Major League Soccer is collaborating with U.S. Youth Soccer to identify top players while also giving children from underserved communities an opportunity to showcase their talents without costly travel.
MLS and soccer’s largest youth organization on Friday announced a new regional competition model that they say will allow boys and girls to be seen and scouted, regardless of their location or financial resources. MLS will absorb all the expenses for players attending and participating in regional competitions at certain age levels.
“First and foremost, we want to develop players,” said Gordon Bengtson, MLS senior director of player development. “And so, combine the ability to reach players directly in any corner of the country and also help facilitate growing the game, this was just a natural relationship to really pursue in earnest.”
U.S. Youth Soccer's membership exceeds 3 million boys and girls.
The new partnership expands the effort to identify young talent beyond the new competitive league for elite-level players announced earlier in the week by MLS. That includes youth from all economic backgrounds from parts of the country that might not have strong leagues and competition.
The elite league includes teams from all 26 current MLS franchises, the four planned expansion clubs, five USL teams and 60 nonprofessional clubs. The league's initiatives help fill the void left by the demise of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.
The development academy was disbanded April 15 amid financial difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic, leaving some 200 youth teams nationwide with an uncertain future. Launched in 2007, the USSF academy had included competitions in five age groups.
MLS will collaborate with USYS and its 55 state associations to develop the broader competition model announced Friday.
“With a country our size and only 30 MLS academies developing players, that is barely scratching the surface. So we view this as an opportunity to collaborate with an organization that covers every inch of the country and that will allow us the opportunity to leave no stone unturned to finding the next homegrown star,” said Bengtson.
Bengtson said the partnership would include opportunities to collaborate on such things as coach and technical leadership training, innovation of competition models and calendars and marketing.