Minnesota Thunder Academy Accepted into USSF Development Academy Program
The Minnesota Thunder Academy (MTA) will announce Friday morning that they are only 1 of 2 1 of 4 teams accepted into the prestigious USSF Development Academy for 2010. The other teams are Shattuck St. Mary’s, the San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders.
According to Barry Neal, president of the MTA, Louis Mateus of the USSF Development Academy contacted MTA on Monday of this week and notified them of their acceptance. The organization had visited MTA several weeks ago as part of their application process. Last year, MTA and Shattuck St. Mary’s soccer program both applied but were rejected while 5 other clubs from around the country were accepted.
The Development Academy is a partnership between U.S. Soccer and the top youth clubs around the country to provide the best youth players in the U.S. with an every day environment designed to produce the next generation of National Team players. The Academy’s programming philosophy of increased training, less total games and more competitive games is based on U.S. Soccer’s Best Practices utilized by the U-17 U.S. National Team Residency program.
The Development Academy also connects National Team coaches directly with the Academy clubs to develop and identify players and coaches for future Youth National Teams. Each Academy team is evaluated by a National Team coach at least ten times each year and each Academy club receives two formal evaluations in over 100 categories each year from National Team staff.
“It was one of our goals and we were working towards it for years when we were still Bangu,” said Neal. “And it was part of our hope when we collaborated with the Wings that we could get there faster and we are just as happy as can be that this time has come. Everything we had planned and worked towards has come together for us on the boys side of the program.”
Neal credited Rob Zahl for his hard work on this year’s MTA application but also credited Manny Lagos and Mark Abboud for their past vision and work on making this a reality.
Neal says the club’s acceptance into the program will throw changes into his club and the MYSA State Cup. He explains that the Development Academy program operates like FIFA with birth dates of players falling into a calendar year, where the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association’s (MYSA) birth dates are considered as of August. Also, the Development Academy has only boys teams, a U-16 and a U-18 team. Neal explained how this age change shift and 2 age year groupings will cause changes in their teams that are now set at single age teams and aligned with MYSA rules with August birthdays. “Some of our current teams will have to be realigned to work with the calender year,” said Neal. “My assumption is on the U-16 team we will probably have some exceptional U-15′s make that team. On the 18′s there are obviously U-17′s that can play at that level. So really it could impact 4 different age groups for us. There are still many details to work out and it will be a work in progress.”
Neal also stated that his teams already travel a great deal, playing in the Midwest League and traveling to many national tournaments. But in all likelihood, the amount of travel will increase as Academy teams play 15-20 away matches in a given season. Currently there are 30 league games, including 6 games played at Showcases. Clubs play year round but break from league play during their local high school soccer season along with periods of inactivity due to weather. With this decision it will also mean that 2010 will be the last year that those age groups (U-16 and U-18) for MTA are allowed to play in State Cup.
There will also be a some other changes for clubs and players. According to the Development Academy website, academy clubs are required to maintain a minimum of 36 full-time players on their club player pool. There is no limit on the number of players that can be rostered as long as each player starts a minimum of 25% of the clubs matches. Another change for some players will mean they are required to drop any ODP activities or any other soccer affiliation except for high school or National Team duty.
A look at the conferences of the USSF Development Academy shows Minnesota would likely play in the Central Conference, grouped with teams from Chicago, Colorado, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Kansas City. However, Neal stated that with 2 new teams added to the Academy this year, there is talk of conference realignment. The former Bangu and current MTA president explained that his club will enter into the Development Academy program next spring. “It’s a huge step forward for soccer in Minnesota,” said Neal. ” The competition is going to be phenomenal. Soccer in Minnesota has come a long way in the last 10 to 15 years.”
Official USSF Announcement: Note Shattuck St. Mary’s is also included. I had been asked by SSM not to release that information until it had become public from USSF. That is why they were not mentioned in the article. IMS will have a follow up article with quotes from Tim Carter of SSM.
Edited at 11:10 a.m. 04/02/10 after USSF Made official announcement.