Soccer stars stay true to school

Sudden and yet predictable, it happens.

First, a perfect pass, then a first-class goal. A connection exclusive to two players made for each other.

The brothers Carbajal. Senior attacking midfielder Marco. And junior striker Eric.

The best combination since cookies met cream.

This is why the two Glendale Apollo stars love playing high school soccer. And part of the reason why Eric left the youth academy team of Mexican powerhouse Club America in Mexico City.

Eric missed his brother. He missed home. He missed Apollo High.

“It’s just different,” Eric Carbajal said. “You can have fun playing high school soccer. You get to play with your friends here. And I get to play with my brother.”

Eric Carbajal is one of several players in Arizona who are among the best of the best and have more prominent options but still choose and enjoy high school soccer.

Marco Carbajal also could have gone to an academy team tryout in Mexico but decided to stay and play his last season in high school.

“I wanted to stay my senior year,” he said. “I didn’t want to go and have nothing accomplished in high school.”

Brophy Prep senior forward Riggs Lennon, a two-time Big Schools Player of the Year, has stopped traveling back and forth to Casa Grande to train and play with the U-18 academy team of MLS club Real Salt Lake. Lennon wants to help Brophy Prep take back the state title trophy and enjoys playing in the postseason, which begins Tuesday for girls soccer and Wednesday for boys.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association will reveal the state tournament brackets today.

“It’s a great experience to play for your school and have everyone behind you watching,” said Lennon, whose younger brother Brooks is a freshman at Brophy Prep but has so far elected to only play for the Real Salt Lake-AZ U-16 academy team. “It’s a really satisfying feeling to play high school and do it for something bigger than me. It’s for my school. And to promote Brophy.

“It’s a really fun thing, especially when you get into state. It’s my last year, and I didn’t want to regret not playing.”

Lennon, a Virginia commit who as of Thursday was one shy of tying his 51-goal output from last season, said the training, players and level of play at Real Salt Lake-AZ are miles ahead of other teams for which he’s played. And learning from academy coach Martin Vasquez, also an assistant coach on the U.S. Men’s National Team, isn’t bad, either. But Lennon was hooked on high school soccer after winning the state title as a sophomore.

“When we won state, it was a different feeling,” he said. “It was a different kind of feeling than playing club and academy soccer. It was a really good feeling, and it’s good to have that for a little bit.”

On the girls’ side, Cave Creek Cactus Shadows senior goalkeeper Cassie Miller has been a part of the U.S. national team setup for three years and played for the U.S. in the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Azerbaijan in September.

Phoenix Pinnacle has two players with U.S. national team experience. Forward Jorian Baucom was called up to the U.S. U-18 women’s national team in October with players around the country who are two years older than her. And goalkeeper Jalen Tompkins is in the U.S. U-15 girls national team player pool.

Eric Carbajal was on his way to becoming the next Arizona product with a promising professional future in Mexico. Jesse Cadena, president of Phoenix youth club Tuzos, helped Carbajal and others gain an academy tryout with Club America, as he had done years before for 20-year-old Phoenix native Ventura Alvarado, who is on the roster of Club America’s senior team.

Carbajal was offered a spot. After talking with his family and listening to his brother Marco say that this was “a shortcut to our dream,” he spent five months training and playing with Club America before deciding to come back home because of homesickness and seeing his 3.8 GPA drop to 2.9.

“I liked everything soccer-wise out there,” he said. “It was amazing. But I didn’t like doing school online. Because I had to train early in the morning, then go to the gym and work out, and they always had you do activities for soccer. So it was hard for me to do school, too.”

But his opportunity with Club America isn’t lost. Team officials told him he can finish school in the States, and when he comes back, there will be a spot waiting.

For now, he will don the Apollo jersey and continue to do what he has done all his life. Play the game he loves with his brother.

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