The United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) has divided its U 18-19 Boys Divisions into “Top” and “Lower” tiers in a move that was apparently revealed as the new season schedules were posted last week. Social media is buzzing about the change. This graphic has been viewed over 5,000 times on goalWA Facebook.
Redmond Washington club Crossfire Premier was included among those relegated to the Lower Tier despite having won their Division 2 years in a row and making deep runs into the national playoffs. Many on Twitter were quick to question the move by the USSDA.
Favoring MLS Academies?
Speculation online is that the USSDA is further trying to differentiate between Major League Soccer Academy teams and independent ones like Crossfire. The new arrangement reveals that all MLS Academies were placed in the “Top Tier” regardless of on field performance.
MLS Academies promote that they are “free” to elite players that can earn spots on their rosters. It’s a competitive advantage to gather talent. In Seattle the MLS Sounders FC have competition in this regard. Independents Crossfire operate the same way. “All a player has to pay for is his or her uniform kit, and that’s about $350. And if a player isn’t able to pay that, we’ll find a way to help that player, too. It all adds up, but everyone in the club, top to bottom, is on board,” Crossfire Director of Coaching Bernie James revealed in this 2019 SoccerNation.com Q & A.
Pressure from MLS?
There were hints earlier this year that MLS would put pressure on the USSDA to make changes. In January this article suggested MLS Academies were discussing leaving the USSDA.
The DeAndre Yedlin Factor
Crossfire Premier has been in the world soccer public eye for several years now with their challenge to US Soccer in regards to compensation for developing players, specifically DeAndre Yedlin. Of course Major League Soccer wants to have such compensations, mandated by FIFA in other countries, to end up in their pockets. The Yedlin case remains alive for Crossfire. MLS clubs decided this year to seek training compensation and ‘solidarity payments’ for their academy products.
Punishment for taking Girls over to ECNL?
There is also chatter that perhaps the USSDA is ‘punishing’ Crossfire for their move to pull their Girls Academy out and move them over to the ECNL. In a March 2019 article on SoccerNation.com Crossfire’s move was highlighted. Bernie James was quoted as saying “ECNL offers more of what our girls are looking for in a soccer program. We had ECNL teams and DA teams. The club fully-funded the DA, and still paid for all travel costs for two of the ECNL age groups. Yet, we had elite-level girls—players chosen for our DA teams—coming to us saying ‘We’ll pay. We want to play ECNL.’ That’s huge. We’re talking thousands of dollars these families were willing to sacrifice to play ECNL.”
Crossfire were not the only club to make this move, and for similar reasons.
Independent (Non-MLS) USSDA Academies on Notice
The U 18-19 reorganization of teams has put all independent USSDA Clubs on notice. What exactly are the requirements to be “Top Tier?” On twitter multiple clubs indicate they were blindsided by the announcement. This suggests that it is possible that the USSDA has not communicated their rubric for their decisions. On notice, but left out of the loop?