This fall, three Sixth Formers, one Fifth Former, and one Fourth Former decided to forgo their Haverford soccer seasons and instead compete for club teams.
While the details of the five students’ reasons vary slightly, they share one commonality: each student hopes to play soccer at the collegiate level, and each student is under the impression that playing for clubs rather than their high school is in their best interest to accomplish this goal.
“The pressure to play for club teams year-round comes from some college programs who think the year-round model is best to prepare players for the collegiate level,” Head Varsity Soccer Coach Mr. Daniel Keefe said. “On top of that, academy-level teams in Philadelphia have changed their expectations that students can play fall soccer for high schools and spring soccer for clubs to a model where students are expected to play for the club year-round, thus precluding any of those players from playing for high schools.”
“Coaches want their players constantly playing at the highest level, and sometimes that’s not high school.”Zion Georges ’22
Sixth Former Zion Georges hopes to get recruited to college for soccer this year. He currently plays for FC Delco Academy.
“Coaches want their players constantly playing at the highest level, and sometimes that’s not high school,” Georges said. “Players used to be allowed to play high school because essentially, that was the highest level at the time, but the culture has evolved to become more club-focused.”
As the number of the teams in the academy soccer system—the highest level of amateur soccer in the United States—has diminished, club teams have changed expectations.
“Through the limiting of those groups, you now have three major academy organizations [in the area],” Coach Keefe said. “And thus they can kind of create their own set of rules, because there’s less competition from other clubs that might offer a different way of looking at how academy soccer can be played and the kind of commitment that’s necessary to play for those teams.”
Sixth Former Asher Laackman began playing for Haverford this fall but stepped away from the team recently.
“There were a number of factors [for leaving],” Laakman said. “The biggest being that it’s my senior year and I’m pressed for time with COVID and everything in terms of being recruited and playing college soccer.”
He explained that each player makes an individual decision of whether to play for club or high school.
“There’s definitely pressure to play for clubs,” Laackman said. “College coaches aren’t really watching high school games, and it’s really tough for guys to get recruited.”Coach Keefe articulated his support of those students choosing to play for clubs.
“By changing the rules mid-stroke, it has forced the many of these families and players into some really hard decisions about if they want to play for their larger community at The Haverford School with their friends and have a high school experience in which they’re giving back there,” Coach Keefe said. “We’re losing some of the very talented soccer players who have gifts and want to play for our school but are being forced to essentially make a choice.”
Fourth Former Sebastian Perez-Gasiba also feels pressure to play for his club year-round as he prepares to begin the recruiting process.
“My [club] coach really encourages me to play club soccer instead of high school, saying that there are more looks from colleges at the club level,” Perez-Gasiba said. “There was a massive debate [of playing club] because I’ve always wanted to play high school. And last year, high school was a lot of fun. Even though we had a restricted amount of games, I enjoyed every second of it. This year was extremely difficult.”
Coach Keefe argued that year-round club soccer is not the only route to play at the collegiate level. He pointed to former students who played for Haverford and went on to play at institutions like Brown, Notre Dame, Emory, and UChicago, none of whom played academy soccer and instead chose a club model that allowed them to play for high school as well.
“Players [now] feel compelled or forced by a single club or one or two clubs that ‘this is the only way to do this,’ when in fact I have plenty of examples to prove elsewise,” Coach Keefe said. “You’re losing out on playing in front of your school as a part of a community with your peers and an environment that wholy supports you and wants the best for not just you as a player, but you as a student and as an artist, and all those things are put together as a part of The Haverford School, which is the strength of this place.”
“We chose to play at the highest level for our last year before college, so we hopefully can play in our first year of college.”Andrew Johnson ’22
Sixth Former Andrew Johnson is in a different position, as he has already committed to play Division-I soccer at Cornell. Still, he believes club soccer is in his best interest.
Johnson said, “While high school soccer is fun and the memories are there, a couple of us made the conscious decision to play at the highest level [club] to go into our freshman year with the best soccer possible: we chose to play at the highest level for our last year before college, so we hopefully can play in our first year of college.”
“It is kind of like a ‘he said, she said’ situation when it comes to what’s better for college looks and opportunities. Nowadays, you have leagues preaching about how they’re better for children to get seen,” Fifth Former Papi Harris said. “There are several people on my team who go to this school who I see every day, but we can’t play for the school, which sucks.”
Coach Keefe added, “It has been very difficult to see players that I know want to [play for Haverford], but we’re not able to because of the decision-making process of some of the academy systems inside of Philadelphia that has put them in a really difficult spot.”
“While I support these players, I also know that it’s a tremendous loss for them because they really do want to participate in high school athletics and are essentially being told that it’s against their best interests if they want to play at the next level.”Coach Daniel Keefe
Coach Keefe explained that the situation is challenging for players and coaches alike at Haverford.
“While I support these players, I also know that it’s a tremendous loss for them because they really do want to participate in high school athletics and are essentially being told that it’s against their best interests if they want to play at the next level,” Coach Keefe said. “And it’s sad to see—because I know for a fact that there are other players who haven’t [and still played in college], and I also also know that if you give them a chance, they would have come to play for The Haverford School, but they felt that they couldn’t.”