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Club soccer provides the sport year-round

Posted: July 28, 2013 10:20 p.m.
Updated: July 28, 2013 10:20 p.m.

A full day at school, followed by homework in the car and then soccer practice?

Just the life of a typical Santa Clarita Valley elite soccer player.

As high school athletes continue to become more specialized in their individual sports, the importance of playing year-round has increased over the years.

That might be more important in soccer than any other sport — and as a result, athletes are going to great lengths to put themselves in what they believe is the best possible position to move on to the next level.

Often times, that means playing for elite club teams spread around Southern California, rather than local clubs located in the Santa Clarita Valley.

The most common one seems to be Real SoCal, an Elite Clubs National League participant with fields spanning from Encino and Woodland Hills to Oak Park and Thousand Oaks.

The prestigious ECNL contains a number of club programs around the country that play at the highest level, and a number of local athletes have parlayed that prestige into college scholarships.

“Is ECNL prestigious? Yes, because some of the best clubs and players are here,” says Keith West, head women’s soccer coach at Cal State Northridge and coaching director for Real SoCal, the closest ECNL club to the Santa Clarita Valley. “But is ECNL the only way to get to college? No. A lot (of players) come with clubs that don’t. But the difference is every national showcase, everybody has a college coach in attendance. Sixty percent of the country is there watching that showcase. If you put yourself in front of 300 coaches at a showcase, what’s your chances of someone finding you?”

In the last two seasons, that was the case for Saugus graduates Serena Smith-Banas (Texas Christian University) and Angie Weiner (Fresno State), and Hart graduate Hailey Jenkins (UC Davis), all of whom have played for Real SoCal.

But how does one go about getting themselves on an elite club team?

“Honestly, just pick up the phone and call and make an effort to come out,” West said. “We’re a pretty big club and we can cater to the best of the best to beginners.”

But playing for an elite club does take its toll.

“Senior year, I would get off (school) at 12 (noon). I would go home and practice was at 6. I would leave at 5 to get down there and then I went from 6 to 8 and got home at 9. From 5 to 9 it was soccer,” Jenkins said. “You have to stay really focused and committed to both school and soccer. It’s easy to get sidetracked, but you have to make sure you’re focused.”

All of those players, though, start somewhere. And usually, that somewhere is with a local club.

And like West pointed out, it is possible to get to the next level without leaving the Santa Clarita Valley, something local club coaches are quick to point out.

“The misconception is you have to go outside of the valley to get your kid into college,” says West Ranch girls head coach Jared White, who also coaches for the Santa Clarita Magic soccer club. “It’s such a strong misconception that people don’t believe the pros (to staying in the SCV). The pros are the coaching. There are tons of super qualified coaches within this valley that rival large markets like Orange County and San Diego. We have four coaches that are going to get their National-A certification — that’s the highest license you can get in club soccer. The perception is you have to go outside of the valley. That perception is so strong that it outweighs the quality of coaching and the way we can develop players.”

The Santa Clarita Valley currently has three local club teams in Magic, L.A. Premier and Select Cities Soccer Club.

This year, Canyon High’s Kaila Sargema received a scholarship to play Division I soccer at Cleveland State University after playing club soccer with Magic — but White points out that it will take many more kids finding a similar opportunity to turn the tide toward local clubs.

“Someone has to start the trend and a club like Magic and the other ones in the valley are trying to communicate that to parents,” White said. “There’s no point to driving your kid to Camarillo — where another high-level club that draws local athletes, the Eagles (Soccer Club), is located. Keep this group together and let’s see what happens. So many parents have that philosophy that the grass is always greener on the other side. If you literally, for example, take the five girls at Valencia with two or three at West Ranch and Canyon and Hart, you’re looking at one of the best teams in the state. The problem is they’re spread out.”

There’s another problem for local clubs, though, and that’s that the system elite clubs like Real SoCal have implemented tends to work.

The promise of development and opportunity has come to fruition for multiple Santa Clarita Valley athletes, like Smith-Banas, Weiner and Jenkins.

“If everyone stayed (in the SCV) they could be really good because we have a lot of talent,” Jenkins said.

But the Hart graduate admitted that under today’s circumstances, she doesn’t think she would have ended up playing for UC Davis without Real SoCal.

Regardless of what type of team an athlete looks for, though, club soccer gives athletes an opportunity to play year-round, outside of the three-month high school season — and that’s something players and coaches alike feel is important for players to achieve their goals.

“The high school side, you just don’t play enough. That’s the biggest weakness,” West said. “The kids playing at that level, there’s not enough talented players for every high school to go around. For the amount of high schools, we can’t produce that amount of talent.”

And that’s where the club teams come in.

But deciding which type of club is best ultimately falls on the players to decide.


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