Doneil Henry

Toronto plan big push with academies in 2011

TORONTO — This will be an exciting year of growth for youth development programs at Toronto FC, according to the club's academy director Stuart Neely.

With TFC ownership approving a $17.6 million investment in a new training facility, planning is underway for the creation of a third academy team. Neely said he expects a program made up of U-14 and U-13 players to be up and running by spring 2012.

And that’s just the beginning, Neely said.

“It’s exciting,” Neely said. “We are looking to create U-15, U-13, U-11 all the way down to U-7 [teams]. That’s been the plan from Day 1.”

With a new management team boasting experience in the world renowned Ajax youth system, it’s a reasonable assumption that the Reds will be relying on homegrown talent a great deal moving forward, Neely said. Last year, the club signed academy standouts Doneil Henry (pictured above) and Nicholas Lindsay (pictured below) to professional contracts.

[inline_node:318435]“We’ve talked to the first-team staff and they all see the NCAA draft as useful, but they really think there needs to be more emphasis on the academy for developing players for the first team,” he said.

Both head coach and technical director Aron Winter and first assistant Bob de Klerk will work directly with the youngsters in the academy, Neely added.

After an initial evaluation of the entire group, the plan is to have a select few academy players training with the first team throughout the year. According to Neely, TFC fans can expect the Reds to take full advantage of the MLS rule that will allow up to three academy players to take part in each reserve game.

Neely also pledged full cooperation with the Canadian Soccer Association in releasing players for U-17 and U-20 events, adding that it’s important that TFC, along with the other MLS academy programs in Canada, remember they have a responsibility to improve the state of the Canadian game.

“We’re really stressing loyalty to the club,” Neely said, “but also to Canada. We will cooperate fully with the national teams.”

A location for the new training facility is expected to be announced by April and be ready for use by the start of the 2012 season.