Present and Former U.S. Women's National Team Stars Show Support for Girls' Development Academy

With the U.S. Soccer Girls' Development Academy officially kicking off this weekend, current and former U.S. Women's National Team standouts understand the importance of this new program to the future development of girls' soccer in the USA. Brandi Chastain and Heather O'Reilly, and current WNT players Tobin Heath, Samantha Mewis and Becky Sauerbrunn weighed in as the Girls' Development Academy is poised to officially kick off on Sept. 2 with the first feature game between Sky Blue - PDA and FC Virginia set for broadcast on the Development Academy Facebook page with coverage starting at 10:30 a.m. ET.

The kickoff weekend will also coincide with Concussion Awareness Week, a collaboration effort between U.S. Soccer's Recognize to Recover, player health and safety program, and Taylor Twellman's ThinkTaylor foundation, to educate the more than 17,000 boys' and girls' Academy players about the handling of concussions in the sport. Academy players will be encouraged to take the #TTPledge, an oath to be educated on concussion symptoms, to be honest in their self-evaluation and to be supportive of anyone with a concussion.

National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Brandi Chastain, who played 192 times for the USA, will be deeply involved in the Girls' Academy as executive director for California Thorns FC (Santa Clara, California) and head coach for the club's U-14 team:

"The greatest impact we can have on these young players is to educate them on the subtleties soccer," said Chastain, who won the 1991 and 1999 Women's World Cups with the USA as well as the 1996 Olympic gold medal. "We want to put them in the most professional environments possible while running these programs in the ways that most benefit the players. We want to give them a clear picture of what it takes to be successful at the next level and help them understand the nuances of the game that make it so much fun to play and watch. We want everyone to work hard to learn the skills at a young age, but we also want to help them learn the "whys" and the "hows." That's what I'm hoping the DA can bring to girls' soccer. It's not just run fast and be stronger than the other team. We want to teach in a conscientious way and help our girls become more savvy and sophisticated in how they play and see the game."

O'Reilly, who recently retired from international competition, but is currently playing in England with Arsenal FC, shared these remarks about the start of the Girls' Development Academy:

"I think the creation of the Girls' Development Academy is an important step for U.S. Soccer," said O'Reilly, who has won championships at the youth National Team, full National Team, college and professional club levels. "It is absolutely crucial in our country to continue to evaluate how we do things and continue to evolve with a critical eye on development. I have seen first-hand the pace and the ways in which other countries are producing talent and I think that having players in consistent environments with the best coaches is the way to get our players to grow over time."

Current U.S. Women's National Team midfielder Tobin Heath has also taken on coaching responsibilities as the Assistant Youth Technical Director for the Portland Thorns' Girls' Development Academy. Heath, a World Cup and Olympic champion and one of the most popular players in the United States, talked about her excitement leading into the inaugural season:

"The DA is a sign of the U.S. Soccer the Federation taking the next step in becoming the best country to develop young female soccer players," said Heath, who like O'Reilly, credits her youth soccer experience with PDA in New Jersey as being crucial to her development. "We've seen the success on the men's side already paying off in the MLS and we're hoping to continue that development for the NWSL and the U.S. Women's National Team. We have clear objectives of the kind of individual success we want to get out of it, but also in team success that will carry over to the youth National Teams and onto the full team. We want to see kids who have gone through this process at a young age while taking the necessary steps to make it to the highest level, and playing in the DA is a great way to do that. We want to have the best training environments and the best players, and with the backing of the Federation, it will make this league the preeminent development environment for female players in this country."

Samantha Mewis, who has recently become a fixture for both club and country with consistently stellar play, believes the program will have a tremendous impact on elite young female players:

"This is a huge step for women's soccer and I'm excited that U.S. Soccer has taken on this project because I think it will have a positive impact on young girls while providing them with an environment to reach their maximum potential," said Mewis, who played her youth soccer in Massachusetts. "It's always great to see continued growth in terms of the opportunities provided for young girls and I know this league will help players' rise through the ranks and get a level of consistency in their training, which will help in their maturity as players. We need our young players in environments where they are encouraged to develop technically instead of just pushed to win. I know the DA will help our Youth National Teams and hopefully our full National Team in the years to come."

One of the USA's longest tenured and most consistent players is co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn. She has played in a FIFA U-19 Women's World Cup, multiple Olympic Games and was a vital cog during the USA's run to the 2015 Women's World Cup title.:

"The start of the Girls' DA is a great step forward in the development of youth players in our country," said Sauerbrunn, a St. Louis native who grew up playing for J.B. Marine. "The DA philosophy of quality over quantity when it comes to training and matches will help develop players that better understand the game and have the technical and tactical ability to play at high levels. The fact that NWSL clubs are a part of the league is so valuable, not only by giving these young players role models they can see close-up all the time, but also in creating a structure and pathway for players to reach their goals if they have the talent and drive."

Let the games begin.