It remains to be seen how the new competitive platform MLS announced this week to replace the shuttered US Soccer Development Academy impacts youth development for MLS clubs, but Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath said he has some hopes for what it will look like when the full details are revealed.
Speaking on a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday joined by Minnesota veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay, Heath said the biggest thing he's hoping to see is with the new platform is adjusting the travel demands for youth soccer, particularly for younger age groups.
"Since I've been [in the US], this is my 12th year, they've tried so many different ways and so many different angles to make it better," Heath said. "At the end of the day, I don't think there's an easy solution to this, I really don't. But the most important thing is I don't believe certainly up to the age of maybe 15-16 that you need to travel. You should be able to stay in market with good coaches and get the necessary coaching that you need.
"Then certainly when you get to the age of 16, 17, 18 then I think the clubs have to take more control of it and then eventually it becomes a national thing. Ethan's been through it, the amount of travel kids are doing in this country for playing football I think is too much. Anything that keeps them in market for longer with good coaching from the clubs I think will be a positive in the end."
Finlay went through all that when he was coming up as a youth player, saying that his parents put around 180,000 miles on their Dodge Caravan over the course of five years. While Finlay said he enjoyed the experience of traveling and playing games throughout the Midwest, he echoed Heath's general sentiment.
"The travel for youth soccer is incredible, and I think it's even harder now just because now kids are going to far away places, we were traveling simply in the Midwest," Finlay said. "Now you have kids going to Florida and California every other weekend and Texas — those are plane trips for people.
"I think if you start to separate guys and allow them to play within their markets to compete against each other and not necessarily create these mega-teams at the youth soccer level, you're going to get good internal competition that can obviously can continue to move outward as guys get older and get that exposure," he added. "If you look at places like California and the East Coast and the South, there's a lot of talented players in such a heavily populated area that you really can do a lot of minimal travel when it comes to finding good competition."