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BUILDING BLOCKS: Independence Bullish on Academy Pipeline

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 02/25/20, 11:28AM EST


Barber, Skinner join club as USL Academy signings, adding to trend across independent Championship clubs

A standout in the Charlotte Independence SC Academy, Joey Skinner is now aiming to build his game with the Independence's squad in the USL Championship this season as a USL Academy signing. | Photo courtesy Charlotte Independence

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A week ago, Joey Skinner was helping the Charlotte Independence SC Academy finish with a perfect record at the USL Academy Eastern Conference Event in Florida, scoring the game-winning goal in his side’s 2-1 victory against the Cedar Stars Rush to wrap up the event.

This Monday, he was one of two 16-year-olds announced by the Championship’s Charlotte Independence as the latest signings to their squad for the 2020 season, joining Owen Barber in signing USL Academy contracts to join the club’s First Team.

For a program established only a year ago, the signings are an indicator of the rapid progress that’s been made by the club as it follows other independent USL Championship clubs in bringing aboard top young local talent to compete at a higher level.

“We've been talking about a professional pathway and that's one of the biggest reasons why we established this relationship with the [USL Championship team]; to be able to provide a professional pathway for our development academy players,” said Independence SC Academy Director Jeff Bilyk. “For them to be able to get into this environment, play with professionals that do this for a living, it's just an unbelievable experience for our club and players. It allows them to further develop individually.”

The Independence are one of six independent Championship clubs to have announced USL Academy signings this preseason, and there are going to be more jumping on the bandwagon in the coming weeks. With players like San Antonio FC’s Jose Gallegos putting in notable performance this preseason, or Charlotte’s in-state rival North Carolina FC including U.S. youth international Adam Armour in its ranks as one of three Academy signings, the roster spots afforded clubs via the mechanism now entering its eighth season are now being more fully taken advantage of across the league.

For Barber – who joined the Independence as an Academy signing late last season and has been playing competitive minutes for the side this preseason – and Skinner, the road to the professional ranks might already be taking shape. For both, it’s an opportunity to seize with both hands.

“This team has had, and continues to have, a lot of experienced players that have played at even higher levels,” said Barber. “It's a great opportunity to be able to learn from them and them to share their experiences with the young guys like me. There's also an edge where I don't want the opportunity slip, so I learn as much as I can, and we push to get better every day.”

USL Academy signing Owen Barber has already seen regular minutes so far this preseason for the Charlotte Independence as he looks to make the most of his opportunity with the club. | Photo courtesy Charlotte Independence

In the bigger picture, the progression of both the USL Academy program on a league-wide level and at the club level is only going to open more doors for players looking to maximize their potential at the professional level.

“I think it's great for the players because they get in and they're training with a higher level and faster speed, with physical, stronger players. … I think it's really good for them to know what the next level is as they try to get there,” said Independence Head Coach Mike Jeffries. “For us, it's valuable because it's good, quality guys who can help with training. Also, guys we can get to know better and depending on what happens career-wise for them, we'd love to keep tabs on eventually be Independence [pro] team players.” 

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