The US Soccer Federation Development Academy league is only four years old. In that short span, very few teams have enjoyed consistent success.
One youth program, Capital Area Soccer League (or CASL for short) based in Raleigh, N.C., is one of the few clubs that has managed to make several appearances in the National Playoff event at both the U-16 and U-18 age levels.
“Our club has been one of the top clubs in the Development Academy league,” CASL’s director of coaching Rusty Scarborough told MLSsoccer.com. “Over the three years, they’ve had six National Championship events, and CASL has been to five of those six.”
For more than 30 years, CASL has been nurturing some of the best players in the area, with notable alumni like Zack Schilawski, Logan Pause and Michael Harrington now playing in Major League Soccer.
A strong player retention rate over the years has been one of the keys to success, as very few players who start as youngsters with CASL abandon them for another youth setup. This is particularly true for the CASL Academy teams.
“The majority of our [Academy] players are CASL kids who have been in the club many, many years,” Scarborough said. “We have attracted, over the past year-and-a-half, some of the top players in the area because of the Academy league.”
CASL is much more than just the two Development Academy sides. With teams starting at the Under-5 age group going all the way up through Under-19, Scarborough estimated a player stable of roughly 9,500 kids. Along with that, several different levels within each age group give players in the region options.
The clubs takes a very serious approach to its Academy teams. Practices are held four days a week when a single game follows on the weekend, and three times when they have to play twice. Along with that, there’s more going on than just the day-to-day training exercises. A whole system has been put in place to help player development and ensure success.
“We pride ourselves in our training environment with this Academy league,” Scarborough said. “We incorporate nutrition, cognitive and behavioral surveys with a company out of Philadelphia called Exact Sports. We’ve included a strength and conditioning component as well.”
Another benefit that attracts players has been the success rate at getting Development Academy players into top college programs. Fourteen of the class of 2011 will continue their playing careers this fall at top programs around the nation, including nearby North Carolina and Duke.
The two Development Academy teams officially go by CASL Chelsea because of the partnership the club struck up with English Premier side Chelsea FC. It was a long process that began four years ago, when one of CASL’s youth teams beat a London youth side at a Florida showcase.
From there, CASL eventually became the first American youth club to strike up a partnership with the English powerhouse. It’s a multi-faceted initiative that includes financial assistance for players, technical recommendations in development, and coaching seminars.
“The relationship has been awesome,” Scarborough said. “It’s been a tremendous asset to our club and the relationship has been really good to date. We look forward to the future with them.”
The success of CASL Chelsea has continued in the 2010-11 Dev. Academy campaign. After a strong performance last weekend, the U-16s currently have an overall record of 10-3-1, while the U-18s sit in first place in the Atlantic Division with an 11-1-2 record.
While another appearance in the National showcase is far from sealed, it won’t be surprising to see both CASL Chelsea teams making another trip to the playoffs later this year.