What is a Development Academy? Started by the U.S. Soccer Federation in 2007, it was meant to serve as the top tier in U.S Youth soccer and provide a place for elite everyday player development. As of the 2016-17 season, the Academy had 149 total clubs, in five age groups: U-12, U-13, U-14, U-15/16, and U-17/18. Every MLS club’s youth teams play in this league (except for Toronto for some reason). Nashville SC needs one asap to begin to fill the player pipeline with young talent. Is one going to be built at the Fairgrounds? That would make the most sense. Yet there isn’t a more urgent and impactful decision John Ingram can make than opening a Development Academy in Nashville.
There was an interesting quote from Andrew Carleton about the Development Academy in Atlanta. Carleton was Atlanta United’s first Homegrown Player signing in June 2016. Just 15 at the time, he appears a special player and Atlanta was smart to sign him quickly. I expect him to play very soon for the MLS side. His quote,
“I think Atlanta has definitely brought that along as an MLS first team, and to be able to send guys to (USL affiliate) Charleston Battery – that’s helped out a lot. And to have that goal to reach for, even for the U-12s and 13s working their way up and for the 19s and 17s and everybody in the club and in the state or in the Southeast.”
It’s the word Southeast that jumped out at me. I’ve argued for years that MLS had ignored the South and Atlanta would be a huge success. I’m not talking geography, but maybe SEC South. Despite what MLS said, Orlando is not the South and Miami certainly is not. Look at Atlanta United’s U-15 roster and there is Joseph Collins from Hixson, Tennessee along with kids from Mississippi and Alabama. Why are these Southern kids at Atlanta United?
Take a look at the current U.S. Soccer Development Academy Map here. Despite having started a decade ago there still isn’t one in the state of Tennessee. It’s crazy because Georgia has three and North Carolina four. One of the strong points USSF Presidential candidate Kyle Martino makes is why aren’t these academies more evenly dispersed geographically? I know parents whose kids have been offered tryouts at Atlanta United, but were unwilling to uproot the family to make it happen. These are kids that fall through the cracks. There is no question they would want to play and train at an academy in Nashville.
I expect Nashville SC to make a major announcement about a Development Academy soon. It is important to start training local and state kids here in Nashville and not lose them to Atlanta or North Carolina. It’s really a kids best path to a college scholarship, MLS youth team and/or USMNT youth team. While it might be two years before a new academy can be built and open it is imperative that plans are finalized soon. U-12 and U-14 kids and parents need to see their path and know a new academy in their town is coming. It will be such an asset to the city but without it their best options lie elsewhere.