U.S. U-17 residency program disbanded

Manas Sood, Sports Editor

January 17, 1999 was a historic day for America, as U.S. Soccer established a U-17 residency program that sought to improve America’s standing in the global soccer world. With a lack of professional academies across the country, the program gave young players the opportunity to experience an elite training environment, preparing them for a future in professional soccer. The creation of this program was seen as a step forward, a step that would improve the skills of American players while also sending players to play abroad and compete internationally at a high level.

The new program saw immediate success with the U.S. Men’s U-17 National Team finishing fourth in the U-17 FIFA World Cup that November of ‘99. It was the best finish the team ever had and featured future stars DaMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu, and Landon Donovan, who was named the tournament’s best player. All three players went on to compete in Europe and all contributed to America’s improved recognition on a global scale.

In all, 33 players that have received call-ups to the full national team since 1999 have come through the program. But that was not its biggest impact. The lasting legacy of the U-17 residency program was the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Founded in 2007, the USSDA featured 150 clubs, several established by the MLS clubs themselves, which must adhere to standards for training and development to maintain membership. This ensures that players are receiving the optimal soccer education a club can provide.

The plan from here was to maintain a strong relationship between the Residency Program and the Development Academy to make certain that potential national team players did not miss out on any training or instruction. However, U.S. Soccer recently announced that its U-17 residency program, based at the IMG Academy in Bradenton FL, will be closing after 18 years. Many fans, players, and coaches wondered how this would affect player development throughout the country. The simple answer is that it will not. The reason for the closing of the program was that it simply was not needed anymore. In 1999, there were no professional soccer academies producing players in America. Now, more clubs are developing academies to give young players the best opportunity to succeed. The residency program simply became unnecessary. Its impact on American soccer was minimal because many other programs and opportunities arose, all with the same goal in mind.

American soccer is now in a better position than ever. Despite the struggles of the full national team during the current qualifying period, MLS is very healthy and its academies continue to grow and produce quality talent. The closing of the U-17 residency program in Bradenton was inevitable and ushers in a new era for American soccer. The future is bright for American soccer, and player development is finally at the forefront of the agenda.