The sun has set on the 2010-11 Development Academy season, with the 2011-12 Development Academy season now on the horizon. The new season gets underway this weekend with a few matches before starting in full force the weekend of Sept. 17-18. U.S. Soccer Development Academy Director of Scouting and Technical Advisor for the Northeast Division Tony Lepore took time to answer questions from ussoccer.com about the upcoming season, including changes from last year and the increased ties between the Development Academy and the U.S. Men’s National Team under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Sep. 9, 2011
By ussoccer.com: What is different this season from last season?
Tony Lepore:“Well, we are in the process of sharing last season’s evaluations with all the Development Academy clubs right now and so one of the things I think is very clear heading into next season is we are raising the bar. Our standards for grading are now based on comparisons with top international academies. Headed into this season we are stressing improvement in areas like style of play, we need to see more Academy teams playing an offensive style based on possession and build-up.
“The other thing that is new and exciting is for the first time we have three divisions going with the 10-month Academy schedule. That’s Texas, SoCal and the Northwest. We’re moving towards that with all the clubs next year so these guys are leading the way in breaking some cultural barriers to take a big step forward. Next year, in the fall of 2012, all the clubs will be on this schedule and I think the exciting part is that we’ll see a lot of the benefits because of the increased time these clubs have with their players. We’ve added at least two months of high-level training and meaningful games into their schedule where otherwise they were doing something else, in most cases high school. It’s just more continuity and, again, more time spent training.
“This season we’ve also added two clubs with Georgia United in Atlanta and Vancouver, an MLS club but also a Canadian club, which comes with some new challenges but offers another good game that has a little different meaning.”
ussoccer.com: Which teams are undergoing the biggest transition from last season to this season?
TL: “The teams switching to a 10-month season will have all the benefits but also the biggest adjustment this year. For many of the clubs that aren’t going 10 months, their schedule is really similar to what it was last year, except it’s the opposite travel schedule. For the three divisions playing 10 months, we’ve worked really hard to create a meaningful schedule. There are a lot more benefits than just time spent training, although time and continuity are huge factors. These clubs will have less double fixture weekends, more single fixture weekends, so in turn they’ll be able to have a more consistent schedule with a more productive rhythm between training and matches which will help narrow their focus. In terms of seasonal planning, they’ll have the biggest adjustments to make because it is totally new but it will be easier for them to manage weekly and monthly cycles.”
ussoccer.com: Will any other clubs have to make major adjustments for the new season as more teams play a 10-month schedule?
TL: “We have a number of clubs that play in a division where they are not following a 10-month Academy schedule but they’ve decided to do it anyway. They’ve done their own programming for the benefit of their players and to help get a jump on this before next season.
“This is one of the biggest changes happening with the Academy right now and I’m excited because I think we’ll begin to see the benefits. We often compare ourselves and talk about ways catch up with the top footballing nations and that was one of the things we looked at when we started the Development Academy and one of the biggest differences is the amount of time players train. We are behind and so this added time players will have with their clubs is crucial for their development.”
ussoccer.com: Several of the assistant coaches that U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has called in have Development Academy connections. How does this reflect on the Academy?
TL: “I think it says that the Academy has also been a good place for coaches to develop and it is a place that has attracted many top coaches. The Academy has also helped us to identify quality coaches. And it is positive to see more and more former U.S. internationals getting involved in youth coaching, like Tab Ramos and Thomas Dooley.”
ussoccer.com: How is the connection with the U.S. Men’s National Team greater now that several of coach Klinsmann’s assistants are or have been connected to Academy clubs?
TL: “It’s very important because it helps build a stronger connection between the senior team and the youth teams and that relationship is very important to streamline player development. We need to continue to build this connection between our youth national teams and all the way up to the senior team and the Academy has been a valuable platform to help connect our clubs with the youth national teams.