A Quick History of U.S. Soccer’s Under-14 Girls’ Programs

With U.S. Soccer now officially launching a new version of its development program for Under-14 Girls, it is useful to put those changes into context.

Prior to 1999, the youngest age-level for U.S. Soccer’s female youth teams, was the Under-16 Women’s National Team, which appears to have been established in 1996.  (Danielle Slaton, Abby Wambach, and Hope Solo are all listed as members of the U-16 team in 1996 per their media guide biographies.)  Before that, the only youth USWNT was the original Under-20 USWNT, which began in 1989 (if not earlier, as a U-19 program) and exists to this day as the U-23 USWNT, having adjusted its maximum age level twice.

U.S. Soccer’s first Under-14 Girls’ program began in 1999, as part of the federation’s Under-14 National Development Program, which started two years earlier, on the boys’ side.  Participants of that first girls’ camp included Heather O’Reilly, Lindsay Tarpley, Becky Sauerbrunn and Ashlyn Harris.

Initially, the program consisted primarily of an annual week-long mega-camp in the summer for 80 players (20 players per region).  In 2001, that number increased to 100 players (25 per region).

(from the 2014 USWNT Media Guide)

In 2006, the first follow-up camp was held.  From the 100 players who attended that year’s mega-camp, 24 were called back to participate in the Nike Friendlies that were then held in Carson, California.  As the “Under-14 United States Girls’ National Team,” those players competed against U-16 club teams during that event.  The next year, in 2007, 36 players were called back for the Nike Friendlies, as two U-14 USGNTs competed in that tournament.

However, from 2008 to 2011, the follow-up event was just a 36-player domestic camp, with no publicized matches.  The year 2011 also saw a significant reduction in the size of the mega-camp, from 100 players down to just 72.

An Attempt At Normalcy:  In 2012, U.S. Soccer initiated a change to the U-14 NDP for both the boys’ and girls’ sides, eliminating the mega-camps and following a more traditional pattern for youth national teams by having three or more normal-sized camps per year.

On the Girls’ side, the new camp pattern was one extra-large 48-player camp in the springtime, followed by two 36-player camps later in the year.   This new Under-14 GNT existed annually from 2012 to 2014, but was cut to an even-year only program in 2015, with the Under-15 USGNT absorbing responsibility for odd year U-14 players.

Compared to the old mega-camp model, which saw up to 100 players called in per year, under this new GNT model, the total number of players per year in the U-14 program dropped down to a range of 70 to 80 players, except for 2016, where the total number of players was close to 60.

Related, in the second half of 2017, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy program for girls began its inaugural season.

In 2018, the U-14 USGNT competed in and won its first official tournament, when U.S. Soccer sent the team to that year’s CONCACAF Girls’ Under-15 Championship, instead of the U-15 USGNT.

The 2020 Vision:  In 2019, U.S. Soccer launched the current version of the U-14 NDP, which is apparently named “Youth National Teams Under-14 Talent Identification Program” and is officially shortened to “YNT U-14 TID Program.”

Under this new U-14 TIP model, a total of 180 players will now attend one of three regional “mini-camps,” which will each run for five days (typically Wednesday to Sunday) and have 60 attendees.  From that, about one-third from each camp, for a total of around 60 players, will be called back for a national identification camp.  Additional camps for 2020 are not yet confirmed.

Although, a Girls’ U-14 program did not officially operate in 2019, last year should be viewed as a transition year:  While there was no regional mini-camps, last October’s U-15 USGNT identification camp, whose attendees were all  2005 birth years, was essentially the equivalent of the U-14 national identification camp that is scheduled for late May.

* * *

Not touched on in the above summary is the history of the player selection process or the leadership of the Girls’ U-14 program, as clear information for the program’s early years is not readily available at the moment.

However, since 2011, the leadership of the U-14 has been clear:

  • Jill Ellis:  2011 to 2012
    • Title:  Director of Women’s Development
    • with then U-15 GNT head coach Damon Nahas assisting in 2012
  • April Kater: 2013 to 2018
    • Title:  U-14 GNT Head Coach
  • Mirelle Van Rijbroek:  2019+
    • Title:  Director of Girls’ Talent Identification

Regarding the player selection process, U.S. Soccer employs a network of localized scouts and holds numerous one-day evaluation events known as “identification centers” across the continental United States and Hawaii each year.  Formerly called “training centers,” these events have been around since at least the mid-2000s, though it is unclear when they were first held on the girls’ side (though at least since 2010).

The above information is sourced mostly from published roster releases for U-14 camps (2005 to present, except for 2008) and recent USWNT Media Guides.  A longer and more exhaustive version of this article is planned, which will have much more thorough citations and linkage.

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