Atlanta United FC Academy
They have a rich talent pool in their territory and a strong brand within their region. As a result, they boast a top five class, in terms of talent, year in and year out. The biggest issue they have is that they lose talented players early at the U-15 and U-17 age groups more often than most academies in MLS. I’d like to see them adjust their retention strategy for their top players.
Austin FC Academy
Texas is known as one of the most prolific talent pools for soccer in the United States, but Austin’s region isn’t the strongest in the state. When Austin first got their academy running a few years back, they scouted and recruited outside of their area aggressively, but those out of region recruitment efforts have dialed back recently. In order for Austin to be a top 10 to 15 academy in the United States, they need to invest more in scouting and recruiting in places like El Paso and Arizona.
Charlotte FC Academy
Charlotte is still early on in their academy maturation process, but I I thought they’d be putting out stronger classes than they have been. They have one of the brightest young stars in the States in Nimfasha Berchimas, but they don’t have too much going on outside of Berchimas. North Carolina is a very good soccer territory and they should be capitalizing more on the bed of riches they are sitting on. There are good players in their area that are choosing not to play at Charlotte FC, like Kevin Howard, a 2009 center-forward who has decided to stay at North Carolina FC. They need to improve their pitch to top local talent.
Chicago Fire Academy
Chicago is one of the biggest and most diverse cities in the United States. It should be a youth development powerhouse. And while it is good, it could be great. I’d like to see Chicago Fire reach different communities and grow the game in their city in a way that brings even more diversity into the academy. This is a long-term strategy that will take a long time to bear fruit, but the harvest could be massive.
FC Cincinnati Academy
FCC has put an academy staff in place that has the ability to bring more talent into the academy. They need to keep doing what they are doing and hitting the scouting and recruiting trail hard and ensure that their talent acquisition teams are in lockstep with their coaching staff so that when they bring in talent from across the country, they can retain them.
Colorado Rapids Academy
Under their current ownership, the Rapids are not going to be a club that spends a lot of money and while Colorado is a solid soccer region, it’s not as rich or as vast as others. Colorado should take a look at the investments that Real Salt Lake are making in their academy program and emulate it. They should build a residency program and a school, and they should start recruiting aggressively with the end goal of becoming a talent development and talent selling club.
Columbus Crew Academy
The Crew have built an ascending academy over the last few years and have done a very good job collecting talent in many different ways. In my humble opinion, they play a lot of their top players in strange positions that don’t always suit their strengths. I understand the strategy of implementing a game model throughout the pathway, but I think they could do a better job putting their best players in better positions to succeed.
FC Dallas Academy
FC Dallas has produced more top USMNT players than any other United States academy and it’s not really close, but the last top prospect to walk on their training ground was Ricardo Pepi. FCD does not currently have a single player on my top 50 U.S. prospects list and that needs to change. The academy lost a lot of its vision, allure and cohesion when Luchi Gonzalez left and a lot of other academies saw the value in focusing on youth development and have caught up. They need to leverage the brand credibility that they have and get elite talent back in their program.
D.C. United Academy
D.C. United should be a top five talent producer in the United States, full stop. The DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) region is rich with talent, yet D.C. continues to roll out underwhelming class after underwhelming class. They need to completely rethink and potentially relocate their program so that they can attract the best talent in their area. From what I have been told, the current location of their academy in Loudoun County is a non-starter for many talented players who do not live near that area.
Houston Dynamo Academy
Houston is a big and diverse city that has lots of soccer talent and the Dynamo should be a much more productive academy. The Dynamo need to repair their relationships with local clubs and then work to sustain those relationships so that those clubs become feeder programs into their academy.
Sporting Kansas City Academy
While Sporting Kansas City is a more ambitious club then say, the Colorado Rapids, they are similarly in a tough talent territory and typically have talent classes in the bottom third amongst MLS academies. I’d like to see them double down on scouting and recruiting and build a residency similar to Real Salt Lake.
LAFC reside in one of the greatest soccer talent markets in the country and consistently build top performing academy teams, but they have yet to develop a player through their academy, integrate them as an impact player on their first team and sell that player for big money. They need to show that they can do this to be considered one of the top academies in MLS. Is 2008 center-mid Jude Terry that player?
LA Galaxy Academy
LAFC has been winning the scouting and recruiting battle in the greater Los Angeles area for the last several years, but LA Galaxy are fighting back and have put together a better 2009 class. The Galaxy need to continue to prioritize this battle and consistently build equivalent or better academy teams.
Inter Miami CF Academy
Inter Miami are starting to bring more and more talent through their pathway into the first team, but I still find their talent identification process strange at times. They prioritize players over others in ways that I am confused by and lose players that they should have given more emphasis to. Some say that politics play a bigger role within their academy than they should and if true, that needs to change.
Minnesota United Academy
Minnesota consistently has weak academy teams, but there are good players that come from their region. They need to prioritize the top talent in their area and create a better retainment strategy for keeping these players within their organization.
Nashville SC Academy
Nashville is in a tough spot because Georgia and Florida are such rich talent regions that they struggle to penetrate because of the clubs that reside there. Tennessee isn’t as rich with soccer talent, but they could increase their investment in scouting and recruiting to try and pick off talent from Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.
New England Revolution Academy
The New England Revolution have done a great job of developing top young players and moving them through their pro player pathway aggressively. That is the primary job of an academy, but it would be nice if their academy teams were a little more competitive. I’d like to see them build deeper teams that compete at the big tournaments.
New York Red Bulls Academy
RBNY have as much talent within their academy as anyone in Major League Soccer and they are signing their players at a young age. I’d like to see them implement a under-16 team so that more players can get consistent playing time.
NYCFC do a great job of developing top talent and teaching a modern style of soccer, but their teams are often top heavy and lack depth. Once NYCFC builds their new facilities in Queens, they should build a world-class residency so that they can recruit more aggressively.
Orlando City SC Academy
Orlando collects and develops talent well at the under-17 level and below, but they have a first team coach that doesn’t seem interested in giving their homegrown players a chance. That will need to change or they will struggle to recruit and retain talent.
Philadelphia Union Academy
Philadelphia, more than any other team in Major League Soccer, are trying to establish a bold model that invests heavily in the academy and also tries to win trophies. So far, I’d say it’s kind of working, but is it sustainable? They sign homegrown players, but not all of them are getting the opportunities that many would like them to get. Academy kids are certainly taking notice and eventually starting to wonder if signing for Philadelphia is the best thing for their career. It’s not a big problem yet, but it’s something they need to figure out before too long.
Portland Timbers Academy
It would be nice if Portland would do something to give their academy kids hope that a pathway from the academy to the first team exists. Let’s start there and then talk later.
Real Salt Lake Academy
Similar to New York Red Bulls, Real Salt Lake brings a ton of good players into their program, but not all of them get to play as much as they should. They should start a full-time under-16 team to help with that. They had a U-16 team at MLS Next Fest, which may be a sign that this is coming sooner rather than later. They just filled their U-17 coaching vacancy. I am sure that has been the academy priority to date.
San Diego FC Academy
I am really excited to see the San Diego FC academy come together. It’s an area rich in youth soccer history and culture. They have a super interesting proximity to Mexico. And they are the first United States academy to partner with Right to Dream. My only wish is that their academy would start in 2024, not 2025.
San Jose Earthquakes Academy
San Jose Earthquakes are the only show in town in Northern California, a vast and diverse area with very good talent. They are already a top academy and have a coach that believes in giving young players a chance. I’d like to see them double down on Northern California and become truly dominant. Between the greater San Francisco Bay Area and the greater Sacramento Area, they could get there.
Seattle Sounders Academy
Seattle does a pretty good job with a middling talent region, but they could move up a tier if they invest a little more in scouting and recruiting outside of the state of Washington. They have had success doing so in the past with players like Obed Vargas and Daniel Leyva, but a double down on this could net even bigger gains.
St. Louis City SC Academy
St. Louis is a great soccer town and has a great feeder academy in the St. Louis Scott Gallagher Academy, but relying on St. Louis and the surrounding areas will only get you so far. If they want to become a consistent top 10 academy, they’ll need to start scouting and recruiting more outside of St. Louis.