The landscape of girls high school soccer in Missouri has undergone a sizeable change thanks to an outside entity.
This year, the Sporting Kansas City Soccer Academy joined the U.S. Soccer Federation, which will now require all Sporting Kansas City teams to adhere to a 10-month schedule. That means any players wanting to play for one of those club teams has to forgo playing for her high school squad.
That has caused some high school teams in the Eastern Jackson County to lose some of their elite players, who decided to play with Sporting Kansas City. FCKC Academy, the Kansas City area’s other major youth development academy, decided to allow their players to play for their schools.
On the boys side, that same transition occurred 10 years ago.
Some of the local teams who took some hits from the Sporting Kansas City Academy’s move included Blue Springs South, Grain Valley and Lee’s Summit North.
The Eagles lose their second leading goal scorer from last season in sophomore Avery Brady, who had 24 goals last season. While it doesn’t impact Grain Valley from a quantity standpoint by losing one player, head coach Tyler Nichol has to look for other options to step up as the second offensive option behind senior all-stater Rylan Childers.
“Kailey (Boyer) has scored quite a bit in her three years here,” Nichol said. “Obviously, Rylan scores a ton and Renna (Childers) will be in that mixture. Kailey Larson is a sophomore and Sophie Brookard will be in there as well. We’ve got a good mix of scorers.”
For Blue Springs South head coach Todd Findley, he will be without junior twin midfielders Madi and Katelyn Poertner, who both will be playing with their Sporting Kansas City club team. And with two players injured and five graduating from last season, it’s left Findley with a young, inexperienced team.
“It’s tough because with our conference and our schedule, we need every good player that we can get,” Findley said. “Katie and Madi were fantastic players for us. When you graduate a deep class and you have injuries like we do, you have to count on those returning girls to come back and be superstars.
“Without Katie and Madi, it’s a lot different. It really drastically changed the look of our midfield. It’s not that our midfielders are new, but they are inexperienced at the varsity level. It will take us some time to get them used to it.”
Lee’s Summit North coach Ryan Kelley, like Grain Valley, loses just one player. But that one player was Class 4 State Goalkeeper of the Year Sarah Peters, who was a huge part to the Broncos’ making it to the state championship game last year.
“We’ve been kind of lucky, we haven’t lost too many players,” he said. “We lost a couple of boys. Then on the girls side, losing Sarah is going to hurt us quite a bit. She’s a great player and brought a lot to the team.”
Findley and Kelley acknowledge there are benefits to playing both high school and club soccer. Playing for a club team allows players to compete against some of the best high school talent in the nation and tends to draw more attention from college coaches outside of the state.
“I am not judging the (development academy) as wrong because those girls … that’s the niche they found that’s going to get them seen and get them visibility,” Findley said. “They are playing with really good talent and coaches. The big part is the visibility from the travel. They will see these head coaches from other states and get their name out there for future scholarships. I can’t blame them. There’s value in that.”
High school soccer allows for players to be alongside their friends they see every day at school and gives them a sense of pride for playing for their school, Kelley said.
“There’s a lot of benefits to the high school game,” Kelley said. “Like the Pink Out (game) on the girls side. We got two schools together (including Lee’s Summit West) and raised over $25,000 (for cancer research). I think playing in a stadium like this in front of your fans is awesome.
“You represent your school and it gives you a sense of pride as a player and a person. I think we also help our players grow and develop from a soccer aspect. You get that at the club level, too. It’s hard to say one is better than the other.”
Added Findley: “The high school game has a lot of things you learn with loyalty and teamwork. You get to be with your classmates, you leave your last class and come down to the practice field.
“At high school here, you’re traveling, playing Staley, Columbia Rock Bridge, Kearney, you are seeing the best of the best players in this area. You are hopefully getting some good training there. There is some good talent we see here on a day-to-day basis.”
So what kind of effect will this have on the level of competition at the high school level? Not much, according to Nichol.
“It might have a small effect on high school soccer,” Nichol said. “Our community is going to continue to grow in the sport of soccer and this gives more and more opportunities for other kids.
“If you take one or two of those elite players of each team, I think it kind of evens out.”
Kelley sees some benefits to the change.
“It does balance at the high school level,” he said. “You’re closer in level with some teams that in the past you haven’t been close enough to. It gives you a better chance to be successful against some of those traditional powerhouses. It’s great to have that.”