In recent months, much has been made about new regulations from United States Soccer that force teenage players to choose between playing for their regional elite academy programs or their high school teams. By and large, the decision has been renounced as a virtual death knell for competitive boys soccer across the country.
Yet a funny thing happened as state associations and even individual teams braced for the loss of a cadre of dominant players: In some states, the absence of the cream of the crop seems to have made the game more competitive and exciting.
As reported by the Tacoma News Tribune, coaches in Washington are actually excited about the departure of much of the state's top talent from the high school circuit. Where past seasons might have seemed like formal coronations of the playoff bona fides of top programs, the 2012 campaign has begun with an air of true unpredictability.
"It's wide open," Curtis (Wash.) High coach Frank Hankel told the News Tribune. "Not only in the SPSL, but throughout the entire state."
Added Puyallup coach Matt White, whose team was traditionally among the unreachable powerhouses: "In talking to my coaching friends, it is having an impact. Teams are significantly more equal."
Of course, parity alone isn't necessarily a justification for solely rosy forecasts. Some programs have lost as many as four players to the state's two United States Soccer Development Association squads, Sounders Academy in Seattle and Redmond, Wash.'s Crossfire Premier. Those departures have decimated those programs and robbed them of potentially glorious seasons built over a number of years.
Still, even the high school coaches who have been hit hardest by the new regulations agreed that they probably make sense from a development standpoint, even if it may be creating a stigma for the high school game.
"As a former college coach, we need players to be better [at the international level]," White, who once served as the head coach at Pacific Lutheran University, told the News Tribune. "As a high school coach, you've got to be kidding me. We have a 10-week season."
Yet, for once, that 10-week season may be truly up in the air, which could actually make high school soccer more exciting for players, coaches and fans, something which is hardly a bad thing for a sport in which dominant dynasties have become the norm and not the exception.