For nearly 20 years, one of the most important steps of a young soccer player’s career took them through Bradenton.
The United States men’s national under-17 soccer team’s residency program has called IMG Academy home since 1999.
On Friday, the United States Soccer Federation announced it is ending the program at the end of the semester.
“One of our main hopes when establishing the U.S. Soccer residency program was that, at some point, advancements in youth player development would make its existence no longer necessary,” U.S. Soccer president Sunil Galati said in a release announcing the decision. “We believe that point has been reached.”
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The residency program began in 1999. It brought together 20 of the best age-group players in the country with a focus on daily training at IMG’s facilities. In 2007, the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) launched the U.S. Soccer Development Academy (DA) following the residency program’s success. In recent years, the program also played games at The Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch.
While Manatee County remained the home for the national U-17 team, the expansion of clubs within the U.S. Soccer DA network decentralized the pipeline. Ten years in, the DA has 150 clubs and more than 10,000 registered players, and MLS clubs across the country have invested in their own youth development programs. Orlando City, the closest MLS club, runs both a U.S. Soccer DA program and an Elite Clubs National League program.
The end of our residency program signals the next step in the evolution of player development in this country.
John Hackworth, U-17 head coach
“It’s a bittersweet moment because the program has been invaluable for almost two decades as a critical piece of the development process for U.S. Soccer,” U-17 head coach John Hackworth said in a statement. “The end of our residency program signals the next step in the evolution of player development in this country.”
IMG Academy did not make anyone affiliated with the program available for comment on Friday afternoon and attempts to reach officials with The Premier Sports Campus were unsuccessful.
Tim Mulqueen, who had been the assistant athletic director at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal before taking a job as the goalkeeping coach for Orlando City SC earlier this winter, spent two years as a goalkeepers coach with the residency program from 2005-2006. It was just before the boom of the DA and Mulqueen was one of five coaches tasked with scouring the entire country for talent themselves. It’s different now, with networks of clubs across the nation funneling their best to the national team and it’s ultimately been good for the sport in the United States.
“That program was tremendous for U.S. Soccer,” Mulqueen said. “I think development from resources to the Development Academy and youth programs for MLS clubs has been great for development.”
The residency program coincided with the most successful stretch in U.S. Soccer history. Landon Donovan, Jozy Altizdore, Freddy Adu, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Christian Pulisic all spent time at IMG Academy as part of the program, and 33 former residency players have played in at least one cap with the U.S. men’s national soccer team.
The residency program will have one final hurrah this spring: The 2017 CONCACAF U-17 Championship begins April 21 in Panama.
“We owe a huge thanks to IMG for being amazing hosts,” Hackworth said, “and we fully expect to continue to utilize their fantastic facilities and build on the relationship of the last 20 years.