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PDL Rising in Prominence on North American Soccer
April 2, 2003

The Super Y-League / PDL connection will provide the elite level youth players opportunites at the highest levels of amatuer soccer and expose them to many collegiate oppertunites. University of Akron Coach and U.S. U16 Men’s National Team Coach, Ken Lolla considers PDL a help, not a hindrance.

Published April 2, 2003 on

Connection with Super Y-League to provide youth players with more collegiate exposure.

The Super Y-League / PDL connection will provide the elite level youth players opportunites at the highest levels of amatuer soccer and expose them to many collegiate oppertunites.

Don’t look now, but the need and desire for a more complete player development scheme in the United States seems to be taking a once-obscure league and putting it much more squarely on the map of high-level soccer in this country.

The Premier Development League, United Soccer League’s summer competition for college-age players, has grown from 32 teams three years ago to 51 this summer. This growth, while reflective of an overall increase in soccer’s popularity in North America, has much to do with a recognition by collegiate players that they are at a disadvantage compared to counterparts in other countries. The disadvantage is due to the repressive restrictions placed by the NCAA on collegiate programs concerning match play, seasons and training schedules.

What PDL allows players to do is play in up to 25 competitive matches over the summer. While restrictions on the number of players from the same college program playing together still apply, the chance for individuals to get in a summer full of high level training and matches is too good to pass up. As a result, the demand for teams has grown, and USL has been only too glad to help accommodate the need with the awarding of franchises, provided of course the right combination of ownership and market exists. PDL Director Steve Clamp said the fee for a franchise is approximately $45,000, but that is but one of a multitude of factors the league will examine before awarding a franchise.

Changed Emphasis Leads To Better Play.

In earlier days PDL teams were often a hybrid of paid and amateur players, younger and older. Some teams had a more pure development emphasis while others quite frankly left observers at a loss for what they were doing. Over time though, the league has emerged with a clear direction, one that places it in an increasingly strategic position from a developmental viewpoint.
Jim Duggan, co-owner of the Mid-Michigan Bucks, one of the league’s more successful franchises, said the improvement in league play has been marked.

“I think every year it’s increased in importance to college players. The level of players we have been getting has increased every year, in the seven years we’ve been in this,” Duggan said. “We’ve gotten younger. When we first started, we had a lot of pros and players out of college. Now we’re 90 percent college players, and the big difference for us is, these are significantly better college players. The competition in our division has radically improved over the past few years. To stay ahead of the curve you have to work hard.”

Duggan, whose team plays in suburban Detroit after moving from Saginaw last year, said he likes to leave a few of the team’s 26 roster spots open for tryouts, since there are college players all over the country trying to get into a PDL team. Typically the tryout will have up to 20 players attending.

Our goal is to get the very best college players currently in Michigan, and we try to keep tabs on the really good players who leave the state to go to college, like Justin Detter at Notre Dame,” Duggan said.

College Coaches Give PDL Thumbs-Up.

Duggan said most, but not all, college coaches have embraced the league.

“There are still some college coaches who don’t want their kids playing all summer, but most recognize it is needed,” Duggan said. “The level of play has risen and so has the level of the franchises. I think more people are seeing we provide a nice, safe and productive playing environment.”

Boulder Rapids Reserve General Manager Peter Ambrose noted college coaches are receiving a nice benefit from the league in terms of player fitness.

“The average player goes back in much better shape, leaps and bounds above any other summer program they’ve had,” Ambrose said. “I’ve gotten a letter from a coach thanking for sending players back in such astounding match condition. No I may not have done all that, but did PDL make him ready? You’d better believe it.”

Ambrose said 13 of 15 finalists for the Herrmann Award given to college soccer’s top player, played in PDL last summer.

”It has become the most influential vehicle for player development for college soccer players in our history,” Ambrose said. “It truly is a vital component now for the success of players, not just on an individual basis, but all over the country players know if they can play on a college all star team, their level of play will go up one more notch by being with so many good players. It’s when the players go back to their college teams, that’s when they realize how good PDL teams are.”

University of Akron Coach and U.S. U16 Men’s National Team Coach, Ken Lolla considers PDL a help, not a hindrance.

“I think it’s important because it gives the players another place to play, and at a pretty good level,” Lolla said. “Each team varies in how organized it is and how much they put it into it, but the games are pretty good, and it gives kids a chance to play some matches that matter for something. That is hugely important in player development, especially for this age group. It’s such a critical time for the players and they need to see good games.”

Asked if he thought the NCAA might relax some of their restrictions on training and season length, Lolla was not optimistic.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” he said. “The NCAA, if anything, is getting tighter in terms of laws and restrictions. I don’t anticipate that they will relax their guidelines anytime soon.”

Clamp said the league aims to provide a transition of sorts, or at least a glimpse of one.

”This is the next step in development, and we want to show the players a professional atmosphere, treating them the way real players are treated, to get away from a Sunday league mentality,” Clamp said.

The 2003 PDL season begins May 3. Top Drawer Soccer will endeavor to cover the league from a player development angle, including providing a full overview of club rosters for the league.