Earlier this month in Woodbridge, one of the area’s top soccer players, Dario Redondo, sat in the stands watching No. 7 Gar-Field High School, a team for which he used to star, cruise to a 5-0 win.
One night later in Fairfax, Langley forward Josh Ellis charged from the top of the box as a blocked penalty kick rebounded into the area and smacked the ball into the net, helping lead the second-ranked Saxons to a 3-0 win in the district playoffs.
Both Ellis and Redondo are a part of D.C. United Academy, an elite soccer program established by the U.S. Soccer Federation in 2007. With their senior seasons approaching, however, they chose different paths for the final months of their high school careers: Redondo decided to play solely for D.C. United, while Ellis chose to balance his academy and high school schedules.
That decision may not be in the hands of high school-aged players much longer.
Four years ago, the USSF formed a league for elite youth soccer teams to develop better players and streamline what had become a jumbled system of club teams, summer development leagues and the Olympic Development Program. Now, more and more clubs in the U.S. Development Academy league are insisting that their players forgo their high school teams completely.
The movement pits those who believe training with elite clubs is the best route for developing international-caliber players against others who say the trend could undermine a uniquely American tradition in which the best athletes compete alongside their classmates for their high school teams.
“Since soccer is a really big sport here in the U.S., kids who play soccer think it’s fun here to play for their school,” said Ellis, a native of Sweden. “People come to watch you, your friends. For that reason I think it’s fun to play high school. At the same time, academy improves you as a player, takes you places, polishes you.”