Area soccer teams starting to see players lost to developmental academies

BRENT BRIGGEMAN Published: August 9, 2012

Rosters are in flux even before the soccer season begins.

Doherty coach Jon Shub recently learned that senior Cameron Barksdale would not be rejoining his team, and Shub expects to know within a few days if he’ll also be without an incoming freshman who may be good enough to instantly crack the Spartans' starting lineup.

Shub is not alone. At least eight other area coaches are bracing for life without a top player or two now that the U.S. Soccer Development Academy has switched to a 10-month season that forces players to decide between their high school teams or one of three Denver-based developmental teams.

Early estimates are that 10-15 local players will be among roughly 120 players statewide to play for an academy instead of their high school team.

“As a teacher, my job is to be supportive of what they want to do and help them achieve their goals,” Shub said. “If their goal is to be one of the top 2 percent of soccer players in the nation, then being in an academy is the right thing.

“As a coach, it’s very difficult. You have a kid like a Cameron Barksdale who is a game-changer, and now you lose him.”

At Cheyenne Mountain, Michael Thilenius will not return for what would have been a fourth season as the starting center midfielder.

“He’s one of the top players in the state,” coach Tomas Martinez said. “When I first heard about the new rule, I thought it would help us because there are all these teams that have one stud and now we wouldn’t have to worry about them. It didn’t occur to me that we might lose one, too.”

Other area players who were listed on academy rosters as of Thursday evening included Peter Tonsits of TCA, Sand Creek’s Nestor Hernandez, Jacob Calhoun of St. Mary’s, Owen Braley of Palmer Ridge, Amon Frazier of Pine Creek (after transferring from Liberty), Air Academy’s Gannon Gardner and Hunter Howard and Liberty’s Brandon Saucedo.

That does not necessarily mean all of those players will miss the high school season, but there is no indication that the academies have loosened their stance of having players choose one or the other. That list also comprises just two of the three clubs. The Colorado Rapids Academy had not yet posted its rosters.

From the time the overlapping season was announced early in 2012, there have been mixed feelings. Coaches understand the desire from the top levels of U.S. soccer to develop youth standouts in an effort to improve the country’s standing in the world (the men’s team did not qualify for the Olympics); but the trade-off is asking a teenager to forgo the experience of representing his school.

The change only impacts boys’ teams, and part of the reasoning was a perceived lack of quality high school coaching. That’s what grates at some of the top local coaches, many of whom double as club instructors.

“I agree in some places, but I disagree in other places,” said Shub, who led the Spartans to a 5A Metro title last season. “I’m not a top-level coach, but I’m not a schmuck. I can coach the game pretty well.”

While Colorado Springs soccer will see a difference, some Denver-area teams will be rendered unrecognizable. Cherry Creek will lose about eight or nine players and Regis Jesuit is apparently bracing for the loss of at least six. Others will undoubtedly see comparable losses.

The result will be parity in 5A, where teams in and around Denver have dominated the state tournament.

“In the long run I think this will be good for Colorado Springs soccer,” Shub said. “We’re going to be able to hang with those schools.”

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