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  • Daniel Kamenetzky


Updated: Jun 23, 2020


The future of soccer in the United States is dependent on the next player development strategy. Countries that lead in the world of soccer have clear and powerful models of talent selection and player development.

So far the process of soccer player development in the US is atomized, without progressive and scientific methodology, and lead by businessmen instead of professionals with formal scientific education. However, something started to change recently!

There is an unprecedented MLS involvement in youth development. First, hiring a few years ago a director of youth development, Fred Lipka, from France. And second when a few days ago MLS partnered with 95 youth organizations from different areas of the country.

MLS presented their newly launched enterprise in a confusing way: “Major League Soccer is deeply committed to developing world-class players through an élite competitive pathway, from our academy teams through the professional game.” In the picture above reads “Player Development. Major League Soccer launches new élite competition for youth academies.”

A pathway to a world-class player is only possible with at least 8 to 12 years (2 to 3 Olympic cycles!) of methodological education and training. Competition is just the opportunity to rehearse (at young ages) what they are learning. When the suggestion is that a high level is achievable just providing "year-round competition, coach education, and player identification initiatives", it seems that the point for athlete development is missed.

Now we need to wait to see the strategy that MLS will implement to consolidate a model of talent selection and development with a group of diverse institutions. They all have their own independent plan of action, most of them successful in an environment that prioritizes winning over progressive learning and gradual evolution. There is not yet the available description of the MLS curricula and the model of interaction among the clubs.

But we have information available that can educate us and help in evaluating the MLS academy's decisions. I’m presenting data from the media and from a very interesting report that the European Club Association published in 2012 after collecting data from 123 clubs from 42 different National Associations. I selected from the study the most important academies to create a context where we can analyze the developmental MLS strategy. Let's understand that those numbers were collected 8 years ago, therefore probably the money associated with their programs is higher today.

Some initial considerations:

1) $10 Million, so far the money invested by the MLS for the 95 academies invited to participate. There is no information yet in how the money is distributed and how it will ll be used.

2) $105,000, is approximately the initial investment to each club if distributed equally.

3) 8000 the expected amount of players involved in this new project.

4) $1250, allocated for each player from the initial investment.

5) $100 Million, a year were invested by the MLS between 2008 - 2018 to acquire foreign players (Commissioner Don Garber's presentation at Stanford University Sports Innovation Conference in 2018). That money allowed incorporating approximately 10 players a year (an average of $10 million per player).

6) 4466, the total number of players in the ECA Academies’ Study presented here.

7) € 55 Million, the total cost per year for all ECA academies presented here.

8) € 12,300, the average ECA’s Academies investment per player/year (10 times more than allocated for each player in the MLS initial investment).

9) 22, the average number of coaches per academy for a ratio of 11 players per coach. It is necessary to add that a youth coach in Europe has to go through a rigorous system of education that includes courses like methodology, sports science, pedagogy, growth and maturation, etc. In addition to the soccer-specific related topics like strategy, player development, game analysis, testing, and player evaluation, etc.

10) 51, the average number of players per soccer field. The facilities include locker, rooms with showers, a coffee house for parents and player’s social activities, and in many cases center for weight training, classrooms for games analysis, and sport’s science education.

There are many successful models already available to learn from. The US needs to create an innovative model of player development if we want to be an international competitive “Semillero” (= soccer seedbed; this term we use in Argentina for the academies that produce competitive talents)

In a future article, I will present the criteria necessary to design and control a model of soccer player development. It will allow a new perspective for comparison purposes and maybe for design thinking.

Graphs, Daniel Kamenetzky 2020



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