The US Soccer Federation announced on Friday that it will close the U-17 residency program based at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida at the end of the current semester. The program began in 1999 as a way to produce future senior squad players in an intensive residential environment modeled on overseas academy systems. The project helped the careers of many notable USMNT players, including members of the current squad like Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley as well as emerging player Christian Pulisic. Ten players went on to play in a World Cup with the senior squad.
"I don’t think I’d be where I am without it,” Altidore said. “It helped bridge the gap. Having the ability to train everyday with the best players available at the time, it pushed me to be better. I think it was very valuable for me in learning how to be a pro and take that next step as I transitioned into being a professional player.”
In making the announcement, USSF president Sunil Gulati pointed to the changes in player development in the country.
"One of our main hopes when establishing the US Soccer Residency Program was that at some point advancements in youth player development would make its existence no longer necessary. We believe that point has been reached." Gulati said in a statement. "Not only did the program develop a number of key players for our National Teams, it served as a model for academies across the country to follow. With the US Development Academy having achieved high standards in preparing our young athletes, we are now able to impact future American professionals on a much larger scale."
US Soccer runs its own developmental academy system in conjunction with youth soccer clubs across the country. MLS teams also run academies. That along with the options for American soccer players overseas creates multiple paths for player development that weren't options in the late 1990s.
"It's a bittersweet moment because the program has been invaluable for almost two decades as a critical piece of the development process for US Soccer," USMNT U-17 coach John Hackworth said. "The end of the Residency Program signals the next step in the evolution of player development in this country."