Forty years ago soccer promoters in the United States relied heavily on bringing foreign superstars to play in the North American Soccer League. They introduced the best in soccer through Brazilian legend Pele, popular Dutch player Johan Cruyff, Italian goal scorer Giorgio Chingala and Germany's best defender Franz Beckenbauer. It is different now, with U.S soccer promoters and professional clubs relying more on American talent to create a new generation of players. VOA'S Mohamed Elshinnawi visited D.C. United's Soccer Academy in Washington, D.C. to explore the new approach.
The U.S Soccer Federation has created a nationwide development academy to provide elite players with the best possible opportunities, utilizing local soccer academies like the one connected to D.C. United of Major League Soccer in the United States. John Measner is D.C. United's director of youth development.
"The new academy was created to try to help some of the deficiencies that we have here in the U.S. I think too many kids do not get enough good training, so with the academy the focus is going to be on training and eliminating some of the extra burdens that the kids have here in this country."
The academy's primary focus will be on training elite teams for players under age 16 and under 18. Another soccer academy in Los Angeles is named after and run by English superstar David Beckham. D.C. United head coach Tommy Soehn discusses the benefits of a national development program. "I know that D.C. United is going to do a real extensive program, and I think it is vitally important throughout the country. "
D.C. United professional players are expected to serve as role models for young soccer players at youth camps. Youth soccer player Nick Mattingly finds their presence inspiring. "They teach you how to do better at soccer, more at their level, so I guess it is raising you up to a higher level and it's really great to see professional players at a camp."
Nick says he hopes one day to be a professional player in Europe like Freddy Adu. The Ghana-born superstar joined D.C. United at age 14 and signed recently for the Portuguese club Benfica.
John Measner played professionally in France and Germany. He says D.C. United is a good spot to produce world class soccer players."We are very proud with what we have done with players like Freddy Adu and Bobby Convey coming at 14 years old, 16 years old. D.C. United has done a fantastic job with developing players like that."
With its soccer academy providing two full teams to the national development academy, and hosting friendly games with prominent soccer teams from the English Premier League, D.C. United is determined to promote soccer in America.