Seth Casiple, a midfielder on newly-formed club California Development Academy, had never considered himself to be on the youth national team radar. Just a few games into his team’s first season as part of U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy, he found out just how quickly a player could rise in the ranks.
Casiple and his teammates were unsure what to expect at the 2009 Winter Showcase, or what a Development Academy Select Team entailed, but he was chosen by youth national team coaches, scouts and technical advisors to participate in a Select Team match with other players born in 1993.
“I was a little nervous going into it to be honest,” said the 16-year-old Sacramento native. “But once I met the other guys I’d be playing with, I knew I was around very good players and that it was going to be a good experience. The speed and intensity of the game was higher than I was used to, but once we started playing I just got engulfed in the game so much that I forgot about everyone watching us.”
Players who participate in Select Team matches were selected through their performance with their clubs throughout the Academy season. Players like Casiple, new to the national team level, joined players who have been in and around youth national team training camps before, like Kansas City Wizards goalkeeper Jonathan Kempin.
Though he was a player already on the radar, Kempin’s stand-out performances at the Showcase helped solidify his place among the top young goalkeepers in the country.
Casiple and Kempin were among just over 100 players who participated with the Select Teams in Phoenix. The Development Academy first implemented Select Teams at the 2009 Spring Showcase in Sarasota, Fla., where two 18-player teams competed against the Under-17 Men’s National Team. Players are chosen through the Academy’s vast scouting network based on performance in both training and games, and come together under the guidance of a youth national team coach to play together once during a Showcase event.
The platform has since expanded, and at the 2009 Winter Showcase, eight teams made up of some of the top Academy players came together in Phoenix. The featured Select Team match was played under the lights of the international field at the Reach 11 Complex, pitting a team of players born in 1993s coached by Under-18 MNT head coach Mike Matkovich against a team of players born in 1991 and 1992 coached by Under-20 MNT head coach Thomas Rongen.
“Those games were about raising the level of play for Academy players,” said Kempin. “Playing under the lights and in front of a big crowd and a lot of the clubs was a great environment. I feel like it encouraged all of us to step our game up and almost put on a show for everyone.”
Kempin and Casiple both turned their performances at the Winter Showcase into an opportunity with the U.S. Under-18 Men’s National Team as part of the 36-player training camp that wrapped up last weekend in Carson, Calif.
Matkovich was one of more than 30 national team coaches and scouts in attendance on the weekend, taking full advantage of the opportunity to see four teams of players born in 1993 take a step toward the next level. Of the 36 players called into his training camp that ended last weekend, 20 participated in Select Team games in Phoenix.
“We were able to see 60 players from our age group, some of whom we’ve seen before, but some we brought in based on the national scouting network,” said Matkovich. “Without thinking about the player’s history, we were able to evaluate their level and bring them into a new environment and see how they responded.”
Identifying players with the potential to make the leap to the international level is not an easy or scientific task, but Matkovich thinks that programs like the Select Teams will help the process tremendously.
“The Select games are helpful to us because we are trying to bridge that gap a little bit more and putting these guys into an environment that is the next step is helpful to see if a player stands out,” said the Chicago Fire assistant. “It’s tough to see a player’s relative level until you give him that chance, and I think the Select Teams provide a good platform. They are something we definitely want to keep doing as we move forward with the Academy program.”
Select Teams, along with educational programs based on the “Everyday Environment” theme of the in the 2009-10 season, are just some of the ways that U.S. Soccer is working to bridge the gap between youth clubs and youth national teams through the Development Academy program.
“It’s an ongoing challenge, trying to prepare guys well for that next level,” said Matkovich. “But it’s one of our most important goals in the Academy program and it’s something we’re always working toward improving.”
Now, with new experiences under their belts, both Kempin and Casiple hope to translate their time at a higher level back to their club teammates.
For Kempin, leadership on his Wizards team has come naturally since returning from the U-17 MNT program.
“I try to take the experiences I’ve had and try to use them to help my team,” said the 16-year-old. “Little ways I can help my Wizards teammates are things like weight training and speed work, helping make sure guys know what they’re supposed to be doing in the gym. I think I also understand the value of getting quality games against tough opponents. Short term, yes, they’re difficult, but they’ll make us improve as a team and that’s something we want to always strive for and need to stay focused on.”
Casiple has already noticed a change in his play in the few days since he’s been back from The Home Depot Center.
“For me, the camp changed the intensity of my game a lot,” said Casiple. “The speed of play in the training camp was so high, even down to restarts and balls that went out of bounds, you want to get the ball back in play. Last night we had our first training with CDA since we’ve been back and I noticed that I was talking a lot more and trying to raise the level of play.”
The next chance for Development Academy players to participate on Select Teams will be at the Spring Showcase on Memorial Day weekend.