Updated: May 29, 2020
Today we are going to analyze the development pathways for players in the USA and Europe (specifically Spain).
These images are taken from websites of youth clubs. Let's analyze the top image first. My first impression is that there is a giant leap from NAIA, NCAA to Youth National team. Pathways are supposed to be about gradual progressions, players must be on the border between comfort and discomfort and edge further and further forward. Secondly, there is only one team per age group for the entire nation, so if you're not evaluated as one of the top twenty players in the entire United States for your age group, then tough luck.
In the bottom image, I think the pyramid shape is poorly chosen. I mean this because ODP, High School, and Travel are all competitions that a player can (and should) compete in simultaneously. Almost all players compete in travel and high school soccer, so they should be the same level (although it is incredibly confusing because there is so much variance between leagues in this level). ODP is certainly a step above that, but we run into the same issue as before. Be evaluated as one of the top twenty players from your region, or tough luck.
I don't want to talk about the youth development so much , because that is simply not the area that Football Academy Madrid is currently operating in. So let's talk 18+ years old.
This is a great visualization of the pyramid in the United States currently (I included the post to give credit to Spencer Moeller as it's a great graphic with the updated leagues).
Here's his take on the ending of the DA academy:
His views are his own and we have no association.
The past three summers I've competed in the NPSL (2017/18 with Orange County FC & 2019 with AS Los Angeles). In 2017 my teammate (Alessandro Canale) won the Golden Boot (top goalscorer) award with 20+ goals in 20 matches, in 2019 another teammate (Christopher Ribet) finished second in the Golden Boot race with 16 goals in 17 games. Did either of these players receive calls from USL clubs? No. I know that it is difficult to quantify value when scouting players, but surely, if there is one stat that should earn a player at least a trial in a higher division it is goals scored.
Hierarchies are necessary for society to function (you wouldn't want just anyone to be your doctor or judge). Hierarchies help us define value. However, individuals and entities must be able to move up (and down) through hierarchies for them to properly function.
The teams that win the National Championships in USL League Two and NPSL ? Congratulations, here's a trophy and back to competing in the same category next year (places in the Open Cup are also awarded, which are clearly more valuable than a trophy). Last year, if you were willing to shell out $7 million you could form a USL franchise. It is an oligarchy, not a hierarchy.
Why am I harping on mobility of teams so much rather than mobility of individuals? Because we place values on individual players based on their category of play. When a club is promoted into a higher division , every individual sees an increase in market value. Look at any player rating on FIFA that makes a transfer from one category to another. That is the exact same player as the previous six months, but their perceived value has changed significantly. This of course applies also to players within teams that are promoted from one year to the next.
I don't want to be entirely negative about US Soccer, so here is a link to an article talking about the positives on the NISA league.
Essentially, what I see as the main impediment is lack of mobility between levels. This is nothing new to the US Soccer realm. I don't think there is any debate that promotion/relegation would increase the opportunities for new players to rise into the professional ranks, and I also don't think there is any chance of it being implemented.
Now let's talk Spain.
In one season with FAM players will compete in 45-55 matches, spread across 9 months. You will gain more match experience in one season at FAM than three (nearly four) years playing in the USA. This is not including the time spent on the training ground. (with more experience comes player development etc etc ) Here I defer to one of the greatest Athletes of all-time Kobe Bryant:
Now let's talk about development between seasons. Within the Spanish pyramid teams are promoted & relegated. While both the Men's and Womens will both begin in their respective bottom divisions, if they are successful the following season they will be promoted into the next level of play. Therefore, the percieved value of each player will increase each year.
Since the season runs from August-Late May/Early June players can still participate in the Summer leagues designed for Collegiate players, such as USL League Two, NPSL, and UPSL (Men's) and the WPSL (Women's).
Lastly, let's talk about individual player's mobility upwards. Conflict can arise between players and coaches in NAIA, NCAA teams. If a player at a Division II school has interested from a Division I school and wants to transfer there are many hurdles. Firstly, the NCAA itself only allows transfers that do not require sitting out a year under certain circumstances. Then there is the fact that many coaches will restrict players from moving, know that they can make them sit out a year, and use that as a threat for them to stay.
At Football Academy Madrid, if a player has an opportunity to move into a club that is in a higher division then us, it is mutually beneficial for the player and for FAM. We market ourselves as a pathway into the European system, so when a player moves on, we win as well. The process to transfer between clubs is also quite simple. The club a player is registered to must sign a waiver allowing a player to trial with another (stated) club, then if that club wishes to sign said player, the club they are registered to simply releases their registration, leaving them free to register for the next club. Things get more complicated when players are under contract, being paid by the club, but in the lower division it is quite simple.