On April 15, the United States Soccer Federation announced that the U.S. Soccer Development Academy was shutting down, leaving hundreds of teams and thousands of players confused and wondering what league they would be playing in next season.
Shortly after the USSF announcement though, Major League Soccer stepped into the void and announced plans to work with club academies and non-MLS clubs alike to create a new competition platform. Early this week, details were revealed, as the league announced that 65 former U.S. Soccer Development Academy clubs would join the League’s existing club academies in Major League Soccer’s elite player development platform.
As a veteran in the youth soccer community and as a coach who is passionate about youth development, Dynamo Academy Director Paul Holocher was excited about the opportunity to join the League’s new platform.
“We are incredibly excited about the formation of the new MLS elite player development platform for our Houston Dynamo Academy players, along with other elite players in our city and country,” Holocher said following that announcement. “The MLS leadership, along with many like-minded clubs, have stepped up in a fantastic way during these unprecedented times to begin genuine collaboration through a special combination of education, innovation, and competition which has the potential to develop a globally respected league for our future generations.”
Building on that news, this morning Major League Soccer has again provided another opportunity to the youth soccer landscape, this time announcing their partnership with the United States Youth Soccer Association (USYS). The partnership hopes to improve steps in player identification and monitoring, coaching and scouting education, competition, and fan engagement, which Holocher sees as another step in the right direction.
“The MLS and USYS, in the spirit of collaboration, have taken the lead to bridge gaps for young players from throughout our country to help reach their potentials,” Holocher explained. “By helping provide resources and opportunities, young players from all 55 State Associations have the opportunity to be exposed to the higher levels of the game. Our country is massive in size and diversity, and we need to make that a strength, not a weakness, and this is one action towards that.”
The identification of promising young players remains a key initiative for youth soccer in the United States, and this new partnership hopes to enhance that focus by introducing a regional competition platform to provide talented athletes with an opportunity to participate in regional competitions attended by professional club scouts.
“This is going to help everyone,” Holocher stated. “If there is a kid from a small area, like Corpus Christi or Laredo for example, there is now possibly a mechanism that helps them go to ODP or these regional events that puts them in the view of professional academy scouts.”
Perhaps one of the most noticeable signs of commitment from Major League Soccer to this partnership, the League also announced that it would be absorbing all expenses for players of select age levels that attend and participate in the regional competitions. As someone who has seen various levels of the talented youth landscape that this country has to offer, Holocher understands the importance an opportunity like this could give a young player and can’t wait to see the fruits that this initiative will bear.
“Having been both a State and Regional ODP coach for many years myself, I know the great value of the ODP program for young players,” Holocher said. “As we have evolved as a country, and as the MLS has grown, the ODP platform has needed a good partner in development. Additionally, the education into the grassroots and into under-developed areas of our country is very important, and this collaboration is a fantastic opportunity to work together, develop, and grow the game.”