Last month, the U.S. Soccer Federation shut down its Development Academy leagues for boys and girls youth soccer teams across the country.
The move surprised many coaches, players, and administrators involved with the league, chiefly because it came without much advance notice. What happened next wasn’t surprising, though: Major League Soccer announced that it will launch its own youth league for boys’ teams to fill the gap.
It might have been a little much that MLS made its move literally within minutes of U.S. Soccer’s. But the plans were in the works for some time, though, or at least the ideas behind them. The first big report that MLS was considering pulling its clubs’ youth teams out of the Development Academy came from Soccer America at the start of 2019.
The Inquirer spoke recently with Union academy director Tommy Wilson, who was involved with planning the new competition. The interview is edited lightly for clarity.
It’s probably no secret that we’ve been working behind the scenes. I think we are seen as one of the leaders in this space, so it’s natural that people would ask us for our opinion and ask us to help. I’ve spoken personally to the MLS staff, to Fred [Lipka], but also to my colleagues in the amateur clubs around the East Coast.
For a while, I had two or three meetings a week focused on the new league setup. And obviously for a while, it looked a little bit unclear. I’m delighted that MLS has stepped up and stepped into the space and been leaders here.
I think that the new league will be — from what I can gather, I’m not sure of all the details yet — but I think it’ll be really exciting for the young players. It will be something that the best young players in the country will want to be involved in.
Yeah, I think that was part of the work that we [did]. I’m all for, and I really enjoyed the games against, LAFC, etc., and the L.A. Galaxy — apart from when they beat us. But I don’t think that a continental youth league makes sense. The young boys spend too much time on planes and in hotels, and it costs the clubs too much money.
For us to go to the showcase in California for the playoffs, [it] costs our club what we maybe could have paid for two members of staff. I would rather use the money for the staff than just flying all over the place. I think there’s a time and a place for that.
So I’m hoping that — my understanding is — that the travel costs in the new league will not be any more expensive than they have been, and will be maybe spent differently.
It’s interesting, that argument. In Scotland, they had a teachers’ strike at one point, and school soccer sort of melted away. And everyone associates that with their game taking a turn for the worse.
So, I’m of the opinion that — I played for my school, and I really enjoyed the social aspect of it. The way you were viewed in school, it was good for your ego, if you want to put it that way. [He laughed.]
I think that there should be a level where everyone can play, and one of the things I’m hoping that new structure introduces — and I think it will, because we’ve discussed it — is a relaxation in some of the rules that were very restrictive.
And if that means that some young boys who can’t play in platform A are able to play in platform B, or play for the school, then — it’s about playing games, for me. It’s about training at the appropriate level, and having a competitive outlet at the weekend.
Yeah. I mean, it’s fine that someone has to be in governance of what we’re doing, and usually the people are there to be shot at, you know. That’s what happens when you take on that role. I remember when I worked for the Scottish FA, we were getting shot at all the time. Somebody’s got to do it, but I think that a sort of common-sense approach would be the most important thing.