PHOENIX—It’s time for one of the most exciting parts of the year for Washington Youth Soccer: the US Youth Soccer ODP West Championships. The absolute best players from all over our state, members of the WYS Elite Player Development (EPD) program, make up the 22 teams competing in the tournament. The first two days will have all teams playing three matches in their respective brackets to compete for a place in the semifinals and finals over the final two days of the tournament. 

Players brought into the EPD program get selected through a series of tryouts, which narrow down the best of the best to train with each other throughout the year to prepare for selection to teams that compete in the Olympic Development Program regional championships and the Friendship Cup.

Training in EPD is at another level for these players, as they come together from different backgrounds and clubs to sharpen one another and learn from the best coaches in the state. EPD coaches are hand-picked by our directors; many are college coaches, others have years of experience at the highest level of coaching and/or playing. Some EPD coaches, like former Seattle Sounder James Riley, are former professional players. No exact background is required to be an EPD coach, but every single one is special in some way that makes them perfect to train the best players in our state to the next level. 

All the hard work that players put in with their coaches in EPD pool training is shown off at the regional tournaments, where players can get noticed and brought into regional camps, and then hopefully get selected to a regional team to compete nationally against teams from the rest of the country. Finally, the tip of the ODP pyramid is that the best players from the regional squads are hand-picked by US Youth Soccer to attend the national training center for a chance to play on youth international squads. 

But regardless of how far a player goes in the ODP system, or even if they go all the way in this particular tournament, it’s about more. It’s about young players getting a unique experience and training with teammates that they didn’t know before entering the program and representing their state together with pride. That’s something special and unique, representing the great state of Washington at the next level. That’s what EPD is all about.