View is good from club level

More and more players are competing year-round

August 30, 2006|By Todd Karpovich | Todd Karpovich,Special to The Sun

When the Baltimore Casa Mia Bays raised their under-16 national championship trophy in July, nine players from five high schools in the metro area celebrated the title as teammates.

With the high school season about to begin, the memories from that championship run will be stored away as these players return to their respective schools and prepare to battle one another as opponents.

Steve Nichols, who guided the Casa Mia team, also will return to his position as coach of McDonogh, which will be looking to capture its first Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association title since 2004. He said the diversity of players that made up his Casa Mia squad underscores the wealth of talent that can be found in private and public school leagues in and around Baltimore.

"Club soccer is big time and it is a way to get into Duke, Maryland and UCLA," Nichols said. "It has just gotten crazy competitive. The great thing about the Maryland club players is they get to go back to their high schools and try to win the neighborhood battle.

"They are going to be competing against guys they just [played] with and accomplished the greatest thing in soccer at their level -- winning a national championship. Now, they are going to play against each other in a fun way, but still a competitive way, and it will be interesting to see how they adapt to that."

Michael Rose of Severna Park returns as one of the top attacking midfielders in the area after capturing the "Golden Boot" award this summer, which went to the U.S. Youth Soccer Association's most outstanding player in each age group. Rose said he still makes playing for his high school a top priority.

"With club ball, the skill level and pace of the game are a lot different because the coaches can recruit, unlike public schools," Rose said. "Still, I think there is even more determination at the high school level. These kids really want to make a good impression on the coach and many have yet to prove themselves. You also get more recognition in high school soccer if you make All-Metro or All-County.

"With club, no one really knows what you are doing unless you win a national championship, which is rare."

Despite playing year-round, Rose said he doesn't feel burned out. He suffered a broken leg in December and the three-month rehabilitation was all the rest he needed.

Kevin Healey, general manager of the Blast and an assistant coach with Nichols for the Casa Mia team, said most players have something to gain by playing both club and high school soccer.

"They are two different animals," Healey said. "When the club teams get together, you are looking at the best of the best players. It is important for the kids' development to play at the highest level.

"But I think school ball is important, too, because there is a lot of tradition there. I think high school in Maryland, particularly in Baltimore, is important. When people ask you in other states where you went to school, they mean college. In Maryland, they mean high school. With club soccer, I think it is very important we work with that."

Severna Park coach Bob Thomas also coaches club teams in Anne Arundel County, and he said the players in his county have become more competitive in recent years because many are playing year-round. Thomas said the Green Hornets club teams in Anne Arundel, where he serves as select director, have about 3,000 kids playing in the system.

"The players are branching out to the clubs teams and this helps them to play at a higher level," said Thomas, who played for Old Mill and Salisbury University. "We are also getting some better coaches here. We are getting some young guys who know the game and are getting kids into their feeder systems."

In addition to Rose, other area players who competed for Casa Mia are Christian Barreiro of Calvert Hall; Mike Deasel and Steve LeVine of Loyola; Brent Hooper of Archbishop Curley; and Andrew Bulls, Chris Agorsor, Jake Levin and Tom Caso of McDonogh.

Despite the amount of talent that fills the rosters on the area's high school teams, Nichols said club competition is the main focus of most players because that is where they have the best chance to get recruited for college.

In club soccer, it is not uncommon for teams to draw players from several states. In addition to its Maryland-based players, Casa Mia also had players from the Washington area and Wilmington, Del.

"You'll never see a college coach or a big-time recruiting event at a high school game," Nichols said. "It's all club."

Club ball continues to grow nationally, and is improving the level of play in area high schools, some coaches said.

Loyola coach Kyle Swords said he sees a tactical improvement among his players who compete at the club level when they return for practice in August.

"Club ball is one of the things that helps these kids get better, and that is never a bad thing," Swords said.

One of the challenges facing high school coaches is making sure players who compete with clubs understand the importance of their high school season.

Calvert Hall coach Andy Moore said he doesn't see a drop-off in effort among his players who compete with clubs after the high school season.

"As a high school coach, that is a dynamic you have to be well aware of," Moore said. "There may be club rivalries that carry over into the high school season. Ninety percent of this job is motivation and knowing your players, so you have to know when those groups are separating off on your team. They understand from Aug. 10 to Nov. 10, they play for Calvert Hall and that is all that matters."

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