At the highest levels of United States soccer, participants find a common thread down in their roots.
The women's national team, for example, won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But look deeper: of the 18 players on the roster, 17 spent at least part of their youth playing in the U.S. Youth Soccer's Olympic Development Program.
The program (commonly known as ODP) is a vital part of the development of almost every accomplished soccer player, and it's set up so everyone has a chance to try out. Founded in 1977, the ODP is designed to improve the overall level of soccer from the ground up, and is accomplished through open tryouts and the organization of state teams that play against each other.
Close to 100,000 players between the ages of 13 and 18 participate in ODP every year. Actual seasons vary by state, but can start as early as November and finish as late as May.
Every state has an ODP program, and the hierarchy expands up to four regions and--for the elite--a national camp. Anyone within the age parameters (teams are separated strictly by birth year) has a chance to try out. The experience could lead to increased exposure to both national coaches and college coaches. In addition, your skills will improve under the direction of select coaches.
Most of all, it is the most-traveled path to the top of the soccer world, a place every young player dreams of. U.S. women's forward Abby Wambach was a part of New York's ODP program and praises its impact. Defender Heather Mitts was on the Ohio state team for three years. On the men's side, Brian McBride is one of Illinois' most decorated ODP alums.
Intrigued? Here is more insight into the Olympic Development Program, courtesy of USYouthSoccer.org:
What is ODP?
The U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program, or ODP as it is more commonly called, is a national identification and development program for high-level players. The program identifies and develops youth players throughout the country to represent their state association, region and the United States in soccer competition.
ODP teams are formed at the state association and regional levels, made up of the best players in various age groups. At the state association level, pools of players are identified in each eligible age group, brought together as a team to develop their skill through training and competition. From the state pools and subsequent teams, players are identified for regional and national pools and teams.