LAKEWOOD RANCH, Florida – As another calendar year comes to an end, so does another Development Academy Winter Showcase, and with it an appropriate time to reflect on the five day event.
Looking at it from close up, the event was as efficient and smooth as can be. U.S. Soccer and everyone else did an excellent job running the logistics of the process, and getting the chance to see the U.S. U17 MNT was surely a benefit as well for the youngsters.
Here are three observations from Florida:
1. The level is certainly good, but not great
After five days of watching Academy teams compete against each other from all corners of the country, it almost looked like watching the same games over and over again.
That’s a bit simplistic, maybe even harsh. And it’s not to say that every team or player was exactly the same. But a lot of it was eerily similar, with similar playing styles, and level of player – definitely good players, and there was a consensus from college coaches that the Academy has done wonders to raise the level – though the system may not be successful in producing the elite players that reach the highest level.
Of course, the simple rebuttal to that is elite players aren’t going to be commonly seen, and this is definitely true. It would be nice to be wowed from time to time, however.
2. MLS teams could eventually end up separating themselves from the rest
Speaking with a number of MLS Academy coaches, it’s clear that there was one thing high on their priority list to accomplish at this event: play against other MLS competition.
And a quick glance of the schedule reflected as such, as every single MLS Academy player at least two other pro-affiliated teams at the Florida Showcase. The level of those plays was just a little bit higher, generally speaking, and it hints at what might come down the road.
That’s not to say that there weren’t youth club teams out there more than equipped to compete with the MLS teams, but rather a reflection of the slightly different stated goals of both organizations.
Naturally, it’s going to be quite some time before this notion becomes a reality, as the logistics of MLS doing something like that is an expensive proposition, to say the least. That made it all the more important for the pro clubs to go up against each other this past week.
3. Newcomers take their lumps
The results for some of the clubs new to an event like this – San Juan SC, Orlando City Youth Soccer, Portland Timbers and Montreal Impact – were mixed to say the least.
Orlando City’s U18s actually managed an unbeaten week, this despite some struggles entering the week, drawing twice and winning once. City’s U16 squad actually impressed – scoring 10 goals and picking up all three wins at the Showcase.
San Juan’s U18s produced a win and two losses, with the U16s producing the same results.
Montreal and Portland were the two new MLS Academies on the scene, and faced an uphill battle as well. The Timbers U18s dropped the first two before winning the finale, while the U16s lost all three of their games. The Impact’s U18s lost all three of their games, while U16 squad turned things around.
Adjusting these events is no easy task, as this is the first time these programs took to the road in this capacity, traveling long distances and getting entirely different looks from opponents all over the country. Events such as this are just another step in the process of overhauling development in the U.S.