The Washington DC metropolitan area prides itself as one of the best areas in the country for youth soccer in terms of opportunities, organizations, and facilities. Yet there is still much to do, especially in terms of opportunities and facilities for children living in the inner city.

Youth soccer can essentially be broken down into two main categories: Club Soccer and School Soccer. Club Soccer can also be divided into sub-categories depending on the level of competition: recreational, classic, select (also known as travel), and academy programs.

Kids as young as 4 years old can join recreational leagues. Boys and girls often play together. The emphasis is solely on skill building, especially dribbling, along with friendship and fun.

Around the age of 8 (Under 9) players and parents begin to choose whether they want to continue playing in a non-competitive league, if they want to join a select team, or even leave the sport for other pursuits. At this young age, emphasis is still on skill building – dribbling, passing, receiving – friendship and fun in these teams. Girls and boys are maturing at equal levels and the difference in the level of play may not be so noticeable at this age. Another other important difference is the use of keepers and the introduction of referees.

As players grow, the opportunity for different levels of competition grows with them.By Under 12, there are recreational, developmental, and travel teams. Travel leagues include teams with increased skills with the expectation that they will travel longer distances to play against stronger teams. Travel leagues can also range in level of competition, but in general a child playing travel can expect to have tryouts before making the team, a coach with advanced coaching certification, playing seasons in both the fall and spring and even winter, and a greater emphasis on winning than in other leagues.

Along with travel soccer, a player can participate in state competition and the Olympic Development Program (ODP), or the State team. Players are selected for ODP in their state (DC players in Virginia), following tryouts that are conducted once every year and attract the best players from the different travel teams in the state. For more information on ODP, visit the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association ODP website, and the Virginia Youth Soccer Association ODP website

U.S. Youth Soccer and U.S. Soccer are divided into different regions with their own teams. Naturally, the Regional team is made up of the best players from each state in the region. Players that have the opportunity to play for the Regional team are selected by their State coach to attend a week long Regional camp, in which the coaches of the Regional team select from. For information on the region in which Washington DC is in visit

In recent years, US Soccer has placed a great emphasis on attempting to replicate youth academies that are popular around the world for producing top players looking to compete at the highest level.  The program continues to evolve, but on the boys side it is becoming more and more the final product. US Soccer has now organized the Development Academy league (, which receives the backing of US Soccer coaches and staff, making it arguably the most competitive and watched youth program/league in the US.  Not only is it host to top youth clubs, including the local Baltimore Bays Chelsea and McLean Youth Soccer, but it also incorporates the youth teams affiliated with MLS clubs, who with the financial backing of the professional teams, are able to attract top young players to their teams through potential scholarship benefits and high profile competitions. DC United has a club in the Academy League. For a more in depth overview, please visit:

The highest level of competition in the U.S.are the U.S. Youth National Teams,competing in international tournaments starting at the U15 age group. For more information visit both and

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