With the news that Los Angeles Football Club is establishing an academy, I thought it would be useful to go over some of the details of the new program and how the U.S. Soccer Development Academy overall works. So here are some answers to some of the biggest questions surrounding the team.
How many teams will LAFC's academy start with?
LAFC announced on their new website for the academy that they will start with a U-12 team. The team will have 26 players.
When will LAFC's first academy team begin play?
I asked the club for comment on this matter, and got confirmation the team will begin play in the U.S. Development Academy's system beginning in August 2016.
Why start with the U-12 team?
There are many ways to start an academy, and I won't pretend to know the thought process of the decision makers at the club. However, there are two big reasons why starting with a U-12 team makes sense.
First, LAFC's first team is not expected to play in MLS until 2018. While they could have started with older age groups, they won't really be in a position to sign Homegrown players for two years at a minimum. So why not start from the bottom first and work their way up? My guess is that they won't add just one age group a year as this first group moves up, instead accelerating the process after a year or two under their belts.
Also, why U-12? That's an easy answer: The USSDA is expanding to the U-12 division, after previously expanding to a U-13/14 division, for the next season, 2016-17. When the Development Academy announced the expansion in the fall, they solicited applications to join the new division. Since it's a new division in the USSDA, there's room for new programs, including LAFC's, to get their foot in the door and get approved at the U-12 level first. As long as they fulfill their requirements, they should be approved in the soon-to-be-divided U-13 and U-14 divisions, as well as the U-15/16 and U-17/18 levels, down the line. While the USSDA does not guarantee future entry to higher age groups to teams that only enter a U-12 team, given LAFC's MLS ties, one would expect they would have to do a really poor job to be denied entry in the higher age groups.
What do I need to know about the U-12 program?
Probably the biggest thing to know is that below the U-15/16 level, results are not counted. While you can look them up and I suppose keep track, they aren't really the point at those levels.
Why is that? Instead of focusing on merely winning, to get to the playoffs and try to win trophies or whatever, the point is to center the project on developing players. Remember, these are prepubescent boys we're talking about. It's not a matter of shielding them from the harsh reality of losing -- it's a matter of giving them numerous chances to play and hone their skills over time against teams that are in their class. Over time, some of those players will move up the age ranks and eventually play in a more competitive environment, with the expectation that they've been working on their game in a professionalized academy setting for years already.
Also, players will play in 9v9 games, and substitutions are not limited, with coaches instead encouraged to play all of their players. Again, the point isn't to replicate the pro game at this level, but to give players the opportunity to actually play and develop their skills.
I know an age-eligible player interested in playing. What should I do?
If the player was born after Dec. 31, 2003, the player and his/her parent can fill out a form on LAFC's academy website. This could lead to a trial, and the club told me they will be trialing players for the squad until launch in August.
Where will the new academy team play?
That is currently unknown. When I find it out, I'll share that information.
Can I attend academy games?
Certainly! The Development Academy games I've been to in the past are free and open to the public. Bear in mind, of course, that nearly all of the attendees are family members of the players, but teams usually play either in parks with a small stand, or with no stand. You may want to bring a picnic blanket or beach chairs the first time you go, or else you may be forced to stand for the full duration of the game along the sideline.
It's a thoroughly youth sports environment, of course, so I wouldn't recommend tailgating, and it's a safe bet any venue will prohibit drinking alcohol on or near the grounds. Still, you should be able to attend games.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!