LOS ANGELES -- U.S. Soccer is closing its youth developmental academy, the federation announced Wednesday.
"This was an incredibly difficult decision to make but the extraordinary and unanticipated circumstances around the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a financial situation that does not allow for the continuation of the Development Academy program into the future," the federation said in a statement.
The academy, launched in 2007, was designed to accelerate the development of top-level players in a structured year-round program. However, most recent members of the U.S. national team were also polished by MLS-sponsored club teams, which remain in place.
Some prominent local high school coaches welcomed the news that the academy was folding. Since 2012, U.S. Soccer had prohibited academy players from participating for their high school teams.
"The program has been a failure from the start," said coach E.B. Madha of Birmingham High School in Los Angeles. Madha had lost five players from his 2019 City Section champion to academy teams. "Not just at the national level, but all the way down has been inferior to what was existing 12, 15 years ago. It (was) a waste of money and a waste of time."
One major problem, Madha and others said, was that there were too many academy teams, resulting in the best players being "scattered all over the place." For example, Real So Cal, a Los Angeles-based program affiliated with the academy, has 55 teams and more than 800 boys and girls players ages 8 to 18.
The spread of the novel coronavirus forced academy teams to halt games and training last month.
U.S. Soccer has not played a game at any level in more than six weeks and has nothing scheduled until late summer.
In addition to lost revenue from games that have been canceled, the federation is facing several costly legal challenges. The World Cup-champion U.S. women's team is seeking $67 million in an equal-pay lawsuit, and could get millions more in back pay and damages. That case was scheduled to be heard in May but has been delayed.
U.S. Soccer anticipated spending $12 million for the academy in 2021, according to a report in The Athletic.