McDonogh's George Campbell was among several players in the Baltimore area forced to make a difficult choice this season -- either play high school soccer or acquiesce to a new U.S. Soccer policy mandating they spend 10 months with their Development Academy team.
In the end, Campbell chose to play for his high school -- as did several other high-caliber players in the area -- noting the importance the environment plays in his overall development. Campbell, a member of the Baltimore Bays Chelsea, was granted an exemption by U.S. Soccer to play for the Eagles this season and he will use the experience to build his leadership skills.
"High school provides a whole new aspect to my game; it's a lot more physical," said Campbell, who is being recruited by numerous Division I programs, including Maryland, Wake Forest and Louisville. "There is a bigger bond [in high school] because you see each other every day."
Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said the new rules have made some aspects of recruiting easier, but at the same time, there are a lot of top-notch players not competing for Development Academy clubs. For that reason, Maryland keeps a broad landscape when evaluating potential recruits.
"Overall, I think it's been very good because we're still getting a lot of kids through Academy, but we're also finding kids outside of it," Cirovski said. "I think high school should have been preserved. I think the kids who want to play high school should be preserved. This is America, and in America, you play for your school. You play for your high school. You play for your college. That experience was very important to me."
Archbishop Curley lost two players to Academy teams, but Maryland recruit Mike Sauers, the Friars' top player and one of the best in the state, was given an exemption by the D.C. United Academy team to play high school soccer. C. Milton Wright also lost one of its top players.
St. Paul's lost two prominent players, while the Crusaders' Iliyas Mirza and Juwan Kearson each opted to play for the high school team. St. Paul's coach Danny Skelton said the mandate is most difficult for the players, who are forced to make a difficult decision.
"I certainly understand the philosophy behind it and U.S. Soccer trying to develop players by playing at the highest level," Skelton said. "At the same time, I'm not sure it should be affecting the high school level. I think it should be used more at the college level. If the kids are that good, they should be plucked from high school and into the MLS clubs."
South Carroll coach Tim Novotny met a transfer student who chose to remain with his Academy team and in the U.S. under-15 national team pool. Even though the player is not happy with the new policy, he can't forgo those opportunities outside high school, Novotny said. South Carroll's Phil Breno, an all-state selection last season, will play for the Cavaliers over his Academy team this fall.
Steve Nichols, who has won nine national championships as the coach of the Bays and six Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association titles in his 20 years as coach at McDonogh, said the level of play with the Academy teams is much higher than the typical high school league.
Nichols agreed, however, the decision of picking one or the other puts the players in a difficult position.
Mount St. Joseph coach Mike St. Martin believes he has an easy solution: "There is no reason why they can't play high school and club."