2016 U.S. Soccer Development Academy East Regional Showcase
Oct. 28-30 | Bermuda Run, NC

After only two months into their first season in the Development Academy, players from over 150 clubs across the country are experiencing one of the primary benefits the Academy provides: being exposed to high level opponents from across the country while being scouted by National Team Scouts.

After launching in the Fall of 2013 as combined Under-13/Under-14 teams, each age group is participating as separate divisions for the 2016-2017 season. The three Regional Showcases staged in the fall are the first marquee event of the Academy season, allowing for observation and evaluation by Youth National Team staff. So far, the early report on the split age initiatives is positive and allows more opportunities for younger players including late matures.

"These Showcases are opportunities for the teams to challenge their players in different ways than they normally get in their regular season schedule," said U.S. U-14 Boys National Team head coach Clint Peay from the East Regional Showcase in North Carolina. "It's (also) an opportunity to create some different matchups that give us scouts at U.S. Soccer a chance to evaluate players against competitive opponents."

Standings are not kept for these two age groups throughout the 10-month season. The goal is to remove the 'win-at-all-costs' mentality that often times comes at the expense of individual player development.

"Ultimately, we're not looking for wins and losses necessarily, although competing is an important part of development," said Peay, who captained the U.S. U-20 team at the 1993 U-20 World Cup and played on the 1996 Olympic team. "We are looking for that (competitive) personality and attitude from the players, but we're also looking at the teams and the players that showcase characteristics of what we consider an elite player - game understanding, initiative, qualities both physically and technically, and then also players that seem like leaders are responsible on and off the field."

"There's a lot of talented players - their soccer IQ is years ahead of, say what it was five years ago," said Peay. "And the talent level in terms of their technique is also years ahead. I think we are making progress. I still think we have a gap that we need to make up but overall it's very promising."

Peay is also a Technical Advisor for the Atlantic Division of the Development Academy. The Showcase proves useful to him and other TAs and Academy scouts, creating a checks-and-balances system to ensure the emphasis remains on the individual player rather than the collective team. Peay and other Technical Advisors' analysis from scouting provides meaningful and timely feedback to clubs, players, and coaches.

"We know the players in our markets as TA's," he said. "Part of what we do is bring scouts from all the different markets so we get a cross-section of scouts to evaluate the teams. With different eyes on the games, it can either confirm or deny whether a kid is of that level. It's a good conversation that we always have about players. The end goal that we're looking for is finding the kids that are not only ready right now, but also for the future who we feel have the most potential to be a high level player."

Besides the players, scouts are also paying close attention to how the players are guided. Coaching standards are held to very high standards for the Development Academy. Effective for the 2016-17 season, all Academy coaches are required to hold a minimum of a USSF B license. This new standard, is designed to provide continuous education to develop world-class coaches that are able to transfer knowledge to the players and create a positive learning environment.

"These are young kids," Peay said. "We look at coaches as teachers, so we want to see those coaches who are able to deliver a message in an effective manner and that are teachers of the game. And ultimately, people who really care about the development of the players, and not about wins and losses."

As coach of the U-14 Boys National Team, Peay is tasked with identifying some of the youngest members of the National Team Pool. And at an age where kids develop both physically and technically at different rates, the Showcases create a platform to closely evaluate players in a unique environment, as well as perhaps the first chance for early talent identification for Youth National Team programs.

"This is a good place for us to be able to compare and contrast players that we don't always get to see," he said. "So it allows us the opportunity within a weekend to see players who are either currently in the National Team Pool or players who are maybe coming into the pool, and compare them to guys who are knocking on the door and those who haven't been discovered yet. It's a great opportunity in that regard."