In the United States, professional soccer development academies are changing the way young players develop. Is Orlando City already falling behind?
The Orlando City U-17/18 team had a great season and made a run in the playoffs. Four of the team’s key players start their college playing careers this week for three of the best schools in the country's best conference. But is that actually good for the club?
The four biggest names to graduate from the Orlando City academy this year were David Loera, Raul Aguilera, David Norris, and Landen Haig. All four were on Anthony Pulis' team sheet at Orlando City B while they were still in high school. The two biggest names, Loera and Aguilera, were highly ranked prospects by every college soccer publication. But, with Aguilera attending North Carolina, Haig attending Wake Forest, and Loera and Norris attending North Carolina State, none will be wearing purple this year.
Prior to the present, where development academies control the development of young players, soccer was like any other sport. After youth soccer, the best players would play high school before accepting college scholarships. But this is not the best way to develop players and that's why the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, a group of the best academies, exists.
High school and college soccer are based on results. The jobs of the coaches depend on getting these results. The purpose of academies and reserve teams is to continue developing the club’s young players so that they will be ready to play for the first team. That’s why academy players are not allowed to play high school soccer. The best coaches of young players join academies where the level and pay is higher, which usually leaves high school with less qualified coaches. By allowing these talented players to play high school soccer, the club would be allowing the high schools to slow the development of the player, essentially pushing the player’s development back a year.
While college coaches are far more qualified to coach good players than high school coaches, with several coaches jumping to academies or now coaching professional teams, the problem of development versus results still exists. The players will almost certainly get better by playing regularly, but they would be playing at a higher level in the USL than in college, would be able to train with the first team, and their development would be the focus.
Another problem is at what age they would make their debut. If a player decides to attend college, they will likely spend at least two years, probably more, before signing a professional contract. While some may be able to join the first team right away, others will still need time with the reserve team. This would mean that they would likely make their debut at least two years after they would have had they joined the reserve team right out of the academy.
With these issues in mind, it would have been preferable for Orlando City to have star academy players like Loera, Aguilera, Norris, and Haig sign professional contracts right out of the academy rather than going the college route. Of course, it is the decision of the player whether or not to go to college or turn pro but, according to a source within the club, joining OCB was never an option as players like Loera were never offered a professional contract, at the request of Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis.
The addition of Orlando City B was an important and necessary move for Orlando City to further their youth development. Even if players go to college before joining OCB, the purpose of the team and its influence at the club still exists. But Orlando City may not be using the team is its full potential.