US Soccer has come a long way over the last two decades and is gradually becoming a force to be reckoned with globally. While there has been rapid development, there is still a very long way to go to catch up with the truly elite soccer countries in the world.
Soccer academies are becoming increasingly popular in the USA, providing young players with the opportunity to develop their skills and achieve their dreams of playing at a professional level.
These academies offer top-notch facilities, expert coaching staff, and comprehensive training programs that help players improve their game and reach their full potential.
But there is a huge gap between the best and worst soccer academies in the USA. Some academies are heavily investing in and thriving at player development, and there are those that are just doing the bare minimum and relying on fortune for players to break through.
In this article, TOP SOCCER BLOG looks at the top 10 best youth soccer academies in the USA.
1. IMG Academy
IMG Academy is a preparatory boarding school and multi-sports training destination in Bradenton, Florida, United States.
The organization was built across over 600 acres and has programs consisting of various sport camps for youth athletes, adult camps, a boarding school, including a post-graduate/gap-year program, events, professional and collegiate training, group hosting, and corporate retreats.
Formed in 1998, IMG Academy offered an academy soccer program and year-round soccer camps from 1999 to 2017.
The academy was home to US Soccer’s full-time residency program for the United States’ U-16 and U-17 men’s national teams. It was integral in developing the United States’ top youth soccer prospects.
The original idea of the residency program was to give elite players the opportunity to train in a professional environment, as most MLS clubs did not have a substantial youth academy system in place prior to 2009.
IMG are said of have one of the best soccer academies in the US because they have produced some of the greatest US soccer players of all time.
Some of IMG’s most notable soccer alumni are: Jozy Altidore, Freddy Adu, Eddie Ababio, Faris Abdi, Nelson Akwari, Kevin Alston, Bryan Arguez, Eric Avila, DaMarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckerman, Zak Boggs, Carlos Borja, and Michael Bradley.
2. Philadelphia Union Academy
Philadelphia Union is one of the best soccer clubs in the US and they continue to be the standard for academies in Major League Soccer. They are unmatched when it comes to player recruitment and talent identification — the youth player pool is deep and ripe with top-end talent.
The Union not only collects high-end talent, but it also has a strong track record of integrating academy players into the first team.
Moreover, they have also shown an ability to export players to Europe successfully.
The Philadelphia Union Academy operates an elite youth training and competition program starting with the Under-9 age group and running through Under-17, after which players graduate to Union II, the Philadelphia Union’s second team.
Union Academy has been successful in numerous domestic and international tournaments.
Families have even been known to relocate to Pennsylvania to take advantage of the many benefits provided by the Philadelphia Union Academy, such as admittance to the YSC Academy, a world-class soccer training and college preparatory school that operates in an alliance with the Union Academy.
Notable alumni include Zack Steffen, Brenden Aaronson, Quinn Sullivan, Brandan Craig, and Nathan Harriel.
3. Real Salt Lake Academy
Founded in 2004, Real Salt Lake is an American Professional Soccer Club based in Utah.
It has one of the best soccer academies in the United States.
Players join the RSL Academy at the U15 age level; however, based on their skill, they may fluctuate between the U15 and U17 levels to provide sufficient competition for each individual player.
The academy teams compete in the MLS NEXT, which runs during the calendar year with a tournament in the winter and the MLS NEXT Cup in the summer.
Additionally, the U17s compete in the United Premier Soccer League to allow the older players to face steeper competition, closer to what they will find at the USL Championship.
Real Salt Lake Academy tries to develop young athletes to reach their highest potential. For some, they get professional contracts with the senior side, Real Salt Lake, or the Reserve team, Real Monarchs.
4. FC Dallas Academy
FC Dallas Academy is probably the most well-known academy in MLS. They have the most success stories in terms of developing and selling talent to big clubs in Europe and for such talents to attain success on the global stage.
Many MLS clubs have caught FC Dallas, which was to be expected, but they still do a good job of developing talent and transferring top talents through their conveyor belt.
The Toros’ academy is reputed for its player development, having produced several US soccer players who have gone on to feature for European clubs and the United States Men’s National Soccer Team, such as Weston McKennie, Reggie Cannon, Ricardo Pepi, and Chris Richards.
5. New York Red Bulls Academy
The New York Red Bulls Academy is the multi-layered youth system of the New York Red Bulls. It is the first cost-free program in Major League Soccer that provides a professional soccer training environment for youth players
Through a partnership with Southern New Hampshire University, players are able to pursue their education while continuing to play professionally.
At the base is the training program, which serves players at the grassroots level. This takes the form of soccer camps and training sessions available for youth players who want to learn more about the sport in a fun yet professional setting.
The skills clinics provide an easy and fun option for players to receive extra individualized training to help complement their regular club or team-based training sessions. The training programs also serve as a stepping stone to the Regional Development School.
The RDS is accessible via tryout only and acts as the feeder system to Red Bull Academy teams. Players who excel during a Training Clinic will be invited to try out for the RDS program the following season.
The New York Red Bulls have consistently relied on young talent within their first team. They continuously give young players opportunities at the senior level and are very proactive about signing players to first-team deals.
Some of the academy’s notable alumni who have gone on to become superstars are Tyler Adams, Matt Miazga, and Timothy Weah.
6. Vardar Soccer Academy
The Vardar Soccer Academy is dedicated to the development of excellence and sportsmanship in its members and is the top soccer club in the state of Michigan.
The academy has earned a reputation on a nationwide basis for consistently producing winning teams.
Vardar offers opportunity and challenge to the gifted child (male or female). They also take a personal approach, giving each child the kind of immediate and direct guidance that is carefully tailored to their individual needs.
Since 1982, Vardar has produced exceptional players and teams with the highest individual and team records.
Notable alumni include Jeff Cassar, Ali Curtis, Justin Detter, Mike Gentile, Brian Maisonneuve, Simon Omekanda, TJ Tomasso, and Mali Walton.
7. LA Galaxy Academy
LA Galaxy is arguably the most popular MLS club outside the USA due to its regular signing of international superstars. Their main men’s team boasts some of the best players in MLS at the moment.
To boost its talent development system, the club created the LA Galaxy II reserve team.
It also extended its youth development program and structure through the integration of existing youth clubs that have partnered under the LA Galaxy name, known as the LA Galaxy Academy Alliance Clubs.
As part of its development program, the Galaxy operates an academy system with U-18 and U-16 teams competing in the US Soccer Development Academy and U-14 and U-12 teams competing in Southern California Developmental Soccer Leagues (SCDSL).
Notable LA Galaxy Academy graduates include Julián Araujo, Mauricio Cuevas, Ethan Zubak, Hugo Arellano, Jonathan Hernandez, Zico Bailey, and Efraín Álvarez.
8. Barca Residency Academy
The Barca Residency Academy in the USA was opened in August 2017 as a part of FC Barcelona.
All players and coaching staff are trained using Barca’s principles. The Academy uses the very same methods that are used at La Masia in Catalonia.
In fact, top performers are even invited to train in Barcelona with the La Masia teams.
Despite no player having signed with FC Barcelona from the Residency Academy yet, the experience is beneficial and a special moment for the boys.
Located at Grande Sports World in Casa Grande, Arizona, the complex includes eight pitches, a performance center, accommodation for players, and a hotel and golf course.
The vast campus offers young players the ability to train in professional settings with professional-grade equipment.
The teams at the Academy cover the U15 to U19 levels. They compete in the newly formed MLS Next League and United Premier Soccer League.
A result of being involved in these groups is insurance that the players coming through the academy are exposed to the highest level of competition available in the US.
In addition to investing in the development of youth as soccer players, Barca Residency invests in the boys academically. Players are enrolled in Arizona State University Preparatory Academy, which has classrooms on site.
The curriculum is also designed to allow for schoolwork to be completed online. Therefore, students can study and complete homework while traveling for matches.
Barca Residency has been extremely successful despite only being a few years old. Every player from the academy has gotten a college scholarship or signed a professional contract.
Recent graduates include young MLS stars Caden Clark (NYRB), Julian Araujo (LAG), and Bryce Duke (LAFC).
In Germany, recent graduate Matthew Hoppe (Schalke 04) is working his way toward a Bundesliga debut.
9. Weston FC Academy
Weston FC is a soccer club in Weston, Florida, competing in the USL League Two. They are also one of the largest soccer academies in the country for youth players.
Founded in 1998 as a youth soccer club, they have approximately 1,100 players and 70 teams registered in their youth program.
They have developed several players, including Nicolas Hansen, George Acosta, Aiden Morris, Rhys Williams, Lansing Ignite, Alejandro Bedoya, Joshua Jackson, and Ian Frey.
10. San Diego Surf SC
San Diego Surf Soccer Club, commonly known as San Diego Surf or just Surf, is an American youth soccer club based in San Diego County, California.
It is a member of the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL).
San Diego Surf Soccer Club was founded in 1977. It is the oldest competitive youth soccer academy in San Diego.
Surf has won 12 national championships, 29 regional championships, and 74 state championships and produced over 157 national team players as well as multiple MLS and professional players.
In every age group, Surf Soccer Club teams are playing at the highest levels against the toughest competition in the most competitive leagues.
San Diego Surf was a recipient of the IMG award for the most successful academy in the USA for developing young players.
In 2021, Surf was named the first-ever ECNL Boys Overall Club Champion.
In 2022, it was announced that Surf would join the Women’s Premier Soccer League in the 2023 season.
The academy’s notable players include Corey Baird, Melanie Barcenas, Miguel Berry, Mia Fishel, Xavi Gnaulati, Catarina Macario, Simon Mršić, Evan Rotundo, Sebastian Soto, and Luca de la Torre.