|Orlando City's Development Pyramid|
(Graphic by The Scoring Third)
Out of the many sports in the world, soccer definitely takes the top spot with importance of developing a player from a very young age. Blasting a ball out of mid air into the upper corner of a net is not something you learn in five minutes. To perfect the craft takes years and years of training. Creativity, as with any art form, does not yield masterpieces within mere months. This too needs time to be molded and developed.
World class football clubs like Barcelona and Manchester United are known for their elite youth academies where children are brought in from a very young age. They are then under the professional eye of the club’s staff and molded into the style of play that the organization lives by. Some will move up within the ranks of the academy to the senior squad and others will move elsewhere to continue their game. Either way, they have developed elite players for their club and country.
Orlando City has prided itself on not just being a professional sports franchise in the community, but a total soccer system with roots down to the youngest levels of the sport. But how does Orlando City's system match up against that of teams in Major League Soccer; that is the question we answer today.
The “American Premier League” officially known as MLS has taken note of these top level clubs’ youth programs. Steps have been taken to begin to develop the youth academies within Major League Soccer to be on par with the likes of the Spain and England youth clubs. Many of the top level American clubs have begun this development by adding the “Juniors” tag to the end of their club name to signify their youth squads.
The clubs with the “Junior” squads seem to have the most depth within the development pyramid. The likes of Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, and Houston Dynamo come to mind. With the three aforementioned having age groups starting at U4 and rarely skipping an age group all the way to the senior squads. Another quality move by the American clubs is to take their brand out of the home base. Chicago has branded youth clubs into Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Michigan, and Kentucky. Spreading the development well outside their Midwest region. The Dynamo have spread out of state as well, but kept it within the Southeast region.
More importantly, another quality American club a couple divisions lower has taken the same initiative to bring a unified youth development program to the Central Florida area. Orlando City Youth Soccer, under the umbrella of Orlando City, has already been fielding teams for summer leagues and will get the full season into swing this coming Fall. OCYS has formed both an academy side and recreational side. Each having a squad from the U5 age group all the way up to the U18s. For further development Orlando City has formed a U20 team within the Super-20 League of USL and the Orlando City U23s of the PDL for the next level of the club. Then there is the Senior squad under top quality management to end the point of the pyramid.
Under the academy side the U14s, U15/16, and U17/18 will participate in the U.S. Development Academy alongside the MLS’ development academies. The Orlando City U23s do the same during the summer with the select top division clubs that field PDL teams.
When compared to their fellow American clubs two divisions above the only difference easily seen becomes the geographical distribution of the club brand. Not only are Orlando City looking to make a push for the top division, they are in the City Beautiful to create a Central Florida area that develops players from the beginning to the end.
Editor's Note: We are pleased to welcome our newest contributor, "The Gambler", to The Scoring Third. He will be reporting on all aspects of Orlando City from the supporters point of view as well as providing some research articles on various Orlando City related topics in the months ahead. Rest assured, when you roll with "The Gambler" everybody wins.