MLS Unveils New Youth Development Plan After U.S. Soccer Shutters Academy Program

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Sixty-five former U.S. Soccer Development Academy teams will join Major League Soccer’s elite player development program.

The federation’s development academy was disbanded April 15 amid financial difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic, leaving some 200 youth teams nationwide with an uncertain future. Launched in 2007, the USSF academy had included competitions in five age groups.

The new program will include teams from all 26 current MLS franchises, the four planned expansion clubs, five USL teams and 60 nonprofessional clubs, and involve some 8,000 players, according to details provided Wednesday by MLS, which had previously said it would fill the void left by the shuttering of the federation academy.

Todd Durbin, MLS executive vice president of competition and player relations, said it made sense for the league to jump into the fray quickly because it already had a player development structure in place.

“We realized, No. 1, that we needed a competition for our teams to participate in. And, No. 2, that it wasn’t just our teams that were affected, but it was a whole bunch of other teams and kids and families that were affected as well. We decided that in this crazy time that it made sense for us to just step forward and take a leadership role,” he said.

Member clubs will collaborate on the competition format and league structure for the year-round program aimed at developing elite players in the United States and Canada. The league is expected to include under-13, -14, -15, -17 and -19 age groups.

That collaboration is the key moving forward, Durbin said.

“We really have a moment right now that I really think is unique in history,” he said. “I give enormous credit to all of the clubs, that they decided to take this step, and for them to take the risk and to trust that this is going to work. They’ve put a lot of trust in this process. And it’s up to all of us to deliver on that.”

Timing for the start of play remains uncertain because of the pandemic.

MLS launched its club academy initiative in 2007. All the league’s teams participated in U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy.