998, decided through its federation 20 years ago that all professional clubs were required to have a special structure to educate and prepare professional soccer players. While soccer in the United States may not be ready to take this giant step in near term, it is incumbent on U.S. Soccer to help the professional clubs so that — as soon as possible — the pro clubs will be ready to fill this role.
Thoughts on this structure
The umbrella concept has only been partially integrated into the US Soccer setup more than ten years after this report was submitted. In some cases, professional clubs act in a traditional American pro sports franchise model without the infrastructure or partnerships on the youth or amateur level to replicate the football culture elsewhere in the world.
In other cases, MLS and USL clubs have been establishing the right partnerships but independently and autonomously without any real direction from the respective league offices or the Federation itself.
The US Soccer Development Academy program which started a few years back was a critical step forward. This new structure superseded the USL Super Y League as the top youth structure nationally. This to me was a sign that the USSF was still serious about some of the recommendations of Project 2010, but had simply been coming around to its implementation several years later than anticipated.
The USSF structure though, is not truly national in scope. Its focus thus far is around large concentrations of youth players: California, the Pacific Northwest, Southern Florida, New Jersey, the DC Metro area, Chicagoland and most recently Texas. Perhaps this changes going forward, as it must.
Many areas with good youth teams and strong youth programs have been left out of the Development Academy program and remain in the USL Super Y structure. (Most notable here from my vantage point are the states of Arizona and New Mexico) Some of these teams were on display in Tampa this past weekend at the Super Y finals. In some cases, most notably Florida’s Schulz Academy which produced Jozy Altidore, a program has left the USSF and rejoined Super Y.
But most of the movement is in the other direction, with MLS Clubs, USL sides Miami FC, and Richmond Kickers, as well as several European club run academies, playing integral parts in the development of the USSF Academy structure. For example, Derby County’s Michigan based academy club won the USSF Development Academy championship for U15/U16 boys this past year.
While this umbrella has begun to be implemented, we still see a lack of coordination among the levels and especially with MLS clubs the inability to sign players that are developed on the Academy level.
Incentives have not been provided to professional clubs to invest as heavily in this structure as they should, and worse yet the professional leagues, particularly MLS have shown less and less of an interest in player development through the years.
Rather than allowing a young player to develop let’s say in the New York Red Bulls Academy system, playing for the U 15/16 boys (part of the USSF Academy setup) and then Super 20 (part of USL), before signing a senior professional contract with Red Bull, the system would take Red Bulls product and give other MLS teams and colleges a better chance of securing his services. So in fact, the established system in the rest of the world which secures a player’s future and allows for minimum disruption is not followed in the United States, even to this day.
Ives Galarcep, and our own Daniel Feuerstein among others has documented well the plight of some Red Bull Academy graduates and youth team members whom the club wanted to sign. Yes, the system is changing and perhaps this will be a major change in the new CBA agreement, but the bottom line is we’ve lost several years of incentivized potential because of the strange rules of MLS which seem to discourage an emphasis on player development at the youth level.
By allowing foreign clubs to buy into the US professional club system (Red Bull and Chivas in MLS, Stoke City and Crystal Place in USL), the USSF, MLS and USL are in fact smartly permitting an international club setup to develop. But the problem with this remains MLS’ rules and the continued dysfunctional nature of the relationship between USL and its club sides.
Progress has no doubt been made, and this structure looks like it is being built. But given that these recommendations were made in 1998 to be fully effective by 2010, we are in fact several years behind schedule. The lack of cooperation between MLS, USL, and several youth bodies as well as the player contract/allocation rules of MLS have made it difficult to build this structure as quickly and effectively as the USSF may have liked over ten years ago.