TopOfTheCircle.com

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May 18, 2017 — The start of what could become a two-track system

This past week, Mallory Pugh, the 19-year-old wunderkind of the U.S. women’s Olympic soccer team, decided to forego her collegiate eligibility at UCLA and play professionally for the Washington Spirit of the NWSL.

It’s something that is done all the time on the men’s side of the equation, where players like Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Bobby Convey, Freddy Adu, John O’Brien, and Jozy Altidore have turned professional without a sniff of a high-school or collegiate team.

But what has been happening is that U.S. Soccer has developed its own league, running outside the realm of what some might see is the expected road to the pros. The U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy is a nationwide league of 149 boys’ teams that started 10 years ago.

And the DA’s expected girls’ league of 74 teams could also alter the way that talented female soccer players play their way into the elite pool for the national team. Depending on word of mouth, or opportunity, or dumb luck, it will be, I think, difficult for a player choosing to play for a school team then to go to an NCAA college to get the same opportunities that athletes from the DA will have to either join the national team or to turn professional someday.

Of course, a lot of this has to do with the fervor by which MLS and NWSL teams are partnerning to form teams in the Development Academy. New York City FC, the Washington Spirit, and Sky Blue FC are amongst the partners thus far pulling together coaching staffs and other resources for the upcoming 10-month Development Academy season (yep, 10 months).

It’s going to take a while to see whether the DA is able to turn out ready-made pros like Pugh and Lindsey Horan, who left North Carolina to join Paris-Saint Germain before her eligibility expired. But I think it will also be interesting to see if the college player — especially those who have been tutored by the Anson Dorrances and Jerry Smiths of the world may have a different kind of football intelligence from players on Academy sides.

Sure, they may be fitter, but I wonder what kinds of decisionmaking the DA players will make when playing in a big world tournament or in a professional league.

That will be an interesting study.

 

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