Nov 1, 2012

The Future of the US Women's Program

The latest news out of U.S. Soccer related to the WNT is the hiring of Tom Semranni to be the next head coach of the USWNT.  I don't know enough about Semranni to offer an opinion on him as a coach, but I do see that he has done a fine job with the Australian WNT, and has a long resume.  He comes into a tough job on the heels of a pretty successful tenure of Pia Sundhage, so good luck to him.

I saw a brief interview with him last night with Max Bretos in the pregame to the Houston-Chicago MLS playoff match.  Bretos asked the question about Semranni's goals with youth development for the women's program.  Semranni's answer was a fairly pat non-answer, full of the usual platitudes of wanting to reach down into the youth ranks and help develop young ladies in the game.  Blah, Blah, blah.

Semranni may have goals and aspirations along those lines, but right now there is no USSF direct sponsorship of development program.  USSF and Sunil Gulati have made it a priority to establish and operate a Development Academy for boys and are now in the planning stages for introducing a U13/14 program to supplement the already existing U16 and U18 programs.  I believe that the Development Academy has done some wonderful things for the development of young men in our country and I am looking forward to the future.

But the same commitment is not there for the girls side.  Yes, there is something called the Elite Clubs National League which has the following Mission Statement.

The Elite Clubs National League, Inc. (“ECNL”) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit member-based organization founded in 2009 to enhance the developmental experience of the female youth soccer players in the United States through: (i) improving the competitive environment through creation of a true nationally-based competitive league with multiple flights; (ii) improving the process for identifying elite female soccer players for the U.S. Soccer youth national teams through a systematic scouting and identification program based on national competition; and (iii) improving the daily training environment at female youth soccer clubs through developing best practices and training and organizational guidelines for its member clubs.

What is missing from that Mission Statement is any affiliation with USSF.  Kudos to the founder of the ECNL for recognizing the need for systemic development of young female players, whether it is for the national teams, colleges, foreign clubs or a (as yet defined) domestic league.

However, I think it is tragic that the most successful soccer program in the United States, i..e. the WNT, does not have the imprimatur of USSF for a systematic development program for girls.  The WNT has actual World Cup Titles, Olympic Gold Medals and a string of success.  The U.S. may have been able to ride the power of Title IX for a few decades, but the rest of the world is catching up.  Mexico, Japan, Canada, Germany, and probably a dozen other nations are pouring money in the development of the women's game and the U.S. will not be able to maintain its superiority for long if it does not move to catch up.

Many of the Boys Development Academy Programs no doubt have in the infrastructure in place to initiate a girls program at the U16 and U18 levels without much effort. In terms of logistics, how hard is it to have the boys and girls teams travel together  for matches (leaving aside the normal teenage hormonal problems associated with that).  Talent identification for the youth national teams and ultimate the senior WNT and colleges and subsequently, a professional league, should not be haphazard or left to chance.  If the USSF is serious about truly supporting the growth of the women's game in this country, it must be seen to be making a real effort to bring a girls Development Academy in to being.

The founders of the ECNL are to be commended for the effort, 52 clubs in three years is no easy feat, so they have laid the groundwork.  I don't want those efforts to be totally supplanted, but USSF would do wise to bring those founders into the USSF fold and allow them, with full USSF sanctioning to truly bring about a girls development academy.

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