Albany-based youth soccer club Black Watch Premier was recently selected to join Major League Soccer’s Elite Youth Development Program.
Black Watch is one of 113 organizations involved in MLS’ first-year program that was launched in May after the U.S. Soccer Development Academy shut down. Its teams are tentatively scheduled to begin league play in mid-September.
“Over the last 24 years we never had a true access point to the highest standard of play,” Black Watch president and CEO Steve Freeman said. “This is a historic opportunity for our area. It’s an incredible privilege to be included.”
The MLS-backed program will consist of elite year-round competition, as well as player identification initiatives, coaching education opportunities, and additional player development events.
“We’re trying the best we can to provide the best environment for our players,” Freeman said. “We want to be better tomorrow than we are today.”
Black Watch will initially have teams in the league’s youngest levels, U13 and U14, and they will compete in one of the league’s three geographical divisions. The objective, Freeman said, is to have more Black Watch teams involved in the MLS program in the future.
According to a Black Watch statement, “BWP Albany was selected by the MLS Player Development Committee, and will compete in the inaugural competition at the U13 and U14 age groups. The committee was clear when granting this acceptance that beginning at the entry-level of the platform will enable the club to develop greater capacity over time. The club assembled a MLS Task Force, and the group is in the midst of designing the roll-out and execution of the project.”
The MLS program also includes U15, U16, U17 and U19 levels.
“The kids will be getting greater opportunities than ever before,” Freeman said. “It won’t happen overnight.”
Freeman said games and other program events will have national team scouts and MLS scouts in attendance.
“It will help our players get identified for national teams,” Freeman said. “We are excited about that.”
Black Watch was among 19 expansion youth soccer clubs selected to join the MLS-backed program earlier this month, taking the total number of participating organizations to 113 and encompassing over 11,000 players. Now included in the participation are 30 MLS youth academies and 83 elite academies representing both the United States and Canada.
“The spirit of this platform is ensuring representation across the entire soccer landscape and at every level of the governance structure. Seeking input from all members and catering to players from diverse backgrounds is at the core of this platform,” Fred Lipka, vice president and technical director of MLS Player Development, said in a league statement. “We are excited to welcome these academies and thousands of elite players to join our founding members in this competition with the first stage of expansion and look forward to additional expansion in the years to come.”
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