The Richmond Kickers announced today that they will be merging their US Soccer Development Academy with the Richmond Strikers, creating one Development Academy for central Virginia and ending years of amicable conflict between the two. This deal has been rumored for over a year, and the consummation of it will create a new Development Academy, properly named Richmond United. Since the academies are now year-round this merger will take place for the start of the 2014-2015 season. The Richmond United academy will remain cost-free, which the Kickers academy has been for the past year (and which D.C. United's academy is not). There will also be a U-23 team, but its league affiliation, if any, is not yet known.
All in all, this deal makes sense. It leaves one US Soccer Development Academy for the Richmond, where the previous two were overkill for the area's population base. It leaves two USSDAs for Virginia, with the other being in Virginia Beach, and two in the Greater D.C. area that can also service Northern Virginia. It also makes sense from the viewpoint of developing the best players from this region, allowing them all to practice together and to play against other high-quality opposition.
This is the first time that any two US Soccer Development Academies have merged, but I doubt it will be the last time we see this. There are currently 79, soon to be 78, officially sanctioned Development Academies and the program has only been around since 2007. The move to the year-round schedule last year has only further changed the landscape of youth soccer. The further development and professionalization of academies across the country helps everyone's programs, making already top tier academies like D.C. United's even better through better competition. Over the past six years, US Soccer has fundamentally changed youth soccer in America, and moves like this show that.
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