During a normal year, pivoting from the Development Academy system under U.S. Soccer to the new Youth Development Program in association with the new MLS NEXT program would have presented any number of challenges. Doing it during a pandemic that’s seen the suspension of youth sports has upped the difficulty to another level, but Director of Youth Development Noel Quinn is working every day to build bridges with the community to make Minnesota United’s YDP successful.
Currently, the YDP is working through its trial or discovery period, including tryouts for the U10–U14 training pools and work assessing players in the U15, U17 and U19 age ranges. While adhering to strict COVID protocols, Quinn and his staff are looking at more than 700 players, breaking them down into phases of former DA players, players nominated by their home clubs and walk-ons. These tryouts will take place over six weeks, with follow-ups to break them down into training groups.
While the primary goal of the YDP is to find and cultivate youth players who can play for Minnesota United’s first team, Quinn believes one of the best ways to do that is by helping to create leaders in the local soccer community. So while physical and technical skill will obviously be important, the YDP wants to work with driven players who have a capacity for bringing leadership back to their home clubs.
The mission, though, is not just to get good players, but to get every good player. That challenge is considerably more difficult, especially given the sheer size of the territory they’re drawing from and the different leagues and teams across the state. But on this point, Quinn is crystal clear. “Until we can ensure that everyone with ability can get in the doors,” he says, “how do we know we’re not missing out?”
This is obviously mechanically important for ensuring that MNUFC is getting access to the best players locally, but it’s also culturally important. Having grown up in Ireland, Quinn knows there is a definable national character to the sport in his home country. Any idea of what soccer is in Minnesota is by comparison incomplete until every kid who can play has the chance to play at the highest levels. MNUFC cannot define soccer in Minnesota. “All the best players together will let you know what that kind of soccer is,” says Quinn.
That’s a long term goal. For now, it’s about connecting to diverse populations and providing resources. It’s about identifying players with potential and getting them to a higher level both with the YDP and with their home clubs. And it’s about doing it safely and responsibly within the parameters of an ongoing pandemic affecting all of our lives.