Dave Verso is the father of two former high school soccer players.
Although my boys are now both playing soccer at Stanford University and the
academy-high school issue no longer impacts them, I still follow it because
the disregard of the majority of players' interests is disturbing.
I find the typical arguments that it is simply a trade off between soccer
development and social development to be misleading and shallow. The
reality is that the promises of improved development by the academy system
are often grossly overstated and many players on Southern California academy
teams would become better soccer players playing a combination of high
school and club soccer.
In addition to coaching and administrating programs, my perspective is based
on my older son, Eric's, three years with the LA Galaxy Academy and my
younger son, Mark's, year each with the Cosmos, Chivas USA and Real SoCal
academies. Eric also played three years of soccer at St. Francis,
Mark played two. My boys had great experiences in each, but the same cannot
be said for many of their teammates and friends.
US Soccer statements emphasize the importance of players learning to solve
problems, but the environment they provide is ill-suited to do so. All teams
are required to play similar systems and use the same style of play. In
contrast the diversity in playing style, tactics and player ability found in
high school provided a fresh set of challenges each game. Eric's first high school season
where he was forced to deal with much older, smarter and often better
players was easily the single greatest period of development in his soccer
The greatest shortcoming of the academy program is the lack of regular
playing time, something which is absolutely critical to the development of
Starters can go weeks between games while large rosters result
in non-starters routinely getting almost no meaningful playing time for an
entire month or more. Conversely, my son Mark combined time on a lower
level developmental team with high school play where he was able get reps of
finishing or games at forward every day of the week.
That year he transformed from arguably the eighth best U16 forward in the Cosmos program to one of the top 10 scorers in the entire U18 academy program the following
I'm not anti-academy. There are many benefits to the academy program and
limitations to many high school programs. Instead, I'm advocating a more
rational approach that improves player development without forcing so many
young men to needlessly sacrifice valuable social experiences.
If they limit games during the local high school season to the U18 age group,
instead of missing top local players like Cristian Roldan (Gatorade player of the year), European signee Ema Boateng or former MLS star Roy Lassitor's son Ari, they could work with
top high school programs to create a far superior soccer environment yet still have a
place for the truly elite and those in schools indifferent to the sport.
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