What’s ahead? Examining MLS’ top academies


One of the first things FC Cincinnati director of player development Larry Sunderland told me he loved about the FC Cincinnati Academy was the ability to start from scratch. He said this before the Academy even existed.

But the point was clear: by starting an MLS academy from the ground up, Sunderland and his staff could implement their preferred philosophies and playing style without revising someone else’s pre-existing ideas.

If FC Cincinnati are a club of firsts, Sunderland’s methodology would be the first for creating a pipeline between local soccer talent and Homegrown Player contracts.

The FCC Academy began in early August with Under-15 and Under-17 teams. That same month, I started speaking with academy directors from the top youth programs around MLS.

What I learned is FC Cincinnati have the same great ambitions as other teams. However, those teams already have their pathway systems and pipelines churning out professional players. That’s what FCC are building toward.  

Next week, I’ll publish a week-long series examining my findings. Each club I spoke with has had similar success, but they create their success in different ways.

Now that FCC has established their Academy, how do those players find their way to the first team, and in what manner?

It’s not a secret that Cincinnati covets future Homegrown Players. You hear Carl H. Lindner III, Jeff Berding and Gerard Nijkamp all speak to that point in the club’s future.

While there is also sentimentality to local children playing for the Orange and Blue, there are significant financial benefits, too. (Two academy directors I spoke with said their clubs want to field all-Homegrown Player starting XIs soon.)

The FCC first team might be most important right now, but the Academy is the club’s foundation for the future. Nijkamp and Sunderland are working to stabilize that foundation.

Next week’s series will highlight how other MLS academies have created their foundations and where they’ve gone from there.