Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: Players also affected by missing high school soccer experience
The championship match of the Jesuit-Meintser Soccer Tournament on Saturday had a different feel than in recent years. For one thing, temperatures were near 70 degrees for the final day of the event that is often plagued by icy weather.
But the biggest change was in the Jesuit and Flower Mound Marcus teams, the perennial state powers who once again played for the championship.
“It just wasn’t the same,” said Marcus coach John Gall.
Soccer just won’t be the same this season for Marcus and Jesuit, and also for many other top teams in North Texas. That’s because the U.S. Soccer Federation now forces boys players in its development academy league to give up high school soccer.
Marcus lost five players that it expected to lead the team. Most teams won’t be hit that hard, but the losses will be felt. Southlake Carroll must defend its 5A championship without the MVP of last year’s state tournament, goalkeeper Oshick Shams.
It could mean a power shift in Texas high school soccer, which has been dominated by the Dallas-Fort Worth area the last five years. Since 2007, Dallas-area boys teams have won six of 10 University Interscholastic League titles.
“Dallas-Fort Worth is going to be hit the hardest,” said Gall, whose teams won 5A titles in 2007 and ’08. “You take away four or five starters from each of the top teams in the metroplex, and there’s no doubt that in the next few years, teams in areas like Brownsville and El Paso are going to benefit.”
That’s because in Brownsville and El Paso, which always field state contenders, there are no academies. Texas has nine academy clubs. Austin and San Antonio have one each; Houston has three. The Dallas area has four: Andromeda, Solar Chelsea, Dallas Texans and FC Dallas. Those rosters take nearly 100 top local players off high school teams.
In the past, some players decided on their own to give up high school soccer and focus on their clubs. But most of them continued to play for their high school teams.
Because high school soccer here is not like it was 15 years ago. High school coaches are now experienced and many coach with select teams. Practicing with the high school team isn’t a waste of time for an elite player.
But more important, playing high school soccer is a wildly different experience than playing for a select team.
“When we played Jesuit in the last few years, we’ve had 2,000 people there,” Gall said. “At academy games, you’ll have two rows of parents there. It’s a different atmosphere.”
Academies and high-level select teams are a business. High school soccer is fun. It’s playing for your school, with your classmates and friends watching.
Gall, who coaches with the Dallas Texans club and played for the Wales under-18 national team, said he understands why the U.S. Soccer Federation made the decision. The federation is worried that the players’ time with high school teams compromises their time with the academy teams.
Certainly true in some cases. But unfortunately, the federation’s decision requires another big sacrifice for players who have already made many sacrifices to become elite in their sport.
“In the short term, it makes sense for the players to be with the academies,” Gall said, “but in the long term, I think they might wonder what they missed.
“It’s just a little bit saddening that a lot of our elite kids will not get to experience high school soccer.”