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USL Increasing Its Impact on Player Development



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In a recent interview, and sat down with Brian D'Amico, Senior Director of Youth League Development for the USL at the 2011 NSCAA Convention.  Brian discussed the future of the USL, the impact of the academy structure and its role in player development for soccer in the United States.

Current state of the USL – is the USL's approach to the club model for USL PRO clubs develop down to the youth age groups OR begin with the Super Y-League and build upwards?

"Mixed bag – between the Y-League and our Super-20 league, what we see the majority of the time is teams starting with Y-League during the summer months. Essentially it is the best players from around the area playing.  The clubs realize the value in that. Usually teams start with that their first year.  Then they see the importance of the Super-20 league, which is obviously players coming back from college.  They do not want players coming back [from college] and going to another program with a Super-20 team.  

It tends to start more with the PDL and W-League, coming down. The Super-20s for them is essentially a reserve team.  Those players can move back and forth per NCAA rules. Real Maryland, for example, a USL PRO side have that complete model to move players through their system."

What is the advantage of the U-20 league versus the PDL league?

"The U-20 league fills the niche.  If you have a 16 or 17 year old that absolutely dominates the Y-League  a very strong player may not be ready to make the jump to PDL – developmentally, emotionally.  Some players in PDL play in the U-20 league as well.   I would not say it is a backup league.  It allows them to train them within their staff.  It gives them an outlet for clubs to play each other. There is no other degree of the Super-20 league out there."

Early on there was a negative reaction to the Super Y-League.  What has changed to get the support of clubs in the past 5 years?  

"The academies are at U-15, 16, 17 and 18s.  [Super Y] complements the academy program.  We have added U-12s this year, in addition to U-13s, U-14s and even U-15s serve as a complement to the academy program.  It does allow the academy program to expand their player pool.  It gives them that exposure for the academy program.  

We have added 24 clubs for this coming year.  We doubled the amount of college scouts at our Super Y-League North American Finals.  Everything is being stepped up a notch.  Clubs are realizing it is a good outlet to get their players noticed, providing PR assistance to their club from a marketing standpoint and expand at the national scene versus more of a regional model."

You mentioned there is a regional model, but how do you can compete with the US Youth Soccer Region leagues?

"Clubs want to use players within their own system to begin with. Every club is given a primary facility and location, but that does not mean they cannot pull players from other clubs.  Essentially some clubs are pulling the best players from other clubs.  It pulls teams and clubs together to put the best teams out there.  It essentially serves as an all star team of teams made up in the area.  It is something we seeing especially in the mid-atlantic division.  

[Super Y] is something that is conitnuing to grow.  This coming year we are over 550 teams and over 100 clubs."

What are you thoughts on what the Whitecaps are doing in terms of progression with the youth model?  

“The main model we use is the Chicago Fire. Their Y-League operates directly out of Chicago. Chicago Fire Juniors has satellite clubs across the county. They utilize the Y-League. They also have the U-20s; that is where the Super-20 finals were, hosted by the Fire. That completes the pyramid. We do not have a formal relationship with the MLS. It is an informal relationship.”

Two teams with the same players.  Does that create an issue?

"We look at geographic location.  We do not want to put two Super Y clubs on top of each other.  It is going to dilute your player pool.  You have two club models – the club that competes year round or the club that competes in Super Y – a summer program.  

The ideal situation is that everything stays within the club.  One of the things we promote is player development and the training aspect.  Having games and no training does nothing for the player development aspect."

What are your thoughts on American youth clubs partnering with European clubs?

"For example, North Virginia has partnered with West Ham.

You have the training aspect.  They bring their trainers over to train the kids so they get that exposure.  It allows them to go over there and train.  It brings a different flavor to their style that other teams [will not get].   The addition to seeing players over there and what level they are at.  Some clubs allow them to send players to West Ham, for example."

What are your thoughts on high school and college soccer?  

"Once the [Super Y-league] season concludes which is generally around September or October – it varies by division – you have Florida who starts  high schol in November and runs through out the first of the [new] year and then you have Midwest/New England who is finishing up in November.  Completely depending on division, those teams who qualify for North American finals.  Clubs that do go year around and do not high school – it is a growing trend."

How is the USL ODP program different from the US Youth Soccer ODP program?

"There are quite a few identification processes out there.  The USL program is not on an open basis – any player that participates in the Super Y-League program is eligible to be in Super Y-League ODP.  

it is another method of scouting purposes for [players], not only for national teams but for colleges.  We bring in college coaches for the ODP camp.  It is another outlet for them.  The options are out there and this is definitely a viable option."

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