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May, 2020

US YOUTH SOCCER AND MLS’ NEW PATHWAY FOR YOUTH SOCCER

US Youth Soccer’s CEO Skip Gilbert on the New Partnership with MLS and the Resurgence of ODP

Diane Scavuzzo

Diane Scavuzzo is the Editor in Chief and loves her work, family, and soccer not necessarily in that order. Scavuzzo started covering soccer in 2010 and has published over 6,000 articles on the beautiful game.


Every day, we cover what is happening in our soccer world and share information you need to know to plan ahead in this uncertain time because of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, here is great news that was spearheaded before the global moratorium on soccer was ever thought of and paves a brighter future for many youth soccer players across America.

On May 15, 2020, Major League Soccer (MLS) and US Youth Soccer (USYS) announced a groundbreaking partnership that impacts youth soccer for the better.

MLS and USYS Launch Strategic Partnership to Offer New Identification Opportunities
MLS and USYS Launch Strategic Partnership to Offer New Identification Opportunities

This partnership between MLS and USYS followed two days after the MLS announced “A new era for soccer development in North America” with 65 of the DA’s former academy clubs joining the MLS academies as part of a new elite player development platform “set to transform youth player development in the United States and Canada.”  While the MLS player development platform will include more than 8,000 youth soccer players in an elite year-round premier player development environment, it does not solve the problem of scouting talent in a country our size.

This is where US Youth Soccer, the largest youth sports organization in the country, fits so well into the broad plans of growing the American soccer game.

“US Youth Soccer has thousands of boots on the ground to help everyone fulfill their dream,” said Fred Lipka, Technical director of player development in a United Soccer Coaches Zoom session last week. Hosted by Dean Linke, this Zoom session featured Lipka and United Soccer Coaches Director of Coaching Education Ian Barker on the “Future of MLS in the Global US Soccer Landscape.”

With 55 State soccer associations all across the USA, US Youth Soccer can provide meaningful access to millions of youth soccer players.

“We have a national scale of youth soccer players  from nearly every community in the country,” said US Youth Soccer CEO Skip Gilbert. “With 3 million families in 55 State Associations, we have a footprint of youth soccer players that is unmatched.”

“THIS PARTNERSHIP IS IN THE BEST INTEREST OF AMERICAN PLAYERS.”

Skip Gilbert, CEO US Youth Soccer

“The youth sports landscape is fractured,” said Gilbert who hopes the partnership with MLS can breakdown the great divides between youth soccer organizations — for the good of the player. “I want to give every kid an equal opportunity to succeed on and off the field.”

Read: MLS AND US YOUTH SOCCER PARTNER FOR NEW PLAYER ID

MLS and US Youth Soccer will collaborate on:

  • enhancements in player identification and monitoring
  • coaching and scouting education for parents, coaches, and volunteers
  • regional competitions
  • fan engagement

“Our goal is to ensure that every youth soccer player throughout the country has the ability to reach his or her highest potential,” said Lipka who sees USYS as a valuable ally in achieving this goal.

“I HOPE THAT SOCCER IN GENERAL WILL BE STRONGER AT THE END OF THIS PERIOD THAN WHEN WE BEGAN.”

Fred Lipka, MLS Technical Director of Player Development

“We need to improve scouting,” said Lipka. “We need to give a chance to every single kid to join a pathway —  as we make soccer the preeminent sport in the country and grow the game.”

One of the most important outcomes of this new partnership is eliminating some of the financial barriers which have kept talented young players from participating and being scouted.

“USYS’ PARTNERSHIP WITH MLS IS SO CRUCIAL BECAUSE IT PROVIDES A CLEAR PATHWAY.”

Skip Gilbert, CEO US Youth Soccer

Is the pathway specifically US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (ODP)? 

Kicked off in1977, ODP was created as a scouting program to identify a pool of players in each age group from which a National Team would be selected for international competition. The program lost its sparkle due to the varied costs around the country and the inability to provide consistent high-level player development as training sessions were few and far apart. When the U.S. Soccer Development Academy stepped in, the ODP program became relegated to a second-class status and withered until recently when strong leadership on a national level started to bring back the program’s luster.

With an unparalleled reach, a network of coaches around the country hungry to contribute to player identification, and this new MLS partnership which promises to reduce some of the financial barriers to entry, this is the time for a resurgence of ODP.

ODP IN 2020 HAS A BRIGHTER FUTURE THAN EVER.

“I want people to remember ODP the way it was in the 80s and 90s when America’s top talent was identified in ODP player pools,” said Gilbert.

Tab Ramos, the head coach of the Houston Dynamo played in ODP. John Harkes who coaches in the USL also was in ODP as well as Christie Pearce Rampone, Carli Lloyd, John Harkes and Tobin Heath — just to name a few,” said Gilbert who credits his time in ODP helping his collegiate soccer career.

Read: SKIP GILBERT ON BEING THE NEW CEO OF US YOUTH SOCCER AND OUR FUTURE

The conversation between USYS and the MLS began over a year ago and Skip gracefully gives his staff the credit for spearheading this partnership and establishing this partnership.  “It was really a collaborative effort,” added Gilbert. “Combining MLS with the oldest and largest youth soccer organization to create a new pathway just makes sense.”

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the MLS and US Youth Soccer, which described the broad outlines of the agreement between the two parties, sat on the desk with the signing delayed because of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. 

Read: MLS’ NEW ELITE DEVELOPMENT PLATFORM KICKS OFF TOP 95 YOUTH SOCCER CLUBS and USYS’ DR. PETE ZOPFI ON HOW COVID-19 WILL CHANGE YOUTH SOCCER

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