Over 3,200 players took center stage in Browns Summit, North Carolina, for the first-ever Development Academy Spring Showcase. The front row of each field sideline was packed to full capacity with over 304 games being played. A white tent between the teams benches housed at least one scout from U.S. Soccer, as a rainbow of college jackets roamed the sidelines.
Though it’s just nine months old, the Girls’ Development Academy program has already become a premier avenue for scouts to evaluate a huge pool of talented players. The Spring Showcase brought them all to one place as both U.S. National Team and NCAA scouts were in attendance to see the top talent being developed by Academy Clubs.
“The Girls’ Development Academy is new, but because the standards have been set to the international context, it provides an elite performance environment,” Mirelle van Rijbroek, U.S. Soccer Director of Talent Identification, said. “Talent is not something fixed. It needs to be developed. Creating the right club environment is really important. All the pieces matter: qualified and licensed coaches, the number of training sessions you have each week, the quality of the games throughout the year, an age appropriate curriculum and having a clear philosophy. We know that all these standards that have been set in the DA environment contribute to the development of players.”
Development Academy Showcases don’t function as tournaments where teams try to rack up victories to win trophies. Instead, they serve as a venue to display all the preparation done in clubs’ home environments. Academy staff hand-picked matchups at showcases to create the most meaningful competition, a hallmark of DA events. This allows talent evaluators to see the nation’s best players face off against each other and to see how they rise to the challenge gives scouts an enormous insight into the player.
“Our Academy clubs understand that there are different leagues out there they can play in. This is not just an Academy, but it’s a philosophy,” Technical Director for Youth National Teams April Heinrichs said. “We see more attentiveness towards development, versus winning at all costs. We’re seeing coaches trying to put a plan in place with their club during the weekends and the TAs are working with them on that. We see more intentional soccer, if you will.”
The high level of competition serves as an indicator of what players will see at the next level. For many, that comes in the college game. Two hundred and thirteen NCAA coaches made the trip to Browns Summit to scout and recruit the next generation of players for their respective schools.
Each coach comes in search of something different, determined by different rosters and styles of play nationwide. With so many talented players gathered at one facility, the Showcase provided a huge opportunity for them to find what they’re looking for. FC Virginia technical director Bobby Puppione understands the importance of the stage the Showcase provides for his players.
“It’s important for us to continue to develop our players, allow them to grow and put them in meaningful games,” Puppione said. “Development Academy Showcases allow our teams to play in meaningful games in front of hundreds of college coaches. It allows us to showcase them so that they can find a place to go to college in a few years’ time.”
While colleges search for players that will graduate from the Academy to their ranks, U.S. Soccer has a close eye trained on every age group at Showcases. Youth National Team programs exist at every age from U-20 to U-14, and every National Team head coach from U-17 and younger travelled to North Carolina for the Spring Showcase.
“Every time a game is played and a ball is rolled, there’s an opportunity for us to find a Youth National Team player,” Heinrichs said. “We scout every field. We’re putting a blanket over the showcase. We have this no stone unturned philosophy. Being able to be here for six days to work together at every age group to work with our scouts is important. We are going to find the best of the best right here.”
National Team scouting at the Spring Showcase stands as an all-hands operation. In addition to the four Youth National Team coaches, the Girls’ Academy’s nine Technical Advisors and 24 scouts hit Browns Summit for the extensive scouting operation.
Each days started with a morning meeting to lay out which match-ups scouts would focus on and what National Team coaches look for in their player pools. After the scouting team watched every game of the Showcase every day, the group reconvened in the evening to discuss what they saw, track players already on their watch lists and log new discoveries. They also broke up into smaller groups by birth year, to discuss specific positional needs for the age group.
The results have begun to pay dividends. As the Girls’ Academy continues to grow, so will the benefits to the National Team program.
“We have now, 80 percent of our Youth National Team players play in the Girls’ Academy,” Heinrichs said. “We’re calibrating the scouting eye by educating our scouts and technical advisors. There’s this constant dialogue and teamwork amongst the National Team coaches, Technical Advisors and scouts.
“It means we’re finding better players. If we get the selection process better and better every year in our game, it means we’ve got better players arriving at the National Team level. It’s going to make the players and our National Teams better.”
The Development Academy is focused on improving environments to better develop every player. The Academy event is just one aspect of a program designed to create a pathway for players to reach their full potential in college, the professional ranks and for some a chance to represent U.S. Soccer on the international stage.