CASA GRANDE — A local youth soccer academy that ranks among the top in the country now has a new home to showcase its best players.
Barca Residency Academy, located at Grande Sports World, is one of 95 founding members for Major League Soccer’s new elite player development platform. They are joined by familiar company, as these teams made up most of the US Soccer Development Academy, which was dissolved in April under financial hardship.
After US Soccer announced it was ending the DA, MLS — the top soccer league in the United States and Canada — quickly announced it would attempt to take its place in attracting the best talent in the youth system. The result is this youth platform, likely to be named later, which includes academies from all of its clubs, as well as independent academies that are determined to have the best systems.
The Barca Academy has gained such a reputation through its affiliation with global soccer power FC Barcelona and the fact that it’s a residency academy, which allows players to live on a state-of-the-art soccer campus while attending high school online through ASU Prep.
They join three other Arizona clubs — Real Salt Lake-Arizona in Tempe, Phoenix Rising FC in Phoenix, and SC del Sol in Scottsdale — in the MLS system, which claims that 90% of the players on the US Youth National Team over the past year have come from its 95 founding members.
As they did in the DA, Barca aims to play three of its age-based teams in the MLS platform in order to give them the most exposure. These are their Under-15, Under-17 and Under-19 teams. The rest will continue to play in state and regional leagues.
“We’re very excited to be one of the founding members,” Barca Academy director Ged Quinn told PinalCentral. “It ensures our guys are able to continue to play at the highest level of youth soccer in the US. We’re excited to be a part of it and see how it pans out.”
There are still plenty of details to be ironed out, particularly with the scheduling difficulties, as states are in different stages of opening up after COVID-19 shut down youth soccer across the country. But Quinn said the hardest work has already been done, which includes bringing all the clubs and people together to form a culture of cooperation.
The most important part of that is maintaining the level of competition necessary to develop teenagers into world-class soccer players who can then receive university scholarships or even sign professional contracts when they turn 18. Quinn said MLS is going to have the proper standards for that, incentivizing clubs to search long and hard for the best talent and to have the best infrastructure to get those players to reach their potential.
“We wanted to make sure everything was in place and was right before we communicated this to our guys,” Quinn said. “And now that everything is getting sorted out, I think they’re excited to get going.”
Because of the recent shock of the US Soccer DA being so suddenly dissolved, as well as general uncertainty surrounding the US Soccer Federation, there is some skepticism about the long-term stability of youth soccer. Quinn, though, said he is convinced that MLS is in this for the long haul.
After all, he said, it’s in the league’s best interest for the platform to succeed. The better a youth soccer system in a country, the better the player pool available for teams looking for homegrown talent. If the platform does what it’s intended to do, there could be an influx of top talent coming into the league for years to come, which is in line with the MLS mission to one day be among the world’s top leagues.
“They’re looking for the best way to improve the game to ensure it provides the right environment for not only the MLS clubs but the non-MLS clubs,” Quinn said of MLS. “I think we provide something not many other clubs can provide with our residency program and what we have with Barcelona. So I think MLS will be in this for a long time, and this won’t just be a drop in the pan.”