Despite a pandemic that has turned the sports world upside down, there is good news for Napa Valley’s largest youth sports organization.
On Tuesday, Major League Soccer announced that Napa United will be joining its elite youth development platform as an expansion club.
“As Head of Soccer for Napa United, I am incredibly excited to be one of only four expansion clubs joining the MLS youth platform in Northern California,” announced Gavin Taylor. “This new platform will give our players the opportunity to play at the highest level of youth soccer in the country. Our players will get exposure to the MLS clubs and also U.S. National Team opportunities.
“This is the outcome of many years of work from many people and our community should be very proud. We see this as a golden seed moment for youth soccer in Napa and to bring MLS youth soccer to our community is an incredible achievement.“
Details of the program will be announced in the coming weeks from Major League Soccer, including when the league will hold its first competitions. What is clear is that Napa United will be competing against Major League Soccer’s Youth Academy teams as well as the top clubs from Northern California.
Major League Soccer announced that 113 clubs in the United States and Canada were accepted in this new program.
“It was a rigorous process and our entire soccer operations team put many months of hard work in preparation for our final interview with the MLS,” said Taylor.
The MLS Elite Player Development Platform takes over the United States Soccer Development Academy, which was considered the highest playing level for youth soccer in the United States.
Napa United will join the San Jose Earthquakes, Sacramento Republic, Silicon Valley SA, SF Glens, SF Elite, De Anza Force, Breakers of Santa Cruz, Ballistic United of Pleasanton, Sheriffs FC of Hayward, Lamorinda SC, and LFC Bay Area of the South Bay. Napa United is the only North Bay soccer club among the Northern California league.
“For this first wave of new club expansion, we wanted to focus on finding clubs that are working to instill proper weekly development and quality competition as players embark on elite and professional pathways,” said Fred Lipka, vice president and technical director of MLS Player Development. “It’s important that we familiarize players with regional competition at the earliest ages and re-establish the importance of small clubs prioritizing quality of development over quantity of players.”
The MLS news is a string of recent accomplishments for the Napa-based organization.
During the past seven weeks, Napa United has been conducting contact-free training for its club and academy teams, which allowed for the organization to hold tryouts during the pandemic.
“The city and county approved of our plan to return to camp-style training, which was great for the kids and allowed us to hold tryouts to our programs,” said Napa United Vice President of Coach and Player Development Arik Housley, who oversees the competitive programs.
Housley also chairs the Regional Action Committee for soccer and is aware of a large drop-off in participation in the region.
“We actually grew our club and academy teams this past summer despite the pandemic,” said Housley. “We are extremely grateful with how the city and county worked with us in getting our kids on the field.”
This past spring, the National Premier League announced Napa United as a full-time member on the boys side and accepted the U13 and U12 girls as members of the NPL. In the final games before COVID-19 shut down all play, the 2008 girls were competing in the Champions League, comprised of the best teams in Northern California, and the 2007 boys won the prestigious Surf Cup Qualification Tournament in San Jose.
Napa United was ranked 47th among the top soccer clubs in the United States last winter by national youth soccer publication SoccerWire. Napa United was listed with the top Major League Soccer and former USDA clubs. Inclusion to the MLS Elite Player Development Program, therefore, seemed within reach.
“The news from MLS is validation of the hard work Gavin, the soccer operations team and the coaches put into seeing our kids develop into elite players,” explained Napa United President Karl Frisinger. “This is a huge step forward for our soccer community and we look forward to the opportunities this will provide everyone.”