In the future, elite boys soccer players will need to choose between club and high school teams

U.S. Soccer starts asking Development Academy players to not play for their schools

October 12, 2011|By Todd Karpovich, Special to The Baltimore Sun

When this high school soccer season ends, the sport might never be the same.

Starting next year, officials with the U.S. Soccer Federation are asking players with their Development Academy teams to no longer play for their high schools.

As a result, a number of the top players from this area might stop suiting up for their schools as they train more toward earning a spot on the national team.

Officials with U.S. Soccer feel the change is necessary to develop more talent and depth to better compete with the world's traditional powers.

"It's been an evolution," said Tony Lepore, director of scouting for U.S. Soccer, which has 78 academy teams, including three in the Maryland-Washington area. "A lot of clubs have been doing this anyhow. It's a big deal to get an extra two months of games and training time."

But for some area coaches, it's unwelcome news.

"I am very comfortable saying most of the Maryland coaches understand the importance of player development and stress the importance to their programs," Broadneck coach Sean Tettemer said. "The general thought of academy or club coaches is that high school soccer is not serious enough, or it does not provide the best training environment. It is only for fun and a way for elite players to excel for their school and community. I have been coaching for 15 years and I don't recall a lot of fun training sessions.

"I enjoy what I do tremendously, but I would not call it fun. In Maryland, many of our top club coaches also coach high school, and they understand the benefits of both and work to make accommodations for their players on both ends. I don't think that it is like that in a lot of other areas."

Tettemer also expressed concern over whether players would get enough time on the field as academy players as opposed to being regular starters for their high school teams.

The situation is particularly tough for coaches like McDonogh's Steve Nichols, who also runs one of the most successful Academy clubs in the nation, the Baltimore Bays.

Nichols expressed concern that some of the area's top players will no longer be able to showcase their skills for their high schools. But he said he understands that the opportunity to be even considered for any of the U.S. national teams would be too great of an opportunity to pass up.

Mount St. Joseph coach Mike St. Martin also expressed concerns about the plan. He said academy players generally compete with players their own age, whereas high school players battle against opponents who are sometimes older and bigger. That type of competition against more mature players is crucial to player development, he said.

St. Martin also said players learn how to be leaders on and off the field as high school players because they're around their teammates for much of the day, as opposed to just seeing them in practice.

Eastern Tech coach Peter Glaudemans said players should ask themselves if shunning their high schools for their Academy teams is truly best for their development.

"My first instinct is to ask questions," Glaudemans said. "Are the kids having fun playing? Do they enjoy playing with their school friends and wearing the colors of their school? Are the parents and coaches of the club program having an unhealthy influence on the natural development of teenage kids? Are they setting the kids up for an eternal 'the grass is always greener somewhere else' philosophy?"

Senior Mike Gamble balances playing for top-ranked McDonogh and the Bays. He said both are important for player development. However, he understands U.S. Soccer's concerns about the greater risk for injury when playing for both teams.

"I think it's great to play for your high school," Gamble said. "I know for me it's been a great pleasure representing McDonogh. But it's always great competing for the national team. It's gonna be a real emotional thing whether you choose high school or club. It's a personal decision over what's best for your future. I think everybody is mature enough and smart enough to make the right choice."

It may be a tough decision, but it's one Lepore said will be in the players' hands.

"This is definitely a choice," he said. "We're looking at the elite players that want to make this sacrifice. We feel the academy is the best environment for the elite players."

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