U.S. Soccer announced the additions to the new Development Academy U-12 division this week. A total of 56 new teams will join 78 existing members around the country, in a move intended to help cut down on travel distances for the youngest division in the youth academy, while also casting a wider net in player development.
The U-12 division will enter the USSDA for the upcoming 2016-17 season, which will kick off in the fall. Locally, two Los Angeles-area teams will enter the Development Academy, Total Futbol Academy and MLS expansion club LAFC, while San Diego will have four new entrants — Chula Vista FC, LA Galaxy San Diego, San Diego Soccer Club and West Coast Futbol Club.
The expansion of the Development Academy to the U-12 level follows recent additions of the U-13/14 division, which will be divided into separate age groups for the 2016-17 season.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, LAFC’s entry has garnered the most headlines so far. The establishment of the U-12 team is the club’s first foray into youth soccer, and is expected to be the foundation for a fully-functional academy in the years to come. While U.S. Soccer explicitly stated entry into the U-12 division for new clubs was not a guarantee of future approval to enter older age groups in the Development Academy, assuming LAFC fulfills their obligations at the U-12 level they should have no problem getting into the older age groups in the future.
And in a move that is perhaps a bit surprising, LAFC’s academy website has a sign-up sheet for age-eligible players interested in trying out for the new team, and it includes language that includes male and female players. While female players probably won’t be eligible to play in the Development Academy, it does appear the club is interested in establishing a girls program as well as one for boys, which could hint at future involvement with women’s soccer on a higher level.
Regardless, the expansion of the Development Academy, and the expansion of the number of clubs participating in the U-12 program, means there should be more opportunities than ever for young players to have an opportunity to develop their soccer skills in a professionalized environment. Time will tell how important this move will be for American soccer overall, but it should certainly play a role in developing good players in Southern California.