For years, the girls prep soccer circuit has had a routine pattern: Players compete in the Foothill League in the winter, then in the off season, they rejoin their respective club teams.
This season, the pattern has been disrupted. Prep girls soccer players now have the option to try out for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, a year-round program accessible through club teams like LA Premier of La Canada, Eagles Soccer Club of Camarillo and Real SoCal of Woodland Hills.
Playing in the Development Academy offers increased exposure to high-level collegiate soccer programs through an increased amount of games and showcases.
But there’s a catch. One that could permanently alter the complexion of Foothill League girls soccer:
Players who opt to play academy soccer forfeit the right to participate in high school soccer programs.
This has been the policy for boys soccer players for some time now, but it’s the first time it applies to girls.
“I think it’s good for U.S. Soccer on both the boys and girls side to have the same process,” said West Ranch girls soccer coach Jared White. “I think a streamlined approach to academy development to both the boys and girls side is important.”
The impact on the individual player is generally positive. Girls are offered more exposure which leads to a dream school offer which leads to a successful soccer career.
However, based on responses from White, Hart coach Guilherme Mitrovich and Canyon coach Derek Rusk, there are some negative consequences for high school soccer.
Rusk noted that a benefit of playing both club and high school soccer is learning to work with multiple coaching styles and the opportunity to play against teams of various levels from different areas. He also feels that there is a sense of school pride that’s sacrificed when joining an academy program.
“To me, it’s similar to pro players that play for their club and get paid, but they always go back and they play for their country because they have pride for their country,” said Rusk.
Removing the top talent from high school soccer also diminishes the overall quality of competition across the Foothill League and beyond. But there is a flip side to that.
“Whenever you take the best players off the team, the level of play is going to drop a little bit and it’s not going to be as clean and as tactical as most coaches would like,” said White.
“It’s one of those things where it may help some of us in playoffs instead of going against these powerhouse schools that have all these awesome kids.”
There are also the drawbacks of paying extra money to participate in the Development Academy and having to drive far distances for practices and games.
Academy rosters are also likely to have more players than a high school roster, which can leave playing time at a premium.
But, of course, the decision is personal to the player and her needs as an athlete and Foothill League coaches will focus on the players in front of them, regardless of what the academy policies are.
“I’m definitely not going to discourage anybody from playing academy and I’m not going to discourage anybody from playing high school,” said Mitrovich. “It’s really about what they want … and what their heart tells them to do.”