The great thing about youth and high school sports, especially when it comes to being a sportswriter, is the privilege of seeing the special player who eventually goes on to the next level.
When I was in the dailies, I got to see a couple of players who got to play in the NFL, a future NBA player, a National Lacrosse Hall-of-Famer, and more than a dozen players who eventually went onto one or another U.S. national field hockey team.
And whenever a youth player is good enough to make a senior national team, like swimmers Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky, field hockey players Katie O’Donnell and Katelyn Falgowski, or soccer players like Mallory Pugh, there’s more attention paid to the games by local papers, and there is hometown coverage during a world event like an Olympics or World Cup.
That makes a proposed initiative by U.S. Soccer somewhat troubling.
There has been, for a decade, a development academy for elite boys’ soccer players. It has morphed from a single team into a league with nearly 80 teams nationwide. It has a U-18 and U-16 division, and its teams have investors in Major League Soccer, a handful of minor-league U.S. sides, and worldwide names like Inter Milan, Celtic, and Chelsea.
A similar girls’ development academy league is being proposed to come into being by 2017. We don’t know the size or scope of the academy or league, but what we do know, according to a U.S. Soccer press release, is this:
The players in the Girls’ Development Academy clubs will play exclusively within the Academy program and will not play in any outside competition, such as ODP or high school.
On the boys’ side of soccer in the United States, the dynamics of player development have changed tremendously since a 17-year-old John O’Brien joined the Ajax youth development academy in 1994. There have been teenagers joining Major League Soccer right out of high school, such as Eddie Gaven and Freddy Adu. And many NCAA teams have found their rosters raided annually through the MLS SuperDraft.
Given the emphasis on the NCAA for player development in the United States, I wonder if a girls’ development academy league will upset the player development apparatus, especially if the next Mallory Pugh decides to go from the developmental league to a European club, skipping college, like Lindsay Horan.
For those looking to see the next Heather O’Reilly or Carli Lloyd at the high-school level, you might have to look elsewhere in a couple of years.