Arizona Youth Soccer In The Spotlight

Photo by indigio_jones @ FlickrThe Phoenix New Times has an in-depth look at some events in Arizona a few years ago that highlight some of the problems inherent to youth soccer and how youth soccer has changed recently. A successful coach at Sereno Soccer Club named Les Armstrong was suspended from coaching after he forged a parent’s signature to drop a player from his roster before the State Cup championships. The coach was sanctioned by the Arizona Youth Soccer Association and suspended from coaching for five months. That in itself is big news (as the assumption is ‘nothing is ever done’ by state associations when they are often very proactive), but the article then turns a bit sensational, trying to paint much of youth soccer as broken based on the actions of one coach. Let’s take a look…

Kieran Clancy loved soccer. Like most club soccer players in Arizona, the 18-year-old had long hoped to land a college soccer scholarship. Clancy and his family had done all the right things. Since he was 10, he’d played with one of the most expensive clubs in Arizona, the Sereno Soccer Club, at a cost of about $10,000 a year.

This past June, Sereno’s top boys’ team gathered for the State Cup. Clancy scheduled college scouts to travel to Arizona to watch him play, according to one of his teammates.

But Clancy never got to play in the tournament. A signature on a form showed up – allegedly Clancy’s signature – stating the boy had agreed to drop out of the game, to make way for a college All-Star player. (Clancy’s mother did not return repeated phone messages left for her and Kieran.)

As he and his family apparently told soccer officials, after Sereno had won the state championship and then the regional championship in Hawaii, Clancy never signed the form. At a meeting of soccer officials, they said that his coach, Les Armstrong, 45, forged his name to get him off the team.

Such are the high stakes in Arizona club soccer.

Emphasis mine. The article then goes on to cover a number of known problems in youth soccer exemplified by this coach and his program. But when you read this article, you begin to think that ALL of youth soccer is broken. Youth soccer certainly has its problems, but issues like this tend to be an exception, not the rule. All states have youth soccer coaches and parents who lose perspective, but the good news is they are often dealt with – if the parents speak up. Just like this case. Sure, there are plenty of abuses that don’t get sanctioned, but that’s more often due to lack of evidence, or even a complaint. When you have millions of kids playing soccer, some things will certainly get missed. So the reporter may have used a fairly broad brush when dealing with youth soccer overall, but it’s good that a situation like this was brought to light.

Let’s look at what this coach did. Most youth soccer associations require a parent’s signature on a drop form before a player can be dropped from a team. In addition, many state soccer associations will require signatures on a waiver if a rostered player does not participate in their State Cup series, which feed the USYSA National Cup Series. This ensures that coaches can’t just drop weaker players from their team to add stronger players before state and national championships. So the coach had the signature forged and got caught. In my opinion, the five month suspension was too lenient. He should have been tossed for a minimum of a full year. Yes, he lost his $75,000 a year job, but he’ll likely get another one. Once news of his suspension got out, other parents came forward with tales of harsh behavior towards his players.

This is an older article, but I’m writing about it now because it’s become even more relevant. US Youth Soccer has introduced the concept of a ‘Club Pass’ which will allow clubs to move players around on teams that advance to the National Cup Series out of their State Cups (plus many state associations are considering allowing club passes for the State Cups too). The goal of the club pass is a good one – ensuring the best players a club has have the chance to participate at a higher level, even if their specific team does not advance. The trick is that you usually have to make room on a roster in order to add guest players. If you read into the new rules, players can now be involuntarily dropped from a team to make room for guest players. So what happened above would have been allowed under the new rules (for the regionals) with no need for a forged parent signature. Instead they could have just dropped the kid from the team to make room for the All-Star. Read the FAQ section a bit – there are going to be some *furious* parents when their kids get dropped to make room for someone else right before the NCS on teams they’ve played (and paid) for the entire season.

I’ll admit I’m torn over it. Sending the best kids to regionals and nationals is a good thing. Yet with the success of the USSF Development Academy and US Club Soccer’s ECNL, top tier players are getting a ton of high level play and exposure. You have to wonder if the club pass will make that much of a difference and if it may inadvertently reduce the pool of players that get seen at a national level. It’s going to leave some kids who busted their tails for their team all year, left home or on the spectator sideline.

H/T This Is American Soccer via Twitter

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  1. In 2012 I was in the state cup and I just played two minutes at the very last of the game.It was a 2:30 drive so I was angry.He would have Two forwards and 3 on the bench and he would put two in and then take them out and put them in and out they were tiered and they still didn’t put me in the game.At first they were excluding me from the team and I’ve bin playing for them sins the beginning.They seed that I was not going to play state cup and they and the coach would make fun of me.That I wasn’t 18 but they had a 15 year old playing for them and I’m 17 then wen the assistant coach seed why I wasn’t going to play for something I’ve d payed for they seed that I was in the team.That was all I played and that is funny.