The Dallas Morning News

Joseph Hoyt:

Developmen­tal teams are on COVID hiatus, so girls join classmates

- JOSEPH HOYT joseph.hoyt@dallasnews.com Twitter: @Joejhoyt

High school soccer teams picked up some top girls with the U.S. Soccer Developmen­t Academy shutdown.

Before COVID-19 ended last season, Flower Mound girls soccer coach Misail Tsapos thought he had a team with state championsh­ip potential. In his mind, the Lady Jaguars were a team that could keep possession and play creatively. They were very good, he said, but they were missing something.

“We had four ties, and three of the four were 0-0 because we didn’t have a true goal scorer,” Tsapos said. “We had a bunch of midfielder­s with a lot of creativity, but not that one kid who could say, ‘Don’t ask me to do this, don’t ask me to do that, just give me the ball and I’ll put it in the back of somebody’s goal.’ ”

It’s an ability, Tsapos believes, that can’t be taught — a unique combinatio­n of skill, natural ability and instinct that make some players different.

Tsapos had never met senior Riley Baker before she emailed him asking if she could try out for the team this offseason, and when she showed up it didn’t take him long to see she was the missing piece his team needed. She was a difference-making goal scorer who might not be playing in Friday’s 6A state championsh­ip game if the U.S. Soccer Developmen­t Academy never shut down.

She had 25 goals and nine assists for Flower Mound this season.

In 2017, U.S. Soccer launched the girls developmen­t academy to help accelerate player developmen­t. The catch, however, was that the girls couldn’t play both for their high schools and for the developmen­t academy. They had to choose, and many talented Dallas-area players, such as Baker, chose developmen­t academies.

Last April, U.S. Soccer shut down the girls developmen­t academies because of financial hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision opened the door for talented players to join their high school teams.

On Friday, in all three classifica­tions, the impact of the developmen­t academy shutdown can be seen on each of the three Dallas-area teams playing for a state championsh­ip. Frisco Wakeland, a 5A state finalist, had four players join the team who were previously playing for the developmen­t academy. Midlothian Heritage has two freshmen who started their careers in high school, rather than continuing in the academy.

Flower Mound added Baker and junior Sydney Becerra, two players whom Tsapos looks at as missing pieces in a possible state championsh­ip season.

“When Riley showed up, I saw the qualities she had in a goal scorer,” Tsapos said. “You kind of imagined, between her and Sydney, they could score 40 goals, and that was the case. And that was 40 goals we didn’t have last year.”

Without the academy around, high school soccer in the Dallas area saw an influx of talent this season.

Celina junior Taylor Zdrojewski, a four-star recruit with plenty of Division I options, served as the team manager at her high school during her freshman and sophomore season because she couldn’t play for both the academy and for Celina. This year, she made her Celina debut and did so in a big way, breaking the state record for most goals in a season with 114. She broke the record with seven goals in a playoff win over Bullard.

Baker, a Kansas State signee, said she played against a lot of former academy players in district play this past season. She recognized a bunch from Prosper, formerly the top-ranked team in the state, when Flower Mound beat Prosper in the playoffs.

There are examples in year’s past, too. In 2019, Southlake Carroll seniors Sydney Nobles and Taylor Tufts decided to skip playing for the academy in the hopes of winning a state championsh­ip. Carroll did so with a 5-0 win in the state title game over Katy Tompkins.

Midlothian Heritage coach Gerald Slovacek said he lost one player to the developmen­t academy in the past in Leah Chancey, who’s now a midfielder at SMU. Slovacek said that Chancey once told him she wished she could’ve also played for Heritage, just like club teams allow.

“I think making them have to choose is not good for the girls,” Slovacek said.

The girls, for now, don’t have to choose between the two. Boys still have to. In the absence of the developmen­t academy, Major League Soccer launched “MLS Next,” and like the academy, players can’t play for their high school team.

Originally, Baker planned to play for Flower Mound, but before high school her club team, FC Dallas, was absorbed into the developmen­t academy. For three years she played in the academy. In 2018 she won a developmen­t academy national championsh­ip with her 15U FC Dallas team. That year she scored 17 goals in 34 matches.

It looked like she’d play her senior year in the academy, as well, but when it was shut down she had to pivot to playing for her high school, something she always wanted to do. Sadness over losing the academy was quickly replaced by happiness at the chance to play with her high school teammates.

“It was kind of like what’s meant to be is meant to be,” Baker said.

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 ?? Steve Hamm/special Contributo­r ?? With developmen­tal academies closed during the pandemic, Riley Baker was able to play her senior year for Flower Mound. She responded with 25 goals.
Steve Hamm/special Contributo­r With developmen­tal academies closed during the pandemic, Riley Baker was able to play her senior year for Flower Mound. She responded with 25 goals.
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