By Jason Mastrodonato
Scott Greenwood was supposed to be seen on the Weymouth High School soccer field this fall, making his usual diving saves and unthinkable breakaway stops.
Harry Swartz was supposed to return to Needham High after a breakout sophomore campaign as one of the area’s most dangerous attacking players.
But Greenwood and Swartz, along with dozens of the state’s best soccer players, won’t be anywhere near their high schools this September, unless they’re in street clothes watching from the sidelines.
Because of a new rule by US Soccer which took effect Sept. 4, athletes who play for academy teams, such as the New England Revolution or F.C. Greater Boston Bolts, are no longer allowed to compete for their schools.
“It’s too bad that all these kids were put into this position,” said Don Brock, who has coached at Needham since 1962. “I feel really bad. Soccer has enough competition [luring athletes] from lacrosse and football. To have our own sport come in and take them away — it hurts.”
In an effort to “prepare players to compete against the best clubs and international teams from around the world,” according to its website, US Soccer expanded its academy teams to a 10-month program, now beginning in early fall, as opposed to its eight-month program that didn’t start until around Halloween. Previously, the premier players stayed with their high school teams until those seasons ended, then returned to the academy team.
US Soccer, though, is demanding that those players never set foot on the high school field.
The idea is that the top players will spend three or four days during the week training under academy coaches, who receive direct instruction from US Soccer, while playing one game on the weekend. With more attention to technical development and less time spent playing games, the players would develop faster than those playing three games a week at the high school level.
“I get why they did it, I understand the basic philosophy, but I think it’s pretty myopic,” said Lincoln-Sudbury coach Dave Hosford, who has coached Globe All-Scholastics Forest Sisk and Cole DeNormandie over the last two seasons. Both are now enjoying successful college careers.
“You take Forest, and for us he was a team leader,” Hosford said. “That experience he got in high school will be one of the things that will help in college. My worry is — except for the 1 percent, who are the professional — they won’t develop the leadership skills. They don’t develop the dynamics in many areas.”
The country is still fighting to grow its national team into one that can compete with those from Brazil, Spain, and other historic soccer powerhouses. The United States has taken great strides in recent years, with the men’s national team winning its group stage in the 2010 World Cup for the first time since 1930.
But since last July, the US national team has been under control of Jurgen Klinsmann, who coached Germany to third place in the ’06 World Cup.
The move to take young athletes away from their high school teams for two additional months was one of the first by US Soccer under Klinsmann’s command.
“These academy games are a lot different than the high school games,” said Bryan Scales, the director of player development for the New England Revolution Academy. “I think if you look at hockey, a lot of the top hockey players go to play juniors.
“I think it was just a matter a time before US Soccer and our national team’s program really figured out, ‘Hey, we have to have these guys for longer periods of time with better training environments and less games.’ ”
John Frederick, the coach of the Revolution Academy Under-17/18 club, concedes that players will, indeed, miss out on some of the benefits of high school soccer, including playing for their communities, in front of a bigger crowd, and with their childhood friends.
“But for the individual development, it’s hard to argue,” Frederick says. “I think they’re playing against better players on a regular basis here.”
But for many players who want to pursue professional soccer careers, the allure of additional college recruitment is something they can’t ignore.
Scales says most college coaches do their scouting through academy programs, and for a player such as Michael Rincon — who spent his high school career at Malden, a town not exactly known for its soccer program – it was the best way to be discovered.
“So much more exposure,” said Rincon, who graduated in 2011 and was a Northeast-10 All-Rookie selection at Merrimack. “I used to get e-mails all the time from colleges after the showcase tournaments.”
Greenwood is in a similar situation with the Bolts. Weymouth coach Bill McEachern said his former star goalkeeper, who is No. 3 in his class academically, is hoping to play at Harvard. And Harvard’s goalkeeper coach, Andrew Quinn, is also an academy coach.
“We like to think we’re providing these guys with good experience and good instruction,” McEachern said. “We play one of the toughest schedules in the state. But if Scotty’s aspirations are to get a D1 scholarship at Harvard . . . We just want what’s best for Scotty.”
Weymouth, though, has the luxury of a pipeline of goalkeepers, and Lucas Rezende should slide in nicely in Greenwood’s absence.
Most teams affected by the new rule haven’t been so lucky.
Newton North, which was an above-average team last year and set to return a pool of youthful talent under third-year coach Roy Dow, lost an astounding four players to academy teams. The Tigers are no longer expected to be in the hunt in Division 1.
Several current academy players contacted for this story elected not to speak about their decision. Sisk said none of the kids on the Revs liked to talk about it.
But most are choosing the academies. Scales said the Revolution didn’t lose a single player to the high school route (other than kids from the Independent School League, who can obtain waivers from US Soccer).
“Eventually, we’re not even going to see the kids in high school,” McEachern said. “The academy is going to be scooping these guys up before they even get here. That’s eventually where it’s headed. In the future, the kids won’t even think twice.”