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USSF names first 25 Girls’ Development Academy clubs

US Soccer Development Academy

U.S. Soccer announced the first 25 clubs of its Girls Development Academy.

U.S. Soccer announced the first 25 clubs which will take part in the Girls’ Development Academy, a controversial initiative designed to become the top path for developing female youth players. The league will begin in the fall of 2017.

The league will follow the same model as U.S. Soccer’s Boys’ Development Academy, which since 2007 has served as the top path for male youth development.

What makes U.S. Soccer’s formation of the Girls’ Development Academy so controversial is the existence of the ECNL (Elite Clubs National League), which began in 2009 and currently features 79 member clubs. The ECNL says that 80 to 90 percent of the U.S. women’s youth national team pools come from the league.

But U.S. Soccer decided against building its Development Academy around the pre-existing ECNL, instead creating a rival competition and development path. Seventeen of the 25 clubs announced by U.S. Soccer as founding members of the 2017 Development Academy season are currently members of the ECNL, with more poaching likely to follow.

[LOOKING BACK: U.S. Soccer launches new initiatives for developing female players]

Six of the 10 National Women’s Soccer League teams are among the first 25 clubs to join the Development Academy: Boston Breakers, Orlando Pride, Portland Thorns, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC (in partnership with New Jersey youth power PDA) and the Washington Spirit.

The full list of founding clubs is as follows:

Beach SC (Torrance, Calif.)
FC Dallas (Frisco, Texas)
Real Colorado (Highlands Ranch, Co.)
Boston Breakers (Watertown, Mass.)
LAFC-Slammers (Los Angeles, Calif.)
San Diego Surf (San Diego, Calif.)
CASL (Raleigh, N.C.)
Lamorinda (Moraga, Calif.)
Seattle Reign (Seattle, Wash.)
Cincinnati Development Academy (Kings Hammer/CUP) (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Michigan Hawks (Livonia, Mich.)
Sky Blue FC-PDA (Bernardsville, N.J.)
Mustang (Danville, Calif.)
So Cal Blues (Rancho Capistrano, Calif.)
Colorado Rush (Littleton, Co.)
Orlando Pride/City SC (Orlando, Fla.)
Sockers FC (Palatine, Ill.)
Concorde Fire (Atlanta, Ga.)
Penn Fusion SA (Westtown, Pa.)
Solar Chelsea SC (Dallas, Texas)
Crossfire (Redmond, Wash.)
Portland Thorns (Portland, Ore.)
Washington Spirit (Boyds, Md.)
De Anza Force (Saratoga, Calif.)
Tophat NTH (Atlanta, Ga.)

There will be three combined age groups: U-14/15, U-16/17, and U-18/19.

“We all know how important it is to create the correct environment and expectations for elite player development, something that was highlighted for me during my time as Development Director for our youth women’s national teams,” said U.S. women’s national team head coach Jill Ellis. “The Development Academy is an important step forward to continue the growth of the women’s game in the United States, and to create the best pathway for players to reach their full potential.”

[MORE: Which 18 players are headed to Rio 2016 Olympics with USWNT?]

U.S. Soccer says that the aforementioned 25 clubs “will be providing 276 full scholarships with a total of $1.49 million of scholarship funds being contributed.”

U.S. Soccer lists the following criteria for evaluating and accepting clubs:

– Leadership of the club and quality of the coaching staff
– Desire to embrace and promote the core values of the program
– U.S. Soccer license levels of coaching staff
– Infrastructure of the club and the resources currently being invested in development (facilities, scholarships, staff to player ratio, etc.)
– History of player production for Youth National Teams, the senior Women’s National Team and professional leagues
– Market and depth of the player pool, geographic location and travel implications and proximity to other elite clubs

The rest of the clubs will be admitted on a rolling basis heading into the 2017 season.

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