The elusive puzzle of how to best implement a youth development program in the US has taken several forms. The first formal US youth residency program was established in 1999 with the goal of creating a pipeline of young players to the senior Men’s National Team in order to seriously compete to win the World Cup in 2010. That plan, called Project 2010, instituted the first US development residency program in Bradenton, Florida. Of course it failed to train players to come close to winning the World Cup in 2010, but led to the creation of the Generation Adidas program and the Youth Development Academy system which are both in place today.
US Soccer announced today that the residency program will complete its final semester this year after starting 18 years ago. In 2007, the program shifted focus from the goals of Project 2010 to establish the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. That initiative replicated the set up of the the residency program in an initial 63 youth clubs and has since grown to 150 clubs. The goals of the program have been met according to US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati who said, “One of our main hopes when establishing the U.S. Soccer Residency Program was that at some point advancements in youth player development would make its existence no longer necessary--we believe that point has been reached.”
In 10 years the 63 teams that started the Development Academy system has grown to 150 clubs with more than 10,000 registered players. While the US has not yet won a World Cup, the program has contributed to the senior MNT with 89 percent of its players over the years coming from Academy clubs. The Residency Program itself provided 33 players who were capped by the senior team.
While the program did not lead to the US to competing to win the World Cup in 2010, it did lead to the U-17 squad earning a place in the semi-finals of the 2007 U-17 World Cup and coming in 4th place in that competition. That class included future USMNT stars Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, and Kyle Beckerman.
U-17 Men’s National Team head coach John Hackworth sees the move as a positive saying, “The end of the Residency Program signals the next step in the evolution of player development in this country.” The conclusion of the residency program signals that the Development Academy system has reached maturity and can continue to develop future professional and senior National Team players in the future. The system has created thriving youth academies that compete at a high level and will continue to improve into the future.
The decision to conclude the U.S. Soccer Residency Program throws into sharp focus the evolution of the country’s youth system. Adding almost 90 additional youth clubs to the Development Academy network shows the growth of the US Soccer development plan. The next step is to evaluate the talent in the country and ensure that players who deserve the opportunity to play at a higher level get that chance. While the senior US team has struggled in this round of World Cup qualifying, ensuring that youth teams play at a high level will be an important step to eventually winning the World Cup.