Interesting article up at ESPN about how the US Soccer Development Academy is impacting stronger high school programs in the US.

Bad blood has resulted from U.S. Soccer running its developmental program in the middle of some high school seasons. A number of affiliated, high-profile clubs within that program have jointly decided to ban their players from joining their high school soccer teams, despite U.S. Soccer’s public statement last year encouraging participants to play high school soccer.

“This first year was a learning experience [for the kids],” El Camino Real (Calif.) boys’ soccer coach David Hussey recently told the L.A. Times. “If the second year, they still think the development league is more important than high school, there’s a problem.

First, I think the lede to this article is horrifically misleading. Your everyday average person may not get youth soccer, but anyone involved in it for some time gets to understand exactly how it’s setup. In short, the USSF oversees a HUGE group of youth players who play from the lowest Rec level up through the national teams and one of the main facets of that is providing a top down organization to find and develop top talent for our national soccer program. High school soccer simply isn’t part of that. So why this article tries to make it out like we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, I don’t understand. It’s all about choices.

Even before the USSF Academy, there has been tension between High School and Club soccer. In many areas, high school soccer programs are a joke, so the kids want to play club ball year round because it provides a better environment for them. In areas where high school soccer is strong, the clubs usually don’t play at the same time the high schools do, though that is changing.

Besides – the USSF Academy is NOT that big compared to the total number of kids playing competitive soccer, and if top players would rather play Academy ball vs high school – that’s life. High school coaches need to do the best they can with who they have. Club coaches have always had the same issue – kids leaving teams to go to other clubs with stronger/higher level teams – and while they may not like it – they mostly understand it’s what is best for the kids.

So color me unconvinced this is such a huge issue. Yes, as a high school coach you may be upset if your star chooses not to play anymore because they earned a spot on an academy team that might lead to something bigger. But you shouldn’t cry about it – you should be proud you helped get them there and wish them the best.

Youth soccer in America is very diverse in terms of the types of programs and offerings. Recreation, competitive club teams, regional teams, high school teams, academies, and national development teams. That’s not a bad thing – it gives kids and their parents many choices. Trying to make it out like every decent soccer player has to play for their high school is short sighted. It’s one choice of many.