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The youth league that produced national team stars such as Maurice Edu and Benny Feilhaber suffered a major setback.

Last week, the top clubs of the Coast Soccer League, also known as CSL, announced they were leaving the league and creating a league of their own called Southern California Developmental Soccer League. It's a shocking development when one considers what CSL used to mean to the U.S. Soccer community.

Five years ago, CSL was the unquestionable giant of Southern California youth soccer and this talk of a new league would be laughable. But, today’s soccer environment is a far cry from those years.

Prior to the Development Academy’s emergence in 2007, CSL’s Premier League was regarded as one of the best youth leagues in the country. Countless professional and national team players began their careers there as members of the top clubs in the U.S. such as Benny Feilhaber and Maurice Edu.

While CSL still maintained some of the best pre-Academy leagues in the country for the last few years, the fizzle of the league had died down considerably since the introduction of the Development Academy. As the DA pulled players away from CSL, the prestige of the league began to slip and clubs realized they did not rely on CSL’s standing so heavily anymore.

Adding to the difficulty of the situation was the uncompromising nature of CSL and its brass. Refusing to adjust for the Development Academy or MLS youth clubs, CSL made some hostile partners in high places in recent years.

Growing Tensions

Even though the formal announcement of the new league only came last week, the writing has been on the wall for a couple years in Southern California that the Goliath was slowly falling.

Jaime Cardenas of the Los Angeles Times wrote about the issue in 2008.

Given the track record of players produced and elite clubs in Southern California, U.S. Soccer had to bend over backward to accommodate the egos in CSL's offices when the Development Academy started.

U.S. Soccer allowed Southern California clubs to schedule games during high school season so the clubs could partake in CSL too, an arrangement unheard of elsewhere in the country.

In the beginning of 2011, the idle gossip began to actually take shape as clubs put their names behind a movement to supplant CSL as the best youth league in the area.

In mid-January a source inside U.S. Soccer told Goal.com that Irvine Strikers had plans to start a pre-academy league within the next year, a piece of news that would begin to spell the end of CSL’s stranglehold on Southern California youth soccer organization.

The news reached a new level in February when Cosmos Academy West and LAFC [now known as Los Angeles Premier FC] split. Cosmos Academy West director Teddy Chronopolous, one of the contact points for SCDSL, declined Goal.com’s request for a comment regarding CSL in early February.  

However, it is widely believed that he had grown tired of CSL’s leadership. And while LAFC wanted to maintain their position in CSL, Chronopolous knew Cosmos had the money and power to disband from CSL and take the initiative with a league of their own.

He was not alone in his fatigue in dealing with CSL. Goal.com spoke with Chivas USA Academy Director Sacha van der Most last Saturday regarding the new league.

He mentioned his displeasure that CSL would not allow the Chivas USA U15 team into their organization so he set up games against all the best teams in that age group without the formality of the league. He also recognized Chivas USA had already accepted an invitation to the new league and was looking forward to the competition in the fall.

In the end, the Development Academy clubs were frustrated they had to bow to CSL and their rules. Many believed that it should be the other way around, but, as in much of youth soccer in the U.S., there were too many egos in place to find the compromise.

Ignorance Is Not Always Bliss

CSL’s obliviousness to the changing soccer landscape put them in this position. When Goal.com emailed the league president last month regarding the rumors, he did his best to dispel the gossip.

“This is news to me,” CSL president Bernie Towers told Goal.com in an email on February 7 regarding the impending exodus of the top clubs from his league.  

“Be wary of any sources that may have hidden agendas,” the CSL president wrote while neglecting the request for an interview.

Given that U.S. Soccer knew of the pre-academy league, it is difficult to believe CSL was completely unaware there was unrest among the clubs that populate the top divisions in the organization.

In spite of this news, CSL can still claim everything is fine, as clubs fold every year from the association. CSL states on the league website that during the 2010-2011 season more than 2200 teams and 180 clubs took part in their leagues from U9 to U19. Losing a measly 20 or so clubs will be a small drop in the water for this behemoth.

However, the 20 clubs lost for next season are the kings of Southern California soccer. From Pateadores to Real So Cal, these are the clubs that have developed the national team talent, topped the most competitive divisions, and made college scouts keep an eye on the league.

Granted, there are still plenty of clubs and players in Southern California that will need a home for next season and CSL will offer that cozy abode. The point of the matter is the quality the league just went down a very steep hill without brakes.

Previously, it was a monopoly for CSL with youth soccer clubs. Now, they are going to be fighting tooth and nail to hold on to some of the good clubs that remain under their emblem.

The Future of SCDSL

As for the new league, SCDSL is scheduled to begin play in fall 2011 with 23 clubs, including both MLS youth programs in Los Angeles. The full details are yet to be announced but the league is focusing on flexibility to allow options for the clubs, something that will please both Chivas USA and LA Galaxy. The latter has already announced try-outs for U12 and U13 teams for next year.

One of the other points of emphasis from their initial press release is the ability to work with the Development Academy and ECNL (the girl’s version of the Development Academy) schedule to enable the best environment for the players.

Ideally, the Development Academy clubs are getting what they wanted - from the schedules to the teams’ admittance - this is how they thought CSL should have treated them. Now that they control their own agenda, it will be up to them to make it work.

SCDSL’s founding clubs:
Arsenal FC, Beach FC, Chivas USA, Cosmos Academy, Irvine Strikers, L.A. Galaxy, Laguna Hills Eclipse, Legends FC, Nomads SC, OC Revolution, Pateadores, PVSC Exiles, Real So Cal, Slammers FC, So Cal Blues, So Cal Infinity, South Bay Force, South Coast Bayern, Surf, United FC, West Coast FC

J.R. Eskilson is the Youth Soccer Editor at Goal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer

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