The Washington Spirit lost three of the partner clubs for its Virginia-based U.S. Soccer Girls Development Academy program. Braddock Road Youth Club (BRYC), Loudoun Soccer, and Arlington Soccer Association will not partner with the Washington Spirit’s Development Academy in 2017. The planned partnership with Southwestern Youth Association (SYA) is uncertain.
Last July, the Spirit named those four clubs as partners when they announced the creation of a Virginia-based Girls Development Academy team. According to Washington Spirit President Chris Hummer, the partnerships were at that point a handshake deal, with all parties approving the press release announcing the partnership.
Braddock Road will join the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL), the top-flight league for elite female youth soccer players that the DA will be competing with. Loudoun Soccer announced that it will partner with FC Virginia, with FC Virginia running the Girls DA side of the partnership. SYA’s board did not approve the planned partnership between the Spirit DA and SYA, but that particular door may remain open.
Larry Best, who was reported to be the Spirit’s pick to lead the Virginia program, is “no longer involved with the Spirit in a technical capacity,” according to Hummer. The Virginia WPSL team that carried the Spirit brand will no longer carry the Spirit’s name but may still play in the league. When BRYC chose to join the ECNL instead of the Development Academy, the Spirit had to cut ties with Best to avoid any conflicts of interest. Best, BRYC’s Girls Director of Coaching, confirmed that BRYC will not partner with the Spirit’s Virginia Development Academy in 2017.
Arlington chose not to be a Development Academy partner. According to Hummer, the Spirit made several attempts to address Arlington’s concerns, but they ultimately decided to not partner with the Spirit.
Hummer also said that Loudoun was in serious talks with the Spirit and in January, and verbally informed the Spirit that the organization had decided to formalize a partnership. However, once FC Virginia decided to forfeit their ECNL membership in order to compete in the Development Academy, Loudoun chose to partner with FC Virginia. Last Friday, Loudoun officially announced that partnership.
Despite the loss of several partners, Hummer reiterated that the Spirit are “absolutely fielding a DA [team] and believe it will be very strong with many top youth international players.” Hummer also said that a director for the Virginia program has been chosen and an official announcement will be made soon. Spirit assistant coach Denise Reddy was recently named Technical Director for the Maryland DA program.
Hummer said that the main obstacle with the board of each Virginia organization was giving Spirit a formal commitment of resources. The clubs wanted to retain control of the program including its curriculum and staffing, something the Spirit is unwilling to agree to. “This is never something a professional club would do given the whole point of having a Development Academy is to create the best possible environment for developing future professional players based on the beliefs of the club's leadership,” said Hummer. “While we value the experience and knowledge of all the partners we considered working with, ultimately we could not sign away final say on curriculum or staffing [as] they were asking us to do.”
According to Hummer, the Spirit are continuing to work towards partnerships with other Virginia clubs. In Maryland, the Spirit’s Development Academy has partnered with Montgomery Soccer Incorporated and Baltimore Armour, two prominent youth clubs.