CHICAGO (Aug. 21, 2019)-As the Boys Development Academy launches its 13th season this fall, U.S. Soccer will introduce a new DA Cup competition and regular season structure to increase meaningful competition within the program. The DA Cup adds the opportunity to win a championship in a high-stakes knockout tournament and qualify for the Playoffs to the Academy schedule, while a new two-tiered competition format at the U-18/19 level increases the number of games for every team against similar-level opponents.
The changes represent an important step in the Academy's evolution to ensure that all clubs have access to the most meaningful games possible, fostering an environment that maximizes player development.
"Adding the DA Cup and restructuring the regular season ensures that we continue to create an environment that maximizes player development," said U.S. Soccer Sporting Director Earnie Stewart. "The time is right for this new structure as we look towards the future of the Academy. With this structure, every team will play the most competitive games possible each week of the season, which will provide the best opportunity for top players to be challenged and improve."
All clubs with teams at the U-15, U-16/17 and U-18/19 age groups will play in the new DA Cup, which will run in three stages concurrently with the Academy regular season to determine a DA Cup champion and Academy Playoff wild card berths. The tournament begins with the Fall Group Stage, as U-16/17 and U-18/19 squads will play in regional groups to advance to the 32-team Winter Cup. The U-15 age group will only participate in the Fall Group Stage and will not play down to a single champion. Fall Group Stage play provides a number of high-stakes local rivalry games, minimizing additional travel for clubs while amplifying the intensity of competition.
The 32 teams advancing in the U-16/17 and U-18/19 age groups will then compete in eight four-team groups at the Winter Cup, held in Bradenton, Fla. during the traditional Winter Showcase event. The remaining DA Cup teams will play three games that determine their place in the final DA Cup rankings, used to award wild card berths for the Playoffs.
The eight Winter Cup group winners will advance to play in the Spring Cup Championship, an eight-team knockout bracket at a single location to crown the DA Cup champion. While advancing teams will feel the pressure of a chance at hardware with each passing round, teams that do not advance continue to play significant games that can book their tickets to the postseason by improving their ranking to earn a wild card spot.
More information on the structure of the DA Cup competition can be found here.
At the U-18/19 level, teams have been divided into two tiers in order to increase the number of meaningful games for all clubs. Teams will play more games against similar-level opponents in the new structure, ensuring more competitive, evenly-matched fixtures throughout the entire regular season. The tiers were split into new geographic divisions while maintaining like-for-like competition.
Automatic playoff qualification spots for the Playoffs will be determined by the final regular season standings, while the wild card berths that fill out the 32-team Playoff field will be based on the DA Cup final rankings. All U-18/19 teams, regardless of tier, will have the opportunity to qualify for the Playoffs (through the regular season or DA Cup) and compete for the national championship. More information on the Playoff qualification structure can be found here.
Tiers were determined following a thorough evaluation of performance history, player production, market as well as feedback from U.S. Soccer technical staff, with the goal that teams in each tier can provide each other the most consistently competitive games. Match-ups between tiers will take place during the DA Cup and Playoffs.
At the conclusion of the season, the new structure will be evaluated and teams may move up or down tiers for the 2020-21 season. Additionally, U.S. Soccer will consider expanding the tiered competition structure to other Boys age groups based on data and feedback from clubs.
The Academy is guided by the principle of increased training sessions and fewer, but more meaningful games. The DA Cup adds a number of significant matches to every club's schedule at each stage of the competition, while the new tier structure means teams will play more games against teams at a similar level to generate more competitive match-ups.