CHARLESTON, S.C. (Nov. 17, 2014) - The Midwest Developmental League (Boys) is off to a strong start in its fourth season within the NPL. While only the U-13 and U-14 age groups compete in the fall, the other U-15, U-16 and U-18 brackets will open up for spring campaigns in 2015. A new playoff structure awaits in July that will challenge - and reward - the league’s best teams.
Nathan Pitcock, President of the Derby City Rovers, has noticed the fast starts of the teams competing this fall. “As always, the competition within the Midwest Developmental League has been strong,” he said, “which provides our players and our coaching staff with a great measuring stick for evaluating their progress.”
Derby City Rovers has been a part of the Midwest Developmental League since the 2012-13 season and plays in the six-club Independent Division. It is the only Kentucky-based club in the league, which extends to Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri.
Meanwhile, in the 10-club Academy Division, Vardar SC (Mich.) has been around since the league’s inception. Morris Lupenec, Vardar SC’s Director of Coaching, also notices the competitiveness of the Midwest Developmental League. “There are no easy games,” Lupenec said. “Your kids are programmed that they have to come ready to play every weekend. It keeps them on their toes and keeps them focused … The teams are well coached.”
Both clubs appreciate the NPL’s values and structure. “The club-based league format is an essential component in how we want to develop our players and operate our club,” Pitcock said. “Leagues where you're chasing promotion and fighting relegation from the youngest ages on up force you to play for results, when you need to be encouraging these players to take risks and be bold. This is simply not conducive to developing our kind of players. Just as importantly, the club-based format allows us to travel together and share coaching staff across multiple teams, which further enhances our ability to imprint our distinct style of play across all teams in the club.”
Lupenec echoed similar sentiments, while adding that the Midwest Developmental League has been at its best this season from an organizational and administrative standpoint. “When you play these teams, they’re coaching to develop kids and play the right way,” the 21-year veteran of Vardar SC said. “That’s what it’s all about; when everybody is on the right page, that’s eventually going to make our national team better.”
Although geography and divisions contrast the two clubs, Vardar SC and Derby City Rovers coaching staffs both agree on the priority of youth soccer: player development. “Our club’s goals are always focused around developing players for the highest levels of the game – college, professional, etc. – with team success coming as a by-product,” Pitcock said.
Team success has come, too, for both clubs. Last season, the Rovers qualified four out of five age groups for the Midwest Developmental League playoffs, while Vardar SC sent a pair of teams to the postseason. In the 2012-13 season, two Rovers teams (U-16 and U-18) advanced to the championship game. And in the summer of 2012, Vardar’s U-15 team qualified for the inaugural NPL Champions Cup – currently known as the NPL Finals – following an impressive 2011-12 regular season.
New this year, the Academy and Independent Divisions meet in the league playoffs to determine which teams advance to the 2015 NPL Finals, which will be held at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. The top teams from each age group – U-13, U-14, U-15, U-16 and U-18 – will participate in the Midwest Developmental League (Boys) postseason event in Waukegan, Ill. Both finalists from each age group qualify to the NPL Finals.
“It’s a great format,” Lupenec said. “It gives an opportunity for everybody to play in a format that is very competitive.”
“We’re always looking to test ourselves against the best competition possible,” Pitcock said, “so we welcome the opportunity to face the teams in the Academy Division, if we’re fortunate enough to qualify for the playoffs this year.”
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