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A Look Inside Orlando City's Youth Soccer Structure

A deep dive into the grassroots soccer development program that the Lions have built and continue to develop in Central Florida.

Orlando City SC

In 2012, Orlando City SC purchased a controlling interest in Florida Soccer Alliance (FSA), a youth soccer club in Sanford. The deal gave the Lions FSA, as well as their facility, the Seminole Soccer Complex. The club soon changed the name to Orlando City Youth Soccer (OCYS) and made it their official youth program.

OCYS is separated into four programs: Little Lions, Recreational, Academy, and Development Academy/ECNL.

Orlando City pyramid

Little Lions (Age 4-7)

In Little Lions, kids are taught the technical aspects of the game. At that age, kids are very me-centric so at that level they learn to play with others. They also learn the technical parts of the game like dribbling, passing, and shooting, which is much easier learned at a young age. OCYS Executive Director Steve Rammel equates it to handwriting. You learn handwriting at a young age and that style of writing will be used whenever you write in the future.

It's the same thing in soccer. While you can learn the correct habits at an older age, it's much easier to learn the correct habits at a younger age and later on you'll use those correct habits instinctively.

Recreational (Age 8-18)

While part of OCYS's focus is on developing players for the senior team, that's not the only aim. When club president Phil Rawlins brought the team into central Florida in 2010, his goal was to grow the soccer culture in the area. Part of his way of doing that was to give kids top level coaching, whether they were the most skilled in the area or not.

OCYS's goal of teaching kids about life, giving them a love of the game, and helping them to grow as players, is very much the focus of the recreational teams.

Academy (Age 8-18)

The OCYS academy is an arm of Orlando City SC. The tryout-based teams are there to develop players for the senior team. Academy teams are set up into four levels: purple, white, gold, and black.

Purple is the elite level, followed by white, gold, and black. At the youngest ages, there are teams at all four levels. The further up the pyramid you go, the more the pyramid narrows to where you have just two purple teams. The purple academy teams are coached by ProAcademy (another name for the Developmental Academy) coaches. All of these coaches are full-time coaches and many come with college coaching experience.

Development Academy (Age 12-18)

In 2007, U.S. Soccer created the U.S. Soccer Development Academy league for boys -- of which OCYS is a member. Built to be the top level of youth development in the country, the USSDA requires clubs to be held to certain standards, such as a 10-month season and a specific number of training sessions.

The USSDA has three age groups: U-13/14, U-15/16, and U-17/18.  While most MLS clubs have decided to only have the USSDA age groups, Orlando City has decided to focus on youth development and have a full academy. Also known as the ProAcademy, the DA is fully funded by the club, an achievement which the club would like to extend into the younger academy in the future.

Elite Clubs National League (Age 14-18)

While many clubs are focused on developing players for their MLS senior team, Orlando City has focused on developing girls too. On the girls' side, OCYS is a member of the Elite Clubs National League -- the girls' equivalent to the USSDA.

Beginning in 2009, the ECNL has had four age groups of competition: U-15, U-16, U-17, and U-18. Without a senior team, the goal of ECNL is to send the girls to college with a soccer scholarship. However, Rawlins has talked openly of wanting to create a senior women's team, a goal that could be achieved soon.

Many expect that to become a focus following the opening of the new soccer stadium and beginning MLS play. A new women's senior team would then give the academy girls a goal to achieve within the club.

While OCYS is considered a youth club that has its own directors, Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath is at the top. Heath works closely with academy coaches so that the academy teams are playing the same style and using the same tactics as the senior team. This means playing the ball out of the back and not playing long balls.

Even goalkeepers are taught to skillfully use their feet. OCYS puts an emphasis on uniformity. By coaching the same way and the same style at each level, it will be easier for players to adapt to the higher level of play.

These are the basics of Orlando City Youth Soccer and its connection with Orlando City Soccer Club and Orlando City U-23 (who also play at Seminole Soccer Complex). With OCYS, Orlando City has one of the most developed youth systems in all of American soccer. OCYS continues to grow stronger each year and is a major reason why Orlando City SC has a bright future.