The geography of the Development Academy broken down.Ask any U.S Soccer Development Academy staff member about the most challenging part of his/her job and you will likely hear something about geography.
To better explain the problem, take a look at the map on the right; all 78 Development Academies are represented on the map with the MLS funded academies signified by a red dot.
For the Development Academy officials, it is a constant battle to find new areas for expansion while discovering clubs worthy of the Development Academy emblem. As the Development Academy looks to grow, it focuses on areas of untapped resources with no Academy teams. Roughly half the states in the continental United States do not have an Academy club. This leaves some gaps in the map including hotbeds like Kentucky, Nevada, and Tennessee.
For Director of Scouting Tony LePore, it is a delicate balance between hitting the right areas and not isolating clubs with limited competition in close proximity. When he spoke with Goal.com two weeks ago, he mentioned the future goals for the Development Academy in terms of the map.
“We are looking at holes in the markets,” he said. “We want to make sure the right geography is covered. “ He also emphasized the steady growth of areas and teams to bring them into the fold for the Development Academy.
While LePore did single out a few areas for potential growth, it is worth looking at the map in detail to see where exactly these 78 clubs are across the United States as broken down by the conferences.
There are 17 clubs in the West Conference with the majority occupying California, the outliers being the two Seattle clubs (Sounders and Crossfire) and Real Salt Lake-Arizona. Expansion is likely in the West with Portland Timbers joining MLS this season; their Academy team should be in the discussion for a Development Academy spot in the next year or two. There are other areas in the West where youth national players are spouting up and drawing the eye for potential expansion as well.
Central Conference (sans Texas Division):
Central Conference is made up of three divisions; the locations of two are pictured above. It covers a vast area of land from Colorado in the West to Ohio in the East. In those two divisions, there are 17 clubs with four of those hailing from the MLS ranks (Sporting, Crew, Fire, and Rapids). Last season, this conference was dominant in terms of final standings: Vardar (Michigan) won the U18 National Championship while Chicago Fire collected the U16 National Championship.
The geography of Texas does work out nicely for the Development Academy. Each team has another rival in close proximity and the travel to out of town games is not that difficult compared to other divisions. None of the nine teams from Texas have lifted hardware at the end of the Development Academy season, but FC Dallas have led the way for MLS clubs in terms of player development and homegrown contracts.
There are 19 teams in three different divisions in the East Conference. The East Conference occupies much of the Eastern Seaboard with the lone exception of Empire United in Syracuse, NY. The reach of the East goes from New Hampshire down to Washington D.C. There are three MLS clubs in this area with the potential for four as the Philadelphia Union gets their academy up to speed.
The South Conference has the distinction of being the only conference without an MLS franchise. There are two divisions and 16 teams in the South. It also offers some prime opportunities for expansion, but the lack of MLS expansion in this region may end up hurting potential Academy clubs.
For LePore and the rest of the Development Academy staff, there are obvious “gaps” that they know should and will be addressed in time. The decision about which holes will be filled next will be made in early April when LePore and the rest of the staff decide on the most recent additions to the Development Academy family.
J.R. Eskilson is the Youth Soccer editor at Goal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer
Follow Goal.com on to get the latest soccer news directly. Check out Goal.com's page; be part of the best soccer fan community in the world!