If approved, ECNL players could be back on the field by next fall, said Jody Redman, MSHSL associate director who oversees soccer.
MSHSL executive director Dave Stead said he knew there was an elite soccer league, but he and his staff’s concerns are focused on high school soccer.
East Ridge soccer parent JoJo Goulding said she has been in regular contact with the MSHSL regarding the ECNL. Goulding’s daughter Payton gave up her spot on East Ridge’s roster to play for the ECNL U-17 team. But she didn’t realize the choice meant she couldn’t have any contact with the high school soccer program.
Goulding and ECNL teammate Taylor Turner wanted to stay close to East Ridge as managers but were told it was against high school league rules. JoJo Goulding wanted her daughter to be a part of spaghetti dinners and other team activities. The mother fought the high school league through phone calls and e-mails and eventually the girls were allowed to manage, she said.
East Ridge coach Mark Abboud is happy to have Goulding and Turner with the team, saying it helps maintain chemistry while allowing the girls to stay a part of the team.
Abboud, whose team is arguably the most affected by the change, lost five athletes to the ECNL. It would have been seven had the Thunder Academy included a U-18 team in ECNL’s first full season. Storlien and ECNL seniors determined it would be best for that age group to finish their high school careers. A U-18 team will be fielded next year.
Room for compromise?
The new era of ECNL soccer is bittersweet for Abboud. He helped create the Thunder Academy in 2008 and is proud to see it become one of the top developmental academies in the Midwest. As a high school coach, however, he’s 7-4 this season and without several of the state’s top performers.
Abboud said without many top players, the level of play in the Suburban East Conference is not what it’s been over the past several years.
“I sat on both sides of that equation,” Abboud said. “I feel bad the kids have been put in this situation. But life is about choices, and I’m glad there is a choice and opportunity for the players that have that desire.”
East Ridge senior captains Kari Solheim and Jaden Vogelgesang were among the benefactors of the academy’s decision to forgo a U-18 team this season. Solheim said playing high school soccer is a routine, and she’s glad she didn’t have to choose.
Orono sophomore Jessica Woessner was part of ECNL teams for two years but didn’t make the final cut this season. She now calls it a blessing in disguise. Woessner said high school soccer has provided friendships and opportunities she likely wouldn’t have experienced through the ECNL.
However, the appeal of what the elite league can do for Woessner’s skills has her eager for next year’s tryout.
“I think everything [about high school soccer] makes me want to come back. There I nothing I don’t like about it. But,” Woessner said, pausing for a moment, “more people get to see you play. It’s the best players in the nation and the best players in the state.”
Storlien, who is also the Bloomington Jefferson boys’ soccer coach, said only three of the 54 girls who previously committed to the Thunder Academy’s ECNL teams picked high school soccer over the club.
Orono coach Erin Murray lost two players, including arguably the state’s top player in Sophie Babo. Murray said the topic is often discussed at coaches association meetings and that coaches are mad. The Spartans are 12-1-1 entering the final week of the regular season.
“This isn’t an easy decision for anybody. And it’s something the girls shouldn’t have to make,” Murray said. “Everyone wishes there would be a compromise and they could do both.”