Via SLSG – St. Louis Scott Gallagher and Saint Louis FC are excited to announce a planned merger for the SLSG-Missouri and SLSG-Illinois Academy Programs into the Saint Louis FC Academy, pending U.S. Soccer approval.
The SLSG Academy Programs started in 2007 with U16 and U18 development teams playing a seven-month season. Today, the program has grown to 10 total teams between SLSG IL and SLSG MO programs that encompass U13 to U18 age group teams playing ten-month seasons. Due to new mandated technical standards taking effect at the start of the 2017-2018 season next fall, the merging of the academy programs will ensure the quality of player development remains at a high level.
UPDATE – A Facebook Live Q&A on Friday January 20th
“The soccer landscape in our country has changed dramatically in the past decade, starting with the launch of the Development Academy program by the United States Soccer Federation in 2007,” said STLFC Academy Director, Blake Decker. “Spurred on by the rising technical standards of U.S. Soccer and the explosive growth of the 1st and 2nd Division professional leagues in the United States, the resources required to compete at the highest levels of the youth game have grown exponentially as the environment has become increasingly professionalized. The common thread among those clubs at the forefront of this evolution is a complete player development pyramid that provides young players with a direct pathway from the youth game to the professional level. The Saint Louis FC Academy will provide young men from the St. Louis and Metro East Illinois region with exactly that pathway. Furthermore, it ensures that we, as a region and soccer community, maintain our place as a leader in the national soccer landscape and continue our tradition of developing players for both the professional game and the United States National Teams.”
As noted in the release, the landscape has changed since the Academy program was first implemented. Several items stand out for me.
1) This should increase the club’s competitiveness in the Academy. The U15/16 Boys team reached the National Final in 2012, falling 0-1 to New York Red Bull (video below). Most of those boys are close to completing their college careers, including Austin Ledbetter, drafted by FC Dallas yesterday. The Club hasn’t returned to that level in the ensuing timeframe.
2) The Academy had several Directors since that success, with Tim Regan as Academy Director and Coach from 2012-2014 and more recently Tim Lees hired from Liverpool to manage the Missouri Academy program. Lee’s will continue as the Coaching Director, with Blake Decker as the Academy Director. Kevin Kalish is the Missouri Boys Technical Director which had included the Missouri Academy squad. I’ll have to chat with the club about how details are being sorted out in that area.
3) There are rumors that the Chicago Fire will not renew their partnership with Saint Louis FC. If that is the case, tying the Academy program to the USL team becomes even more important. Developing players should attract more fans looking to cheer local players while also replacing whatever pipeline existed with the Fire.
4) Not mentioned in the press release is cost. The US Soccer Academy program has promoted a move away from pay-to-play but it is not required. Whether Saint Louis FC Academy will continue down that path seems likely, otherwise I would suspect they would have touted the fact that players would not be charged.
5) Finally, recognizing the changed competitive landscape, I’d like to see the Club do the same thing with their ECNL program for the girls. Create a team that can truly compete at the national level and connect with FC Kansas City or the Chicago Red Stars.
All in all, the right move going forward for the club. It should also increase the competitiveness of the Missouri State Cup and MRL squads going forward, as well as a number of High School programs!
UPDATE from the FB Live Q&A video above
1. Why merge – brings the Club closer to being the best program in the country. Change tied to full pyramid
youth to pro. Noted that 9 of the last 10 championships (five years, U18 and U16) were won by MLS programs. Also tied to the investment that USSDA is requiring. Best achieved via a single path.
2. Structure – Academy Director, Blake Decker and Academy Director of Coaching, Tim Lees. Staff will also be deployed across club. There will still be separate U14 Academy programs and the Pre-Academy programs in each state.
3. Cost – $3600 to play in the Academy (no change), all-inclusive (travel, uniforms, coaching, food, etc). No change from 2016-2017. Tied to that, Academy requirements that all Coaches must have an E-License increases costs to the club.
4. Club structure – will maintain U9 to U11 pre-Academy as well as the U12 to U14 Academy structure separately across both states. The Elite and Premier divisions along with the Classic divisions will remain for Missouri and Illinois.
5. Academy access – the goal is to develop players for STLFC. Players don’t have to come from within SLSG. That includes several affiliates (such as Quincy United) and the pathway remains open for those players as well.
6. Current player opportunity – the first two years of STLFC have included an effort already to tie club players. For players below Academy, other national platforms are opened up for development. Not mentioned directly but that would seem to indicate ODP, ID2 and others.
7. PDL – already a connection with the previous programs and there are approximately 20 meetings a year among the staffs to discuss players and their opportunities. Referenced U16 Academy Coach also U23 Coach (Kevin Stoll?) as well as Tim Leonard as a STLFC assistant and U19 Academy assistant coach offer examples of focus on player development. PDL offers majority of players to pursue college opportunities while retaining connection to SLSG pyramid.
8. U17 National Team match – was not intended as a precursor to the merger
9. How has the process gone – began back in 2014 with announcement of US Soccer mandates.
10. MLS – the change effort is not tied to the possibility of an MLS team here.
11. Elite – Illinois will be participating in ECNL (ENPL for boys), was NPL (a regional program) previously. SLYSA will continue to be a strong platform going forward as well per Kalish.