There’s one US league that’s shifting to the international calendar.
On Friday the US Soccer Development Academy, the elite competition for youth players around the country, announced it will be moving to a September-June season beginning with the 2012-13 campaign, spreading matches across 10 months.
“This is the model that the best countries around the world use for their programs, and I think it makes perfect sense that we do as well,” said US national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann in a US Soccer statement. “The Development Academy 10-month season is the right formula and provides a good balance between training time and playing competitive matches.”
While some US Soccer Development Academy clubs in both age categories — U-15/16 and U-17/18 — have already implemented the switch in their current 2011-12 schedule, other teams currently operate with a more condensed format, often playing matches on both Saturdays and Sundays. The new mandate issued by the US Soccer Federation is designed to cut down these situations.
By eliminating the fixture congestion and extending the season, the changes are intended to free up more time for practice sessions and allow players to focus on single matches every weekend.
"The format provides the ideal platform to place an increased emphasis on the value of training on a regular basis, and offers the opportunity to play in quality, competitive games throughout an extended season,” said US Soccer youth technical director Claudio Reyna in a statement. “This schedule puts our elite players in line with kids in their age group internationally, and places the appropriate physical demands at this stage in their development.”
High school coaches around the country will see the move as forcing elite players to decide between playing for their high school or their club team. The US Soccer Federation does not shy away from the topic and explains in a Q&A on its website why it shouldn't prove a major concern.
"Every player has a choice to play high school soccer or in the Development Academy," US Soccer states in the Q&A. "We believe that for those elite soccer players who are committed to pursuing the goal of reaching the highest levels they can in the sport, making this decision will provide them a big advantage in their development and increase their exposure to top coaches in the United States and from around the world.
"Overall, only one percent of all players currently playing high school soccer are involved with the Development Academy. We are only talking about a small percentage of elite players who have the goal of playing soccer at the highest levels. High School soccer will continue to make an important contribution to the soccer landscape in this country."
There are 15 MLS academies currently participating in the US Soccer Development Academy program:
Frontier Division: Colorado Rapids, Sporting Kansas City
Great Lakes Division: Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew
Texas Division: FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo
Liberty Division: New York Red Bulls
Mid-Atlantic Division: D.C. United
Northeast Division: New England Revolution
Northwest Division: Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps, San Jose Earthquakes
SoCal Division: Chivas USA, LA Galaxy, RSL Arizona