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MLS Academy competition update

New Details About the MLS Elite Development Platform

MLS: MLS All-Star Training Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

This past week, MLS released new details about how they will replaced the now-defunct US Soccer Development Academy.

The new platform will consist of elite year-round competition, as well as player identification initiatives, coaching education opportunities, and additional programming to create the premier player development environment.

Last month, MLS began the next phase of constructing the new Elite Development Platform to further expansion beyond the initial invitees. New potential members must qualify based on geographical considerations, inclusivity of players from all backgrounds, and commitment to:

  • Player Identification (Pro Pathway, Player Sourcing Strategy, History of Player Development - National Team or Collegiate)
  • Club Player Development Philosophy and Methodology
  • Consistency and Relevancy of Coaches and Technical Staff Standards and Club Projects
  • Development and Performance Environment

Among the new expansion clubs is a local side, Inter Atlanta FC. Inter Atlanta’s Academy Director Matt Busch shared his excitement about the new venture for his club.

Inter Atlanta FC – Atlanta, GA “Inter Atlanta FC is excited to be a part of something bigger than itself in the soccer landscape within our region. We are honored to have been accepted into the MLS elite youth development platform which will continue to allow us to focus on player development and provide a pathway for our players to reach the next level. This new and refreshing league model offers teams across the region the chance to compete against other top teams, as well as compete against the MLS Academy teams. The Platform focuses on a holistic club development model that helps the player, coach, team, club, and community.” – Matt Busch, Academy Director

Inter Atlanta is one of Atlanta United’s local partners, developing U8-U12 boys and girls, and offering an early scouting and identification opportunity for Atlanta United’s academy through the United Juniors Program. As a part of the new MLS program, Inter Atlanta will be fielding teams for the U-13 and U-14 age groups, joining Lanier Soccer Academy and Southern Soccer Academy as the other two non-MLS Georgia teams in this new program.

“For this first wave of new club expansion, we wanted to focus on finding clubs that are working to instill proper weekly development and quality competition as players embark on elite and professional pathways. It’s important that we familiarize players with regional competition at the earliest ages and re-establish the importance of small clubs prioritizing quality of development over quantity of players,” said Fred Lipka, Vice President and Technical Director of MLS Player Development.

The entire league will feature 11,000 players across 113 clubs, including 30 professional MLS academies, 5 USL academies and 78 additional elite academies, across 6 age groups. These players will be drawn from a robust scouting program of the nearly 3 million registered players in the US Soccer youth system. Atlanta United will compete at the U-13, U-14, U-15, U-16, U-17 and U-19, and potentially field a U-12 team, too. Even though Atlanta has not yet released their academy rosters, we can expect them to be comparable to FC Dallas who plan to field about 150 players across their six teams.

“The spirit of this platform is ensuring representation across the entire soccer landscape and at every level of the governance structure. Seeking input from all members and catering to players from diverse backgrounds is at the core of this platform. We are excited to welcome these academies and thousands of elite players to join our Founding Members in this competition with the first stage of expansion and look forward to additional expansion in the years to come,” said Lipka.

In addition to releasing the new expansion academies, MLS also released the outline of their organizational structure. I would recommend that the reader review the previous article about the USL’s academy league structure and consider which one seems to make more sense for a national program.

Atlanta United will likely play in the Eastern Conference Divisions which will be chaired by the club directors of Orlando City, Chargers SC, Charlotte FC, Baltimore Armour, Toronto FC and Empire United Soccer Academy. There will be four levels of governance in total ranging from regional to national and are meant to promote collaboration and innovation for youth development across the country.

Atlanta United have yet to announce anything since the initial comments from May about this program or their upcoming competition in the ECNL boys’ youth league. The team generally has their academy dinner in mid-August to welcome the new teams and launch the new academy seasons so it is safe to anticipate we will have a lot more news for you soon.