Louisville soccer: It’s all change

It’s a very interesting time for youth soccer in the Kentuckiana area as two entities vie to bring a US Soccer Federation Development Academy setup to greater Louisville.

On one side, you have Mockingbird Valley, which has joined forces with Chicago Fire Juniors, the youth affiliate of MLS club Chicago Fire.

Going forward, they will be known as Chicago Fire Juniors-Kentucky and will start to wear the Fire uniforms after the spring season.

On the other, you’ve got United 1996 and Javanon coming together under the umbrella of Rovers Academy, which hopes to act as a feeder for Premier Development League side River City Rovers.

Last week, both applicants were given the opportunity to show off their respective talent pools to the USSF regional technical advisor, Erik Imler, who is also University of Kentucky’s new assistant coach.

Whatever the decision, expected on April 1, the area is set to see change on the soccer fields—and off them.

Javanon and United 1996 will fill two teams in each age group on the boys’ side U13 through U18 under the Rovers Academy moniker.  Girls’ teams will be added in the 2013-14 season.

The squads will play in the Midwest Developmental League, part of the National Premier Leagues, which extends the principals espoused by the U.S. Soccer Development Academy into younger age groups.

Those involved, including top dogs Muhamed Fazlagic (United 1996) and Ali Ahmadi (Javanon), insist that it is not a merger of the clubs, and that both will still exist and field many teams not part of the academy.

Assistant technical director for Rovers Academy, Nathan Pitcock, said the deal between the clubs was something that happened over a matter of weeks, but was helped by good relationships between the pair.

“The two of us are similar in terms of philosophy and approach,” he said.  “Both clubs have a rich history, and both are proud of what they have achieved.”

Pitcock, who was a technical director with Chicago Magic Soccer Academy for four years, said the player pool and coaching staff in the greater Louisville area both compare very favorably with that at Magic.

However, he added that it is a decision that U.S. Soccer will not make lightly.

“The Development Academy is largely subsidized by U.S. Soccer. It’s a big investment and essentially they are making a big bet with whomever they chose,” he said.

“In saying that, we feel very confident in what we have put together. We also think this is a very good fit.”

Meanwhile, Chicago Fire Juniors-Kentucky held a two day event at the University of Louisville campus, where training was conducted by coaching staff of the college, including head coach Ken Lolla, and Juniors.

Its director of coaching, John Michael Hayden, was not able to say very much ahead of the Mockingbird’s public announcement about the partnership at its Mellwood Avenue base last night (Tuesday), but he emphasized the importance of a Development Academy locally in an invite sent out to players.

“If US Soccer does determine we do in fact have enough quality players in our area, the academy would bring instant credibility to the state as a whole,” he said.

This is not the first attempt to secure  a Development Academy for Louisville. Two years ago, Javanon and Mockingbird — co-owned by Jeffersonville architect Wayne Estopinal and Ted Nichols (also bosses of the Louisville Lightning indoor club) — submitted a combined proposal.

It was among more than 200 applicants across the nation to go through an extensive review process.

In the end, two Minnesota clubs —Thunder and Shattuck-St Mary’s — were chosen by the USSF.

Every year, it evaluates teams to determine which ones have the best potential to generate future national team players.

Selection is based on how applicants match up in various categories, including geographic location, history of player production, coaching staff/player pool and administrative capabilities.

The idea for the US Soccer Federation to offer Development Academy teams came to fruition in 2007. The goal was to bring the game at an underage level up to par with the rest of the world.

According to coaches, the focus is on developing the players rather than going after results.

The structure allows scouts to identify more players capable of becoming part of national team pools, and long term it is hoped to change the quality of the player at all levels of American soccer.

Participating in the current 2011-12 season are 78 top youth soccer clubs from all over the United States – including academies from many Major League Soccer franchises. They field one team in each of the two academy mixed-age groups at U-15/16 and U-17/18 levels.

The nearest academy to the Kentuckiana area is Indiana United Fire (formerly Carmel United), a two-time national champion in 2008 (U15/16) and 2009 (U17/18), which plays its home games at Butler University in Indianapolis.

USSF announced last month that it is changing the Development Academy season to a 10-month long campaign, starting in 2012-13. It will run from September through June (or July based on postseason play).

This creates a format that is similar to those followed by the elite soccer playing nations around the world as the Development Academy and U.S. Soccer continue their goal of closing the performance gap with the top soccer nations.

However, it will result in the abolition of top talent from boys’ high school soccer.

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