Since the U.S. Soccer Development Academy announced in February that it was moving to a 10-month season starting with the 2012-13 season, a number of local players have defected from their high school teams to pursue what they feel will provide better opportunities for their future — Player Development Academies full-time.
After receiving overwhelming support from the Development Academy membership, the Academy moved to a schedule beginning this fall that runs from September through June (or July based on postseason play). This creates a format that is similar to those followed by the elite soccer-playing nations around the world as the Development Academy and U.S. Soccer continue their goal of closing the performance gap with the top soccer nations.
It also rules out any academy player from playing high school soccer. In the past, under the previous eight-month academy season, players could participate during the high school season and then transition to academy ball. That’s no longer the case unless the player receives a waiver from his academy, which is highly unlikely.
“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,” said U.S. men’s national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “The Development Academy 10-month season is the right formula and provides a good balance between training time and playing competitive matches. This is the model that the best countries around the world use for their programs, and I think it makes perfect sense that we do as well.”
No team in the area has been more impacted by the U.S. Soccer Development Academy’s change than North Hunterdon. The Lions, perennial county, conference and state playoff contenders during coach John Simpson’s nine years at the helm, have lost three of their top players, senior Christian Wirth and juniors Logan Ventura and Charlie Reed — all of whom are garnering interest from Division I schools — to different PDAs.
Simpson sees some advantages and some disadvantages to the new system.
“I feel total sympathy for the kids and their families because they’re in a no-win situation,” Simpson said. “Many of the kids are looking to play at the next level and their goal in academy soccer is to play potentially at the Division I level and be in a position to help to pay for their education. When you look at the cost of college today, any parent that has a kid that has the opportunity to get help with (tuition) would be out of their mind not to pursue it, so I’m definitely sympathetic and understand that.
“The big problem is that the goals of the kids and the families are different than the goal of the U.S. national team,” Simpson added. “Their goal is to develop national team players, and reality is that there are four teams in New Jersey. There aren’t 120 kids that can play that level of soccer. You have a disconnect at the goals of the families and the U.S. national team and the kids and the families are getting shortchanged because they love high school soccer. They’re forced to choose, and some miss out on the high school experience.”
In all, there are 80 PDA teams throughout the country that field teams in the Under-16 and U-18 age groups. The four New Jersey academies include the Red Bulls Academy (based in Montclair), NJSA04 (Monmouth County), the Players Development Academy (Somerset) and Match Fit Chelsea (Mercer).
The Skyland Conference made some slight tweaks to its structure for the next two school years. With the departure of North Warren from the conference (headed to the NJAC), the Skyland Valley Division will be down to seven teams. In the past, each team within a division played each other two times without crossing over to play teams from another division. Under the realignment, the Raritan and Valley Division will continue to operate under the same format. However, Delaware Division teams will play each other one time and will have four additional games scheduled within the division that will not count toward the division title.
Circle the calendar
* Bridgewater-Raritan at Pingry, Sept. 11: Perennial Skyland Conference powers clash in a rematch of last year’s Somerset County Tournament final.
* St. Joseph-Metuchen at Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Sept. 15: The cream of the crop from Middlesex and Union Counties collide for an early-season test.
* Madison at Bernards, Sept. 25: A rematch of last year’s North 2 Group II final which Bernards won 1-0 en route to a Group II championship.
* Scotch Plains-Fanwood at Bridgewater-Raritan, Sept. 29: Two of the area’s top teams meet at Basilone Field with cross-county bragging rights on the line.
* Bernards at North Plainfield, Oct. 25: The best small-school rivalry in the area; the Skyland Valley Division title is usually up for grabs when these teams meet late season.