National soccer plan takes talent from high schools

Some players won’t be allowed to play for their high school team

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

Published:

 

Keenan Townsend and James Nosack would like to be alongside their friends, competing this spring for the Skyview High School boys soccer team.

But the senior goalkeeper and junior midfielder, two of the area’s top players, won’t get that shot.

Five things to watch in boys soccer

Can Camas make another state title run? The Papermakers have played in four of the last six Class 3A state title matches (plus one third-place finish), winning three of them. Eight seniors graduated following last season’s state title. That, plus a knee injury to sophomore Matt Palodichuk, means a lot of new faces for coach Roland Minder this spring. But the Papermakers are ranked No. 1 by the Seattle Times, and given Camas’ recent history that seems reasonable.

Who might push Camas in 3A GSHL? Mountain View and Prairie have hopes of taking a run at the Papermakers. Before the season, Minder called Mountain View the team to beat, but Camas already has a leg up on the Thunder and the Falcons having won 5-1 at McKenzie Stadium over Mountain View and 1-0 at home over Prairie.

Who will emerge from a competitive Class 4A GSHL? Skyview is ranked No. 10 in Class 4A by the Seattle Times, and the Storm might be the most talented team in the GSHL. Skyview won all four of its matches in the first round of league play, but had to come from behind in a 2-1 win at Battle Ground then beat Union 2-1 in overtime. Evergreen also figures to be a title contender. Two teams advance to the bi-district playoffs and the third-place team gets a play-in chance to qualify.

Washougal or Hockinson in 2A GSHL? The Hawks return six starters from the team that placed fourth in state in 2011, but graduated their two league MVPs. Washougal is led by four experienced seniors and has five talented sophomores. Mark Morris figures to also be in the mix for the league title.

Can Ridgefield make a postseason splash? The Spudders have been a consistent winner and are favored to win the Trico League this spring. Ridgefield went 1-1 in the 1A state tournament last spring, the first state tournament win for the program since 2006.

For coach-submitted preseason reports of area teams, go to The Columbian’s high school sports blog at

www.360preps.com

Citing a need for more top-level training and competition to develop American soccer talent, the United States Soccer Federation expanded the season for Development Academy teams to 10 months, eliminating a break for high school seasons.

Townsend and Nosack are members of the Seattle Sounders FC Academy which has under-16 and under-18 teams that compete in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.

“The loss of academy players in the sphere of high school soccer is unfortunate,” Skyview coach Jenn Johnson said. “Anytime a team, and a league for that matter, loses players of that caliber, there is an impact.”

Townsend and Nosack played for the Storm last spring. Nosack had not yet joined the Academy. Townsend had joined, but the rules then allowed him to continue playing for Skyview.

Johnson said she misses Townsend and Nosack more for who they are than for their obvious soccer talent.

“For myself and many of my players, what is missed even more (than their skills) are the personalities of these players and the enjoyment that not only comes in playing the sport with one’s friends and classmates, but in the ability to represent a community of their peers,” Johnson said.

Keenan Burris has several perspectives on the decision.

As a soccer coach both for a local youth club and for Evergreen High School, he said he understands the motivation for the change and appreciates the potential for improving American soccer.

As the athletic director at Evergreen High School, he wonders if the emphasis on academic performance might get lost for high school students who are committed to 10 months of intense soccer training.

“To play at the collegiate level you also have to qualify academically,” Burris said, adding that he doesn’t know if academy teams address academics in their programs.

Portland Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson said the Timbers will emphasize developing well-rounded people in their academy program. The Timbers will form their first under-16 and under-18 teams this summer.

“The Academy program agenda is to develop quality players, not to the detriment of their development as a person and academically,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said that the Timbers plan to support their Academy players’ needs, which might include bringing in tutors.

A Timbers Academy team figures to make the Development Academy program more attractive to Clark County players. To play for the Sounders Academy, Townsend and Nosack travel to Tukwila after school three days a week for two-hour practices. There is also travel on the weekends for games.

“Keenan and I have gotten to be best friends,” Nosack said, pointing to an upside of those hours on I-5.

Among the most passionate opponents of the USSF decision is Camas coach Roland Minder.

A native of Switzerland, Minder grew up with the European system in which the best soccer players are developed by professional clubs. He doesn’t think that system translates well to America.

Representing your high school and community in a sport is one of the special American traditions, Minder said. Denying the best players that experience is a shame, he said.

Minder’s Camas program has had a steady stream of players land college opportunities -- including Portland Timbers rookie Brent Richards. Most of those players also competed for high-level club teams, but chose to also play alongside friends to represent their school.

Given its track record, the Camas program might end up losing more players than most schools to Development Academy teams.

“It levels the playing field, but that’s not my concern,” Minder said. “My concern is the kids. You’re taking away an experience from them that is so enriching and that is part of our culture.”

That enrichment, Burris said, might include the chance to play different positions for the high school team, and different leadership experiences playing alongside less-talented teammates.

Nosack and Townsend both said they miss high school soccer. They miss the excitement of a game day, including dressing up for school. They miss the fun of representing the Storm and the support from the Skyview community.

Despite that, and lobbying from Skyview classmates, Townsend said he never seriously considered dropping out of the Academy to play one more high school season.

“These guys are my teammates, too,” Townsend said of the Sounders Academy. “I owe the coaches for all they’ve done for me. I’ve gotten a lot better. The (competitive) environment is so much better.”

Townsend ended up with the Sounders Academy after making the Washington state Olympic Development Program team and being seen by Sounders coaches. He has accepted a soccer scholarship from San Diego State, an opportunity Townsend believes would not have come without playing for the Sounders in high-level tournaments seen by college coaches.

Nosack said he wishes he could play both high school and Academy soccer. But quitting the Sounders to play for Skyview was never an option. Playing defensive midfield for the Sounders U-16 team that is ranked No. 1 in the nation for its age group, Nosack believes the Academy has helped him grow on the field and off it.

“You’re playing with the best players in Washington,” Nosack said. “Any player, any time, can take your spot and that pushes you every day.”

Townsend and Nosack plan to remain part of the Storm community. When Skyview plays, Townsend and Nosack will be there as often as possible cheering on their friends. And they expect good things from the Storm.

“They’ll do just fine,” Nosack said. “They have a lot of hard workers and good players.”