Sports

SOCCER: High school teams lose star players to new academy rules

Todd Beamer junior Ike Crook is held up after scoring a goal last season for the Titans. Crook is currently playing for the Sounders FC Academy team. - Mirror file photo
Todd Beamer junior Ike Crook is held up after scoring a goal last season for the Titans. Crook is currently playing for the Sounders FC Academy team.
— image credit: Mirror file photo

Elite boys soccer teams have always been a staple in Federal Way. In total, the district has won a grand total of nine state championships and produced some of the best individual talent in the state, as well as the nation, year in and year out.

In just the last five years alone, three district graduates have logged minutes in Major League Soccer. Decatur’s Ciaran O’Brien was the fifth overall pick by the Colorado Rapids in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft, Federal Way’s Kelyn Rowe was the No. 3 pick in January’s SuperDraft by the New England Revolution and Jefferson’s Lamar Neagle is currently playing for the Montreal Impact after playing a big role for Sounders FC last season.

But the current crop of stars in the district aren’t getting to showcase their skills on the turf at Federal Way Memorial Stadium this season. In total, eight players from all four high schools aren’t suiting up this spring, including Beamer’s Ike Crook and Austin Sweeney, Decatur’s Dom Dismuke and Connor Adkisson, TJ’s Isidro Prado-Huerta and McKay Owsley and Federal Way’s Odason Pelogi. All play for the Sounders FC Academy teams.

The reason being that last month, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) announced that its Development Academy program — which partners U.S. Soccer with the country’s top youth clubs with the goal of identifying and training elite players — would move to a 10-month season, eliminating a break for high school seasons. The USSF believes this move will allow the United States to be even more competitive with the top soccer nations around the globe.

“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,” U.S. men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in a release last month.

Federal Way High School head coach Jason Baumgardt doesn’t blame the two local academy programs — Sounders FC and Crossfire Premier — with not allowing their players to participate at their high schools.

“With the academy kids not being able to play in high school, I believe both sides are correct in the issue,” he said. “It’s not the Sounders or Crossfire telling them they can’t play. It’s the actual (USSF) telling them they can’t play.”

Baumgardt also thinks the problem could be solved by all high schools around the United States competing during the same season. Currently, some states play soccer in the fall, while others play in the spring, which doesn’t happen with major sports like football, basketball and baseball.

“I think they would take a break and let them play,” Baumgardt said.

But, in the end, Baumgardt doesn’t like the fact that the USSF is mandating that players make a choice.

“I don’t believe they should be told they can’t play,” he said. “They should be able to do both, even if they can’t attend every high school game because of travel commitments. Time will tell to see where it goes.”

The federation’s decision is believed to be the first time a major team sport’s national organization is keeping some of its members from playing scholastically.

For players like Crook, a junior who is the No. 3 2013 recruit in the Pacific Northwest according to TopDrawerSoccer.com, the ruling was a little bit of a disappointment. But he was quick to admit that he never thought about quitting the academy program.

“I mean it was kind of unfortunate,” Crook said. “It is fun to play in front of your friends. But at the same time, the Sounders are a pretty big opportunity.”

Crook, who recently gave a verbal commitment to play at the College of Charleston with former Beamer grad Troy Peterson, has been able to watch only one game from the stands. He saw Federal Way beat Beamer, 2-1, on March 20.

“I would like to be out there to play,” Crook said. “It was always fun.”

The Crook family has played a huge role in the short history of Beamer soccer. A member of the family has played soccer for the Titans every year since 2004. His older sisters, Jordan and Holland, helped Beamer to numerous South Puget Sound League titles and went on to play in college. Jordan played at Vassar College for four years and Holland, who was the state player of the year at Beamer, is a sophomore at Arizona State. Older sister, Adrianne, played at Federal Way before Beamer was constructed in 2003.

“I have been sitting in those bleachers for like 15 years,” said Erin Crook, the matriarch of the Crook family. “Of course I miss the camaraderie with the other parents. High school ball is a lot of fun. You get to play against kids that you know.

“But these (Sounders) kids make sacrifices. They don’t get to go to things like Friday night football games. But we wouldn’t trade it.”

Currently, the Development Academy program includes 78 clubs across the United States, which include approximately 3,000 kids. And there’s no arguing that the players have way more opportunities to play in front of college coaches and professional scouts year round.

“Ultimately, the more players we put in college, the more players we get in the professional ranks, the more satisfaction we get,” said Bernie James, the coaching director for Redmond-based Crossfire Premier. “We have a better chance of that if we can work more concentrated and a longer time with our players.”

But there is also a group that is skeptical that the move to the 10-month season will not only hurt high school soccer, but is also put visions of grandeur into the heads of athletes and parents.

Terry Michler, who has won more than 800 games as the coach at Christian Brothers College High School in the soccer hotbed of St. Louis, told the New York Times that very thing.

“There’s about 3,000 kids on these teams across the country, but there’s not 3,000 future professionals out there,” Michler said. “There’s not 300 of them. So some of these kids and their parents are going to be misled.”

United States soccer officials, like Klinsmann, argue that going to the 10-month season is a much-needed step toward catching up with countries like Holland, Germany, Spain and Brazil on the world stage.

“(It’s) an important step in the evolution of elite player development,” said U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director Claudio Reyna. “This schedule puts our elite players in line with kids in their age group internationally, and places the appropriate physical demands at this stage in their development.”

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