LOS ANGELES (AP) — U.S. Soccer is launching a Girls’ Development Academy program next year aimed at the cultivation of elite-level players.
The program is modeled after the Boys’ Development Academy, which was launched in 2007 and now includes 152 clubs in five age groups.
“I think this is an opportunity for us to create a player development environment for the next generation of players that will rise to the level of our youth national team program and may one day even, in many cases, with our senior women’s team,” said April Heinrichs, U.S. Soccer’s women’s technical director.
The girls’ program announced Tuesday will initially include three groups: under-14/15, under-16/17 and under-18/19. The teams will play only other academy teams, on the local, regional and national level, and will practice a minimum of four times a week. Games will be played by international standards with limited substitutions.
Academy players won’t be able to participate on high school teams or Olympic development teams. But the program will serve as a potential pathway to the federation’s youth national teams.
Heinrichs said conversations about an academy started in 2009 and were ramped up in 2011 when she became technical director and current senior national team coach Jill Ellis was development director. An increased level of financial commitment, spurred by the World Cup victory for the women’s senior team, helped bring the program to life, she said.
Club applications to the program will be evaluated based on multiple criteria, including quality of the coaching staff. Heinrichs said there is a possibility that the development academy would involve teams affiliated with National Women’s Soccer League teams.
“With the launch of our league, quite a few of the NWSL teams have expressed an interest in being part of the Girls’ Development Academy, which is quite exciting for us, because now we’re talking about — at the local level and at the professional level of 10 clubs — we can have an integrated program with these pro teams,” Heinrichs said.
The club application process will open in May, U.S. Soccer said.
“Right now, we feel that as this plays out there will be the right number of clubs, in the right markets, to have the right number of games and the right level of competition in a way where there is an appropriate amount of local involvement in the competitive framework of the program,” said Ryan Mooney, USSF’s director of sport development.
U.S. Club soccer currently sanctions the Elite Clubs National League for girls that has 79 clubs nationwide playing at five levels. That program was founded in 2009.