It probably slipped under your radar, but AS Roma and Real Colorado made an announcement this week that might cause a significant shift in the Colorado soccer landscape. Roma, the big Serie A club that was the former home to USMNT star Michael Bradley, announced a new partnership for youth academies with Real Colorado and six other US academies to develop and train players.
This might be a largely cosmetic move that allows Roma to sell a few more shirts here in Colorado. Or it might be the beginning of an earthshaking shift in American soccer academies to a more European model.
American soccer academies still essentially operate as the top end of the youth pyramid, instead of the proving grounds of the future senior club. Your kid joins a soccer league: you pay them for the jersey and coaches and field rentals. The older your kids get, the more they practice and play, the more competitive the teams, the steeper the costs. Toddler soccer comes in at about $80 for a 6-week season. Youth Academy soccer in Colorado runs between $900-1700 per season, plus travel and expenses. There are scholarships and financial aid, but for your average family in America, raising a soccer player isn’t easy.
European academies operate somewhat differently. Instead of being essentially soccer businesses that charge parents in order to turn a profit, European academies are extensions downward from their parent clubs. They are either free or very inexpensive. AS Roma, FC Barcelona, and most every other European club takes the profits from the big club and spends a portion of it on their youth teams. FC Barcelona’s La Masia costs about $10 million a year to operate, and takes about 200 youths a year, ages 11-18. La Masia pays for schooling, room and board, and even paid for Lionel Messi’s expensive growth deficiency treatments as a boy. European teams spend big sums of money on youth soccer to recruit and develop talent; the kids that don’t make it can usually be counted on to become lifelong supporters anyhow. La Masia was founded in the model of the first elite European youth academy, Amsterdam’s Ajax. The results are quite impressive, as La Masia has produced, among others, Messi, Xavi, and Cesc Fabregas.
The Rapids have recently seen its academy produce two great players, Shane O'Neill and Dillon Serna, and of course we hope that more is in the pipeline. But with a plethora of local teams to choose from; Rush, Storm, Skyline, Rapids, and Real Colorado, to name a few; there is always the possibility that a good player could wind up somewhere other than DSGP.
It may be time for the Rapids to make an aggressive move to innovate the cost structure of its youth system and make its entire competitive academy system free or nearly free. Otherwise the next Dillon Serna might end up in Rome, instead of Commerce City.