There’s excitement building around the Curtis High School boys soccer team.
Now, the Vikings aren’t getting carried away – they sit in the middle of the SPSL South standings – but they’re in a better position this season than in recent years.
“Things are going pretty well,” Vikings coach Frank Hankel said. “We’re the only team to beat Federal Way and we pushed (league-leading) Puyallup.”
Thanks to a new mandate from U.S. Soccer that prohibits its elite academy players from turning out for their high school squads, teams such as Curtis – well-coached teams deep with club-level players – have seen their chances at making a deep postseason run improve drastically.
“It’s wide open,” Hankel said. “Not only in the SPSL, but throughout the entire state.”
With the best 40 or so players taken off high school rosters, coaches agree that the playing field has been evened.
“In talking to my coaching friends, it is having an impact,” Puyallup coach Matt White said. “Teams are significantly more equal.”
Some teams have been hit harder than others.
Beamer, a state quarterfinalist the past two seasons, lost four players to academy teams, Titans coach Brett Lucas said.
The reason academies aren’t allowing their best players to play for their school teams is because the U.S. Soccer Development Academy announced in February that it was switching to a 10-month season (September-July) starting with the 2012-13 season. Sounders Academy and Redmond-based Crossfire Premier, the only USSDA teams in Washington, chose to implement the schedule now, eliminating high school teams as options for their players.
When U.S. Soccer made the change, the organization issued a news release, including comments from 11 highly-placed soccer officials such as Jurgen Klinsmann, head coach of the U.S. men’s national team, and Bernie James, coaching director of Redmond-based Crossfire Premier.
All 11 lauded the move to a 10-month schedule.
“If we want our players to someday compete against the best in the world, it is critical for their development that they train and play as much as possible and in the right environment,” Klinsmann said. “The Development Academy 10-month season is the right formula and provides a good balance between training time and playing competitive matches. This is the model that the best countries around the world use for their programs, and I think it makes perfect sense that we do, as well.”
James pointed out that players’ abilities will rise by competing against only the best competition.
“The key to development, to me, is playing against quality players in practice,” he said. “I think if you’re with a group of good players that are pushing each other, and you have that for most of the year, then I think it’s bound to be better for development.”
It’s hard to find a flaw in their reasoning. White even agrees – to a point.
“As a former college coach,” said White, who coached at PLU, “we need players to be better (at the international level). As a high school coach, you’ve got to be kidding me. We have a 10-week season.”
No matter the opinion of high school coaches, big soccer has spoken and the new reality is the best players will no longer play for their schools and the already uneasy relationship between high schools and club programs grows more chilly. Many prep coaches feel disrespected by club coaches, and this move only furthers that notion.
“It matters to high school coaches,” White said. “Now they feel like ugly step-children, like they’re Cinderella and they don’t get to go to the ball.”
The best players might not turn out for their high school teams, but 16 teams in each classification will still qualify for the state playoffs in May. With the field leveled like never before, the postseason could be full of unpredictable and thrilling finishes.
“We’re excited,” Hankel said. “Who knows what’s going to happen this season?”