- Jason Davis

Paul Kennedy calls for the end of the Bradenton academy over at Soccer America today. As I read his reasons, I found myself mentally nodding along; Bradenton's purpose, to give a select few the opportunity to jump start professional careers outside of the traditional American amateur club->college soccer->professional soccer path, thereby hopefully improving the fortunes of US national teams, is being served by other options these days. In other words, without a pressing need, Bradenton's usefulness (bang for its buck, return on the investment, etc.) has run its course.

Lack of real success is certainly an argument for shuttering the Brandenton program. As Kennedy points out, the best the US has ever done at the U-17 World Cup in the Bradenton era was a fourth place finish in 1999 with the first class of attendees. That inaugural class also remains its most accomplished, with the likes of Donovan, Beasley and Onyewu heading the list. Since 1999, the US hasn't won a U-17 World Cup knockout round match, hasn't seemed to develop much in the way of a cohesive style, and doesn't have a marquee name it can point to as a true product of the residential academy in Florida.

The style point is of particular interest to me. With such a large, diverse, soccer-playing country like the US, developing a singular style from the senior national team down through every youth level is like the Holy Grail; with one "American" way of playing, we imagine a world of possibilities, including but not limited to: greater success in international competition, players more attractive to the world's biggest clubs, and a new element in the American soccer narrative, one that would make it easier to tell, and sell, the story of the sport. All of them could in some way help make the game more popular.

If Bradenton couldn't accomplish the feat by bringing together country's supposed best and brightest at the U-17 level for the last twelve years, it's likely an impossible task. It would be wrong to say that the money spent on Bradenton was wasted, because there was no other clear path for US Soccer at the time it was launched; without an established network of academies as exists today, the concept was worth a go. As we open a new era of player development in the US, however, including the maturation of the Development Academy system and its emphasis on training, a central location for a handful of players is no longer as appealing. A wider net, even if it represents a less controlled environment than Bradenton, is likely to catch more talent. Focusing so much effort on a so few players - players who might benefit from staying closer to home and developing more "naturally" - when there isn't any overwhelming success story to point to, is evidence enough that the program isn't working.

As long as the Bradenton residency setup exists, the U-17 program (which Kennedy says should continue - a no brainer) will lean heavily on players enrolled there to the detriment of searching out other talent around the country. Be it DA players in amateur clubs or homegrown talent in MLS academies, it's not longer right to assume the nation's best are necessarily attending the academy in Bradenton.

Results are the bottom line, and Bradenton hasn't produced them. There are other structures in place now, making it clear that the Florida's residency program's time has run out.

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