On Wednesday, MLS announced the establishment of a new elite youth academy system for boys that will replace the now-dead U.S. Soccer Development Academy.
95 teams in all will participate from the start, from around the United States and Canada and including both professional clubs and independent youth academies.
While the announcement and a subsequent conference call with reporters about the new program on Wednesday was light on specifics in terms of what changes will be made to academies like the current San Jose Earthquakes set-up and what the competition format will be, at one point MLS Vice President & Technical Director of Player Development Fred Lipka was asked about whether girls youth soccer would also become part of the new program and he was optimistic it will, eventually.
“We had reflections about a girls academy. I think we are going to start to have programming around soccer for girls and we would like in the future to be more present with our MLS academies or to give to others the capacity to be around our events and to be able to serve girls soccer the right way. For now, we are not equipped league-wide speaking, to tackle this project, but we are going to do our best to be able to create programming for girls,” Lipka said during the call.
“We have the ambition to be in this space, I would say long-term for sure.”
“And for sure, in our clubs we have a lot of academies which have a girls program and we encourage all our clubs to have a girls program, to have the flexibility to work with affiliates and be in this space because it’s an important one.”
Locally, the Earthquakes did have a girls academy but recently shuttered it. The program had quickly become a powerhouse on the girls youth soccer scene, stocked full of U.S. youth internationals and finding success on the field. San Jose General Manager Jesse Fioranelli, who was also on the conference call, was asked whether the Quakes were out of the girls academy game for good or could come back to establish a new program in the future.
“Frankly right now it is difficult to foresee how we can resume the girls program after having taken the decision recently,” Fioranelli said. “But there will also be further adjustments that we will have to do that will also reflect on the boys side. Is there an opportunity where we would like to reconsider? I can’t speak to what is going to happen in six months or a year from today. What I can tell you is it was a very difficult decision, because the girls and the coaches, they were very close to us.
“As I said though, in the next couple of weeks we will be able to discuss or even explain what our intentions are, with regards to the boys side as well, more clarity, because we nearly, two or three weeks ago when we made the announcement we wanted to make sure we were not going to hold off with this information because we wanted to make sure the girls and the coaches could transition as quickly as possible. So no, this decision was not easy and we will have to see what the future brings. As of right now I can’t foresee [restarting a girls program] in the immediate future.”
Fioranelli’s comments also hinted that changes are coming to the boys academy set-up. While there have been rumors about both expansion and contraction of age groups to be played in the new elite youth program, it sounds like more information will be coming down the pike before long.
As for the girls side of it, don’t expect an about-face or for the Quakes to jump back in for quite some time, possibly ever.
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