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Issaquah-Sammamish prep squads hit hard by U.S. Soccer ruling on Development Academy players | Prep sports news
When Eastlake head soccer coach Adam Gervis and his Wolves began their defense of the 4A state title earlier, just as they always have during his 11 seasons leading the program, coaches and players took turns going through introductions.
The difference this season was that they actually needed them.
After losing 12 seniors off last year's team, Gervis knew he would be relying on some new faces in 2012. What he didn't know was a new United States Soccer Federation regulation would leave him with a team that had no varsity playing experience to speak of.
"They are a great bunch of kids," Gervis said. "But they are not a team. At least not yet."
Participation with prep squads along with Development Academy teams was briefly allowed by U.S. Soccer but in 2012, top players around the area were again forced to choose. Gervis lost three returning varsity players to the rule in midfielder Sam Langston and defenders Mark Matula and Michael Gallagher. Tosh Samkange and Jack Hormsby, both freshman, elected to play with the Sounders FC "pre-academy" team rather than the Wolves.
Sammamish rival Skyline is coming off the first state final appearance in school history and a season with only three losses, all to Eastlake.
But the ruling has left head coach Don Braman without junior forward James Molyneux-Elliot, a would-be starter who has turned instead to assisting Braman and the Spartans coaching staff.
"He has contributed by running portions of our trainings and helping with game management decisions," Braman said. "He has earned the respect of his peers and I feel fortunate to have someone with his experience on our staff."
Crossfire Premier and Sounders FC Academy are the two U.S. Soccer Developmental squads in Greater Seattle and each runs a U-18 and U-16 squad along with the pre-academy team, which includes players as young as 14.
Bernie James is the coaching director at Crossfire Premier and coaches the U-18 and pre-academy teams and has been involved in the organization since its original incarnation as Lake Washington Youth Soccer Association.
While the academy's schedule and policies are controlled by U.S. Soccer and not individual clubs, James was adamant that the mission of raising the competitive profile in international competition is best achieved through the developmental system.
"Our club had six players in the MLS Draft this year," he said. "If we have 18 players on a U-18 team, on average, 14 of them will play college soccer. It's a good program, but it is for kids who are really serious."
One player with Eastside ties who has been serious in the game since his youth is Kelyn Rowe.
Despite growing up in Federal Way, Rowe played at Redmond-based Crossfire for four years before taking the pitch for UCLA and being drafted by the New England Revolution with the third overall selection the last MLS Draft.
"At first it was a long drive, but we got used to it," Rowe said. "What I got out of the program made it worth it."
What he got out of the program was exactly what James spoke of as well– an opportunity to play with and against the best competition the country had to offer in his age group. Rowe played for James during his time with Crossfire and said the coach continued to push he and his teammates to improve to a level that would carry them to national team consideration and a professional roster.
"I had a great team and a great coach who pushed me every day," Rowe said. "I wasn't gaining anything playing high school soccer. It was just for fun."
Gervis agrees wholeheartedly with Rowe's sentiment, though he no-doubt carries a different opinion on what "just for fun," means after witnessing the reaction from his team after a third win over rival Skyline and the 4A state title. But for the Eastlake coach, the prep season teaches an equally important set of lessons and helps prepare student-athletes for the eventuality of a more serious life in the game should they choose it.
"It is taking away their youth," Gervis said. "The level of training is excellent, no doubt about that. But high school sports are also important. They're all going to get scholarships regardless of if they play for an academy."