Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How Much Does It Cost To Buy The Best Youth Club in the U.S.?

Right now, that is the most important question among Academy Directors at MLS clubs across the country.
On Tuesday, Columbus Crew announced a groundbreaking move, that enables the MLS academy to partner with the Michigan Wolves, also known as the Derby County Wolves. The basic premise of the partnership is Columbus funds the Michigan club, and in return the Wolves players are now part of the Crew Home Grown list.*
The partnership with Derby County was set to expire in July and Wolves Director of Coaching Brian Doyle was actively searching for a new sponsor for the academy by January of this year. It wasn't bitterness or hostility that had the Wolves looking for a partner elsewhere, it was the fact that they had out-performed the current conditions of the partnership and wanted to look at something more enticing. Added to the fact Doyle was aware of how difficult it was for an American to qualify for a work permit in England, the partnership was unrealistic in the long-term.
When we spoke, he made it clear that unless an offer from a European club was jaw dropping, the new partnership would likely be with a local company. Since then, Columbus stepped in and took advantage of a new opportunity. **
No other club has had the foresight to actively engage in a partnership with another club outside the immediate proximity - say 100 miles in any given direction. Actually, that is not entirely true, other MLS clubs have established satellite clubs [RSL in Florida, Fire in Mississippi, etc.], but this will be the first with a pre-existing member of the Development Academy.
Granted, Philadelphia Union does something to this effect with multiple clubs, but those are all in the greater Philadelphia area. And while FC Delco is an impressive historic youth academy, it doesn’t have the same recent success as the Michigan Wolves [four national championships plus a handful of potential stars in the coming years at the international stage]. Perhaps, the Union’s tactics helped open the door for the Crew to explore this opportunity though?
One would have to believe that Columbus had to run this by the MLS offices before it began any serious discussion about the partnership. The greater Detroit area is an unmarked territory for MLS clubs, so that wouldn’t be a problem, but this still starts a precedent that many clubs will likely follow in the coming months/years.
For the motivated clubs [and there are motivated clubs in MLS that want to build their youth academies] this could be the start of the arm’s race. Columbus/Michigan Wolves put a price on success at the youth level. I have no idea what that figure is. And I doubt Columbus wants the financial implications of this move to be public at this point. The best I can do is guestimate.
I know that the estimated cost to run a program like the Michigan Wolves Academy [just U-16 and U-18] is between $20,000 - $50,000 per year. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Goal Scoring Streaks in the Development Academy

Inspired by a tweet by Albert Chia from Dallas Cup, here is a post on some of the players who are lighting up the Development Academy with their scoring recently.
Kekuta Manneh – Texas Rush U16
The Gambian youngster has eight goals in his last four games (excluding the FC Dallas game on Sunday). The hot-streak brings his total on the season to 27 goals in 17 starts. A very impressive number considering Soony Saad was the only player in the Development Academy to score that many goals last year. Texas Rush is tied for first in the Texas Division with three games remaining on the schedule.
Christian Thierjung – Irvine Strikers U16
The streaky winger has been the only player close to Manneh in the goal-scoring race recently with 9 goals in his last five games. Thierjung only had six goals in his previous 17 games prior to this crazy streak. The Strikers U16 team is 3 points back of the automatic playoff spot with six games remaining. They will depend on their talented winger to keep his hot streak alive and carry the Strikers into the playoffs.
Villyan Bijev – Cal Odyssey U18
The U.S. U18 forward is a natural born goal scorer. Last year, he had 18 goals in Development Academy play. This year, he is up to 18 already with a handful of game remaining on the schedule. [Bijev will miss a few of those games while on national team duty in Portugal.] He has 5 goals in his last 5 games. The hot streak has propelled Cal Odyssey to the top of the Northwest Division with three division games remaining.
Dylan Kelly – Real Salt Lake–Arizona U16
Kelly has scored in nine games in a row and brought his season total up to 19 goals in 18 games. The streak began in late February and has lasted into mid-May for the 16-year-old forward. Kelly has seven games left on the schedule to add to the tally and push the RSL residency program into the playoffs.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Nick Palodichuk plays for Portland Timbers?!

Nick Palodichuk, a member of the Seattle Sounders youth academy, contributed one assist (and one yellow card) in the Portland Timbers U23 6-0 win over Washington Crossfire in PDL action on Sunday.
Palodichuk has not played with the Sounders U18 team since December due to his early enrollment at Duke University for the spring semester that started in January.
His participation in the spring season for the Blue Devils men's soccer team made the Sounders Academy player ineligible for Development Academy play for the rest of the season. Development Academy rules prevent college players from playing in the league, a rule that was recently in the news when Pateadores were caught using two players who had already played at a junior college in California.
Palodichuk’s attachment to the Sounders organization is still under question as the player left the club before the one-year period was up required for home grown status. Sounders Academy Technical Director Darren Sawatzky was optimistic that Palodichuk would qualify for the status because the same coaching staff was with him when he was part of the Washington Premier Academy. As of March, MLS has yet to inform Seattle if Palodichuk would be eligible for a Home Grown contract.
The former U.S. U17 midfielder had his hand forced for where to play during the summer though, as the Sounders do not have a PDL franchise but their rivals to the south do. The Portland Timbers U23 team has been successful in recent years with the 2010 PDL National Championship to show for it. The squad is led by University of Washington forward Brent Richards who was one of the top scorers in the nation last year and opened his 2011 account with a hat trick against Crossfire. Playing for a PDL franchise attached to an MLS club has no effect on the player’s future draft eligibility.
Richards and Palodichuk return to their stomping grounds in Seattle this weekend to square off against local PDL franchise Kitsap Pumas.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Enigma No More – Development Academy Bids Adieu to High School Soccer

On Wednesday, U.S. Soccer announced that two more Development Academy Divisions, Texas and Northwest, would move to a 10-month schedule and eliminate high school soccer for those players. This comes on the heels of decision from the SoCal Division to cut off CIF [high school] and go to a one-game per weekend schedule over 10-months.
There was really no mystery behind these moves, U.S. Soccer and the clubs realized that while high school soccer was a great social activity for the players, there was no value for the development of players. It is a harsh reality for many to think that high school soccer is so meaningless, but club soccer for years has been at the forefront of collegiate scouting and high school soccer has been nothing more than bragging rights.
With three divisions moving to the 10-month schedule, likely others will follow as the quest to reach a level playing field with fellow Development Academies will push other regions to follow suit. The Liberty Division is a likely destination to also get rid of high school soccer. NYRB, in the past, has attempted to expedite studies so the academy players could graduate ahead of schedule and join the full team training. Ridding the players of the obligation to play with the school team will also improve their training.
The question now becomes how to view high school soccer beyond a novelty. Local papers are still going to treat the high school game like the big game in town because they are unaware that the best players are no longer on the high school team. Hence, the perception still may be greater than the product while the dust settles on this cultural change.
That said there are still plenty of players in this country and high school soccer is going to offer an opportunity for those players to gain exposure. The high school game remains more prominent in terms of media coverage, awards, and other distinctions despite the appeal of club soccer for future professional ambitions. Perhaps with a less crowded pool, some more talent will emerge through this avenue . . . that made just be wishful thinking though.
Development Academy, while developing an appeal in the online news spectrum, has yet to reach print media in any consistent form and the major online outlets are hesitant to dive into coverage at all.
It will take more than just taking players away from high school soccer to change that line of thinking, but the greater concern was amount of games and training – both of those will likely improve. The rest will hopefully follow suit in time.