Back in the fall of 2013, as the YSC Academy flung open its doors to student-athletes for the first time, I sat down with then-Union GM Nick Sakiewicz, in addition to some other major names, to dive into the academy’s nuts and bolts.
Sakiewicz has since departed the club under acrimonious terms, but the school is still bulling along. Before YSC, the Union didn’t have a dedicated academy arm, instead relying on a series of regional satellite clubs they’d bring in for broader club-based training sessions to scout. It was essentially the fading ODP model shrunk down to academy form.
The system worked to identify talent but not to develop it. Under its far-flung auspices in the pre-YSC era from 2010-2013, the Union signed Homegrown players Cristhian Hernandez, Jimmy McLaughlin and Zach Pfeffer. Two of those are now inactive and the third, Pfeffer, was dealt to Colorado this year. Without control of the players, the Union had no real way of influencing their development tracks.
Since arriving as the ostensible replacement for Sakiewicz last year, GM Earnie Stewart has had plenty to tweak about the Union’s general direction. One thing he did not need to move, however, was the YSC Academy. At least not in a general sense.
And after three years as a school and nearly four since the Union’s last Homegrown signing, YSC just produced its first Union signee.
Say hello to Derrick Jones.
Jones got in at YSC on the ground level in 2013, and he walked the path Stewart will no doubt preach as The Way to their young academy ingenues in the school’s halls. From YSC to Bethlehem Steel to the Union in less than three years. This is a pipeline, controlled entirely by the Union and overseen by the club’s decision-makers from the jump. It is how the process is handled everywhere top quality players are generated. Jones can now count himself a party to the carousel.
Since 2013 the Union have had the steel framework for a quality architectural piece of work without an actual architect to fill in the space. Stewart is still relatively new on the job, but he certainly looks the part so far.
YSC or something like it is, if not itself the future, then a major part of it. The biggest issue inside American soccer is how to surround players with more of everything: more training, more high-level coaching, more intense environments. Everything you see out of soccer reform in this country is some form of administrators attempting to crank the dial closer to 10. Everything, in one form or another, just needs to be intensified.
The school model isn’t perfect. It isn’t free, for one, and while YSC provides need-based scholarships for some of its best players, its tuition is still thousands of dollars per year. You understand it needs to find funding from somewhere, but it’s an undeniably limiting factor.
That said, YSC can offer its players a completely contained environment: it can control and amp up training time because it can shape its classroom schedule around those time concerns. This is precisely why you’ve seen MLS academies like FC Dallas and the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake establish partnerships with existing schools or outright establish those of their own. The more of a top youth player’s day you can control, the more you can assure he’s hitting the right training level. Which means more training.
The Union took their sweet time with YSC, waiting until the academy had firm footing before handing its first graduate a Union deal. It’s probably no coincidence that it came less than a year after the arrival of Earnie Stewart.