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USSF announces first 25 teams in Girls’ Development Academy

For now the DA will exist alongside ECNL and high school teams

US Soccer announced a few months back that they would be starting a girls’ development academy to go with their boys’ DA, and announced today the first 25 teams that would be participating.

  • Beach SC (Calif.)
  • Boston Breakers (Mass.)
  • CASL (N.C.)
  • Cincinnati Development Academy (Kings Hammer/CUP) (Ohio)
  • Colorado Rush (Colo.)
  • Concorde Fire (Ga.)
  • Crossfire (Wash.)
  • De Anza Force (Calif.)
  • FC Dallas (Texas)
  • LAFC Slammers (Calif.)
  • Lamorinda (Calif.)
  • Michigan Hawks (Mich.)
  • Mustang (Calif.)
  • Tophat NTH (Ga.)
  • Orlando Pride (Fla.)
  • Penn Fusion SA (Penn.)
  • Portland Thorns (Ore.)
  • Real Colorado (Colo.)
  • San Diego Surf (Calif.)
  • Seattle Reign (Wash.)
  • Sky Blue - PDA (N.J.)
  • So Cal Blues (Calif.)
  • Sockers FC (Ill.)
  • Solar Chelsea SC (Texas)
  • Washington Spirit Academy (Md.)

You can see that among those 25 are six NWSL teams: Boston, Orlando, Portland, Seattle, Sky Blue, and Washington.

However, it’s not certain that all 25 clubs have accepted the invitation to join the DA.

The official criteria for selection according to US Soccer are as follows:

  • Leadership of the club and quality of the coaching staff
  • Desire to embrace and promote the core values of the program
  • U.S. Soccer license levels of coaching staff
  • Infrastructure of the club and the resources currently being invested in development (facilities, scholarships, staff to player ratio, etc.)
  • History of player production for Youth National Teams, the senior Women’s National Teams, and professional leagues
  • Market and depth of the player pool, geographic location and travel implications, and proximity to other elite clubs

The Girls’ DA will combine age groups for U14/U15, U16/U17, and U18/U19 and will encourage players to play up a level based on talent. DA players will not be allowed to play high school soccer and will instead focus on their DA teams, with whom they will be required to practice at least four times per week. Their games will also follow FIFA match rules, for example not allowing re-entry after substitution.

One of the key points for the DA is that US Soccer subsidizes many of the costs, including scholarships for travel fees. According to their FAQ, “There are no referee fees for league games, showcases or playoffs. Clubs are not charged any event or showcase fees to attend. In addition, Clubs are provided with Nike Balls for training and games and receive Powerade coolers and beverages among other corporate partner benefits.” Theoretically, players from disadvantaged backgrounds should be better able to afford to play and have more regular exposure to USSF scouts.

The flip side of this situation is that USSF’s DA is looking to enter a landscape previously dominated by Elite Clubs National League, or ECNL, which seemed to be doing pretty well at providing high-level coaching and preparing players for, at the very least, college play. It also discounts the high school system by forcing players to choose, especially when many player derive a lot of social value from playing for a high school team with friends and schoolmates. USSF’s response to this has essentially been that the DA is for more “committed” players who are serious about playing in the NCAA system or at the professional level.

Of course there are rebuttals to the idea that young, technical and tactically aware players don’t come out of high school soccer, Mallory Pugh being a prime example. Perhaps a girls’ DA would produce more Mallory Pughs with more regularity. Time will tell.

There’s also the premise that the DA will more effectively funnel players towards the pro level. The odds of going from the NCAA to NWSL, or any other women’s pro league in the world, are incredibly slim, which makes using the increased likelihood of making it as a pro a rather flimsy plank in the reasoning for a DA. There are other, better reasons for a DA than getting a player to the pros.

On the whole it seems like there are a lot of factors balancing against the arguments for letting players stick with whatever mix of ECNL and high school they like, chief among them the subsidized costs. Pay-to-play has made elite youth soccer in this country an extremely expensive endeavor and if a competitive model emerges that drives prices lower, perhaps that’s not the worst thing in the world.