It’s with mixed feelings that we write this post after learning that the Development Academy (DA) program suspended operations indefinitely. There’s a glimpse of hope as a successor program was announced by MLS almost immediately after the news broke out; however, the lack of details disclosed on it could be uncertain for current and future families seeking a new football league/team/club. Thus, at the writing of this post, the uncertainty of the new program (let’s call it DA version 2.0) prevents us from having an objective opinion about it. Therefore, we will focus on the known and now defunct DA program (DA going forward).
As some would say, DA was not perfect but its successor won’t be either. It’s human nature to complain about many things in life as a way to try to enhance/optimize them and maybe for excellent reasons; sometimes that’s how we drive change. Like everything else though, there isn’t a solution that fits everyone’s needs and DA was definitely in that category. Since DA was costing families money (lots in some cases), parents (and players) would naturally feel entitled to more value than what perhaps they were receiving. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.
In our case, we inherited the DA setup by virtue of having joined the FC Dallas (FCD) environment prior. Therefore, the benefits or disadvantages of being a member of DA were somehow diluted by virtue of being with the club first. DA did a lot for the Gómez boys (more good than bad). In the end, it gave them a more realistic platform to “the dream” which they didn’t have before. For us parents, it provided countless memories.
Neither one of the boys will play in DA v2.0 anymore so why do we care? Easy, we care because one of the objectives of this site is to share information for football families. We would have liked to have all this information available when we were at crossroads with some of these decisions. Ultimately, we also want the betterment of the sport in this country. Equally important, we do have a daughter who plays the sport at a competitive level. Note: We typically exclude her from most football related posts for two reasons: age and love for the game. Although she’s probably the most technically gifted of all the three siblings, her love of the game isn’t quite there (yet) AND in this particular case, she never experienced the DA setup given her age. Below, we try to break down some of the pros and cons that DA (from an FCD parent’s perspective) provided for us. First the pros:
When Johan joined FCD, the club already participated in TEPAL (Texas Pre-Academy League), a US Club Soccer sanctioned league. For this league, FCD required training five times a week (as opposed to twice a week with Johan’s previous club: Solar). The increased training frequency was instrumental in Johan’s development; it soon increased to six times a week during his U14 year (when his team -01s- joined DA). Although we had to commute to Frisco for training (45 miles – 90 minutes with traffic- each way), training was worth the extra time and miles. Johan was being coached and evaluated by not only FCD staff but U.S. Soccer local scouts for inclusion to U.S. Soccer local/national training centers and camps. Jogo, two years later went through the same process except, he never played TEPAL.
Our traveling was not limited to/from practices. In TEPAL, the team traveled for games twice a month within the the state of Texas and would play against local clubs (Andromeda, Solar, Texans), Houston (Dynamo, Rush), San Antonio (Classics Elite), and Austin (Lonestar). Once the team moved to DA, most of the TEPAL teams joined DA and new ones (out of state) joined our conference. As a result, the travel now included Colorado teams (Rush, Real Colorado, Rapids) and Sporting Kansas City. In TEPAL, all the out of town trips were via bus; once the team started traveling to Colorado and Kansas, the team started flying. Similarly, DA provided the opportunity to attend two (fall/winter) and (spring/summer) showcases to play different teams from across the nation. At the time, the spring/summer showcase always took place in Frisco which was convenient. Additional showcases included futsal which both boys loved.
The competition in TEPAL was very good. In fact, some of the best competition the FCD 01s ever faced was out of San Antonio (Classics Elite) which unfortunately never made it to DA. In the end, most of these clubs eventually joined DA but some good talent was definitely left behind. The state of Texas is loaded with talent but when DA added “neighboring” out-of-state clubs, league competition definitely improved. Also, the showcases were always packed with parents (at the younger ages), scouts/agents (at the older ages) and of course, coaches/players. A football social networking heaven. These showcases offered the opportunity to play equally talented teams from across the country. In their first year, the FCD’s 01 DA team, ranked #1 at the time, played LA Galaxy ranked #2 at the time (rankings are always subjective). In an extremely competitive game FCD defeated LA Galaxy with Johan scoring this goal:
The FCD 01 DA would go on to record the first (and only) undefeated DA season in the club’s history. Anyway, all this travel (at FCD) had ZERO cost for the families/players.
In TEPAL, the team traveled by bus a couple of times a month and parents paid FCD for the trips (about $60/player). In DA, that was no longer the case for either bus or airplane trips. The coaching, the uniforms, the fields, and the travel fees (associated with DA) were all covered. The only cost associated with watching Johan play was the expense incurred as a family to attend the games (and filming). Even then, when we couldn’t attend the games, all the games were recorded or streamed (or both).
When the games were not streamed, all it took to watch DA games (albeit delayed a few days) was a request to the team manager. For the Gómez’s, DA made it convenient to watch the boys’ games, we no longer had to attend games live and much less record the games ourselves. The addition of the DA games helped enrich our YouTube channel: theGomezway. Most of that content is unlisted. As a side note, we heard this season FCD realized that families were using these tapes to showcase their players and the requests for film now require academy director approval. It makes some sense; honestly, we were always given full access to video without any restrictions. We are extremely grateful for that. Either way, the exposure by streamed or recorded games provided yet a different platform for additional player publicity; some parents/families eventually realized its huge impact.
National team exposure:
Whenever the DA games (showcase mostly) were streamed, the number of viewers was significantly large. In our case, we learned of agents, scouts, remote family members who were able to view, enjoy, and assess the boys’ performance thanks to these streamed games. Similarly, the DA’s database of recorded games could easily be accessed by some of these professionals interested in youth games. In the end, it wasn’t necessary for families to build a football library as the film was easily accessible online. The DA showcases were open season in terms of talent for national team scouts who were always in attendance. It was partially at those showcases where both of the boys gained more attention with the national team staff. Thank you DA and FCD!!
As you can read from above, DA required a lot of player (and family) commitment (cons below). However, the league was setup to reward individuals and teams (with end of season awards). The boys were recipients of several accolades (team and individual) during their DA membership and those incentivized them to continue improving. The one below is probably the most significant as both were on the same award simultaneously. The effects of a pat in the back for anybody (more so for a young player) are underrated. Words and actions are very motivational.
Not everything was rosy with DA. For almost every advantage I listed above, there’s at least one counter-point. Here are some of the cons:
Although it was very beneficial to train more frequently, the body (without proper care) eventually feels the wear and tear which normally leads to more injuries. Unfortunately, most of these DA clubs were not setup to provide the medical attention needed for these players who underwent a long season with a rigorous training regime. Medical care was typically left up to parents. In our case, we always tried to be very proactive regarding the boys’ health and nutrition and thankfully, neither struggled much with injuries. Ultimately, it IS a contact sport and that can’t be prevented. There were other players who were not as fortunate. Medical negligence influenced their performance and in some cases cut their football careers short. To be fair, the six times a week training wasn’t necessarily a mandate by DA but the organization didn’t frown upon it either. For an organization that emphasized player safety, training six times a week never seemed to be scrutinized and/or challenged.
At the younger ages (U15 and below), DA rosters are usually not impacted as much with injuries (equivalent playing time plays a role). Also, the game is more pure than at the older ages where street smartness and hormones comes into play. Statistically, the frequency and severity of injuries increases as players age until they become professionals. Player injuries ultimately impact the quality and sometimes the results of matches. By the end of the season, making a run for the DA championship seemed more of a battle for the survival of the fittest (deeper benches) than the team playing the better football. Johan’s team made two of the last three DA finals. Injuries, as part of the regular game as they may be, in some cases became a huge financial burden on families and unfortunately, DA (or the club) didn’t make it known to families that secondary medical insurance was available to assist with medical costs.
At FCD, cost was minimal to play DA but that wasn’t the case at other local clubs. We can’t imagine having to pay for coaching, fields, uniforms, travel, etc. If, in addition to the regular season fees, one adds preventive medical or injury costs, the expense to play “the beautiful game” skyrockets and justifiably some strongly criticized DA.
National Team Exposure:
Kuddos to national team staff that was always present at showcases. Historically, looking through youth national team player selection for the different age groups, there seems to be a higher density of selected players from MLS based academies. There could be many reasons for that depending on who you ask, some may even go as far as saying that talent is higher at MLS academies. In our opinion, non-MLS talented players do not always get as frequent assessments from youth national team staff as MLS based players. This may not necessarily be a ding against DA but a tendency indeed. We will be writing a post on this subject (Is a player better off joining an MLS side?) in the near future.
Length of season:
DA games started in early September and ended in early July of the following year (for those teams going all the way to the final four). However, training at FCD started in late July leaving only two weeks of vacation in the summer and two weeks in the winter. Also, FCD usually had two international trips (outside of the DA season) to México per year. These mandatory trips were not club-subsidized (required fundraising) and occurred in early August and another one in mid January. The trips were fun, competitive, but didn’t allow proper recovery of the young athlete’s growing body. It’s a very long season that leaves limited time for anything outside of football. DA had some participation rules but not a single rule about a mandatory rest period.
DA had a “rule” (albeit soft) that players could not participate in school football (middle and high school). Personally, this may have been the main drawback for our boys. Both boys attended a private school prior to joining FCD. In that school, they could have very well excelled playing football (and other sports) as it’s not public-setting competitive. Early in their teenage years (more Jogo), they had to forego playing with school friends and abandon school sports due to potential saturation. In hindsight, some would say it was the correct decision. Ironically, both boys now get to see how their younger sister excels in every school sport she participates in and maybe that plants a seed of uncertainty about the “what could have happened if I….”.
I could go on listing more pros and cons but this post is already long. To summarize it, I would say that there isn’t a perfect fit for every football family. As you gauge what environment is best for yours, do your due diligence. Do what fits your family the most and without regrets go all in with the decision. We did that, and although it wasn’t perfect, we would do it again in a heartbeat. Please continue to reach out should you have any questions.
BTW, Johan and friends continue chumchatting. This week’s guest was the famous two time national champion Clemson “American” football coach: Dabo Swinney. Give them a listen.