As MLS takes over the reins from US soccer at the top level of youth development in the American men's game, launching a 95-academy competition that includes all 30 MLS-run academies, FC Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez sees enormous potential for progress. It just may not come immediately.
The 95 clubs are transitioning to the MLS-run model after the US Soccer Development Academy was terminated by the United States Soccer Federation last month.
"I know maybe in a year, maybe this year or two years, it’s still going to be a little chaotic, it’s going to be a little confusing, it’s going to be different," Gonzalez said. "But I know that in a third year, you’re going to see a lot of progress and clarity."
Dallas has among the most productive youth academies in MLS, producing players like current US national team regulars Weston McKennie, Kellyn Acosta and Reggie Cannon, and 28 total Homegrown Player signings. Still, Gonzalez believes bringing the youth development landscape under the purview of MLS creates potential to find create even more pro-ready players by having more fruitful collaboration with non-MLS clubs. One reason, he says, is that the ultimate objective of the competition will shift slightly from supplying talent to US international competition to supplying the professional ranks, and that will bring with it small but useful changes in philosophy and organization.
Among the 95 founding members are seven academies from Texas, including four operated by entities outside MLS. The total of 95 founding members represents a decrease from the 150 clubs that competed in the US Soccer Development Academy, but not as sizable a downsizing as some had predicted.
Gonzalez is hopeful academies outside of MLS will remain as challenging as opposition, while also keeping the future of their players in mind.
"I think competition is good, but we can’t sacrifice development," Gonzalez said. "I always say competition has to be hand in hand with development. ... It sounds easier said than done, I know, but that’s the most, that’s the way you're going to optimize your players and potentialize your players and your people.
"This is an opportunity for everyone to really take their ego and put it to the side and listen, and that’s how we’re going to go somewhere together."