U.S. Soccer sets targets to develop elite players

CARSON, Calif. -- With an expanded operating budget, the addition of youth national teams for each age group from 14-20 and more rigorous standards for coaching licenses, U.S. soccer aims to improve the country's ability to develop world class players.

Player and coaching development initiatives were announced at a roundtable with reporters after Sunday's MLS Cup final that saw the L.A. Galaxy defeat the New England Revolution, 2-1. The roundtable was attended by USSF president Sunil Gulati, U.S. men's national team manager and technical director Jurgen Klinsmann, U.S. U-20 manager and youth technical director Tab Ramos, and USSF secretary general Dan Flynn.

All of the programs will be instituted on the men's side. Gulati indicated that corresponding initiatives on the women's side would be announced in January.

Most of the programs focus on longer-term youth development objectives, and are ones that Klinsmann has discussed previously in broad strokes, and is now ready to implement.

"Obviously, with all these initiatives, we want to push the envelope," said Klinsmann. "We want to develop better players, we want to become more competitive on every age level."

He later added, "These [initiatives] might not pay off until 2018. Hopefully they pay off over the next 10-15 years, and make a huge difference."

The federation's youth programs will get an external audit, including all Development Academy clubs to youth national teams. Gulati said that the company that will perform the audit is to be determined. The purpose of the review is to enhance the ability of clubs and national teams to better identify and evaluate talent. The audit will take place some time in 2015.

"They'll probably look at 40 of our DA programs -- maybe that's a mix of MLS and non-MLS teams -- and benchmark where we are compared to some other countries and where they are in their program," said Gulati.

Another area of focus is coaching education. The USSF intends to upgrade the coaching license program so it will more closely match international standards by making the courses more rigorous. The USSF intends to add new licenses, including a youth technical director license and a pro license.

The USSF will also create a national coaching education center in partnership with MLS club Sporting Kansas City, as well as launch a digital coaching center, the latter of which will begin operation in January.

"We've got coaching programs at a national and local and state levels, that frankly fall far short of the top countries in the world in terms of their breadth, in terms of how long you have to be in it," said Gulati. "We're going to widen those quite a bit in terms of what it takes to get certain credentials, the level of understanding, the length of time, etc."

On the player side, the USSF intends to add an U-12 age group over the next few years, adding to the U-14, U-16, and U-18 age groups already present. The USSF will also increase funding for DA scholarships and expand programming around training centers. It also plans to standardize small-side games and field sizes for youth players at the younger age groups. The USSF plans to expand programming of training centers, which are formal and informal training sessions across the country, and is related to the USSF's inner-city program.

"It's our best chance of seeing players who aren't in one of our teams." said Gulati about the training centers.

The USSF plans to collaborate with the NCAA to make changes to the college market, and is also investigating the possibility of developing training facilities in key markets, including a national training center. Gulati indicated that this latter facility would be separate from StubHub Center, which has long hosted national team events for both men and women.

"We share [StubHub Center] with the true owners, which is the Galaxy and AEG," said Gulati. "We think that it's important to have a place that is our own, that we can do all the things, from youth to senior level. We have the resources to think about that in a way that is different from 10-15 years ago."

Lastly, the USSF plans to create youth national teams at every single age level from U-14 all the way to U-20. At present four of those teams -- U-15, U-17, U-18, and U-20 -- have head coaches, while the U-16 and U-19 positions are yet to be filled.

All of these programs will require considerable financial resources. Gulati stated that in the next World Cup cycle, the operating budget is expected to expand by 50 percent compared to the last cycle.