CASA GRANDE — At a time when the training of young soccer players has already been thrown the curveball of a lifetime thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, a local academy is also left looking for answers about where some of its teams will play once it is allowed to return to action.
Citing financial issues related to the pandemic, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced April 15 that it would dissolve its Development Academy after 13 seasons, effective immediately. Known as the DA, it was a league that allowed the top clubs from around the country to compete, with direction and guidance from U.S. Soccer’s development infrastructure.
Among those top clubs was Barca Academy, an operation of Spain’s FC Barcelona that trains and houses teenage players at Grande Sports World in Casa Grande. While most of their age-specific teams play in state or regional leagues, the club likes to showcase its Under-15, Under-17 and Under-19 squads on a national level, so they played in the DA.
Now, the academy is trying to figure out what to do next, with nothing set in stone.
“I think with everything that’s going on right now, it’s unfortunate,” said Ged Quinn, Barca Academy director. “The rumors had come up a couple weeks ago, and we had some discussions across the country amongst the clubs.”
Quinn said it wouldn’t be prudent to comment on any potential options in regard to where those three teams will play in the 2020-21 season, presuming play resumes in time for that season. The rest of the 2019-20 season was already going to be canceled due to the pandemic before the DA was dissolved.
He does, however, want those teams to continue to play on a national level. Currently, there are several leagues that fit the bill, but Quinn said the academy needs more information before deciding on any of them.
Picking up much of the slack from U.S. Soccer’s decision is Major League Soccer, which announced the same day that it would create a league of its own for its team’s academies, which previously competed in the DA, along with other “select” clubs that previously competed in the DA.
Since Arizona is not currently an MLS market, it’s unclear whether that would be a fit for Barca Academy. Quinn said the specific details of this new league are too minimal at this point to comment on that as an option.
If joining the MLS league doesn’t work out, there are options like the already existing Elite Clubs National League, which has been rapidly expanding since the DA’s demise, and as of Wednesday, consists of 103 clubs divided into nine conferences around the country. There are already four Arizona clubs listed in the ECNL’s Southwest Conference.
“Right now, we’re trying to evaluate everything,” Quinn said. “Once more concrete information comes out on all those avenues, we can make an educated decision based on what’s in the best interest of our organization.”
The decision-making process will be even more difficult because it’s uncertain what youth soccer will look like once stay-at-home orders are lifted across the country. High-level club soccer requires significant interstate travel, and with each state in different situations, putting a schedule together will be difficult for every league.
When the dust settles, Quinn hopes clubs learn from the positives that came out of the DA, and not just remember the way it ended. Along with the massive platform it gave a young club like Barca Academy, he praised the minimum standards U.S. Soccer held all clubs to in order to compete, and he hopes those will remain in tact.
“At the end of the day, the most important thing is the players,” he said. “I think if you can get all the like minds in the sport together, that will only benefit the players. And that will have a trickle-up effect of helping the national teams and all of U.S. soccer. I think we have a really good foundation in place, so perhaps this provides an opportunity for everyone to come together and point the game in one right direction.”