With the first USL Academy Cup event of 2020 around the corner, USL clubs will have the opportunity to bring together some of the top youth prospects in their markets. But outside of game play at the USL Academy Eastern Conference Event in February, participants will also have off-field opportunities to enhance their experience. A series of smaller events geared toward coaches, players, parents, and referees highlight a consistent focus on youth development throughout the event.
“Since the onset of this project, we’ve been very deliberate in ensuring all USL Academy initiatives approach youth development through a holistic lens,” said Liam O’Connell, USL Sr. Director of Youth Development. “To do that, we need to involve all key stakeholders that influence young players in this country, and discuss ways in which we can support and accelerate player development on and off the field, while continuing to push our game to greater heights.”
Saturday, February 15 from 4:00-9:00 pm
All USL Academy Eastern Conference Regional Event attendees can attend two professional preseason games at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida. In the first match at 4:00 pm, MLS sides Philadelphia Union and Inter Miami will square off, with the USL Championship’s Tampa Bay Rowdies taking on Montreal Impact (coached by Thierry Henry) at 7:00 pm.
As a brand-new MLS club, the preseason friendly against Philadelphia will be the first-ever Inter Miami match available to the public.
The Rowdies preseason game vs. Montreal Impact is free to attend for all USL Academy guests. Graphic from Tampa Bay Rowdies
Access to these games is just one of the many ways in which USL Academy players get experience tied to professional soccer during conference Academy competition.
Saturday, February 15 at 8:30 a.m.
The Youth Development Workshop is designed with a focus on driving dialogue around youth development within USL pro pathways, and how best to bridge the gap between youth and professional soccer. O’Connell will introduce the event by discussing the future player development model for USL Academy and how this model will aim to assist USL clubs in accomplishing their missions. Tom Harris of North Carolina FC will then present a case study on Identifying and Integrating Elite Youth Talent.
PlayerMaker will present its technology, a valuable resource for USL clubs that can be used to enhance youth development by providing in-depth data about player performance. Clubs that use PlayerMaker gain incredible insight through the ability to monitor and analyze their players in a way that allows each individual to improve at a personalized level.
San Antonio FC Pro Academy Director Nick Evans presents a case study at the USL Academy Western Conference Regional Event.
The event will conclude with breakout sessions, where those in attendance will have the chance to discuss relevant trends in youth development and significant shifts in the American youth soccer landscape. These sessions will aid coaches in networking and forging relationships with others who are pushing for positive change in the sport at the youth level.
Sunday, February 16 at 2:00 pm
The Pro Pathway Panel will educate both players and parents about the USL Academy platform and what it means to be a part of this exciting new initiative. Attendees will learn about the expanding opportunities to play professionally in the United States via both USL and MLS as more professional clubs are setting up academy programs than ever before. Moving forward, youth clubs will have the chance to affiliate themselves with USL Academy programs and be part of their local professional club’s path to the professional level.
The panel will also teach parents and young players about the massive commitment it takes to reach the sport’s highest level and offer advice on potential pitfalls in chasing that dream. The guest speakers will include individuals that have been involved with soccer’s pro pathway as coaches, scouts, and players.
Phoenix Rising's Jon Pearlman speaks on the Pro Pathway Panel at the USL Academy Western Conference Regional Event.
Most players at the USL Academy level are already among the elite in their age group but still have many steps in front of them before reaching the pros. Hearing from those who understand the challenges of building a soccer career will be valuable for USL Academy players and the parents that support them.
Friday, February 14 at 1:30 pm, Saturday, February 15 at 10:00 am, and Sunday, February 16 at 1:00 pm
An often overlooked area of soccer development, these sessions will help referees gain insight on game management and other aspects of one of the sport’s toughest jobs. After an orientation prior to the start of the tournament, the tournament’s referees will meet to review the day’s action and discuss how to improve moving forward.
"Referee development is an important and integral part of the game," said Dick Triche of Officials Management Group. "Field and classroom training, as well as game observation and review, will be part of the conference games. Each referee will receive feedback from national and regional referee coaches."
Referees at the USL Academy Western Conference Regional Event.
Hosting these sessions at USL Academy events could pay dividends toward improving the quality of refereeing in American soccer, not just for the youth game in the present but for the professional level in the future.
To learn more about USL Academy or the USL Academy Eastern Conference Regional Event, visit usl-academy.com or search #USLAcademy on Twitter.