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Balancing act begins for SoCal students playing high school and club soccer at same time

Eric Sondheimer
·3 min read
Youth soccer competition returned to Valley Plaza's soccer fields in North Hollywood this weekend.
Youth soccer competition returned to Valley Plaza's soccer fields in North Hollywood this weekend. (Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Youth soccer competitions were allowed to begin Saturday in Los Angeles County and Orange County after 11 months of being prohibited because of the coronavirus. That doesn't mean they weren't being played before Saturday, but this time, they were officially allowed under state and county guidelines, and club soccer is expected to move forward immediately.

With high school soccer teams also cleared to play, athletes, coaches and parents will have to figure out a balancing act of how to handle the situation of a one-time CIF waiver that allows participation on club and high school teams at the same time.

L.A. Cathedral coach Arturo Lopez said most of his club players intend to also play high school soccer and he is coming up with a plan to modify practice routines so that players are not overworked.

Most of El Camino Real's girls' soccer players play for Real So Cal, a San Fernando Valley-based club team, so coach Eric Choi has been in discussion with his counterpart at Real So Cal trying to figure out scheduling ideas. Club tournaments will mostly happen on weekends, so high school play during the week could get priority.

El Camino Real is scheduled to hold its first practice session in nearly a year this coming week. It is still waiting to see if the Los Angeles Unified School District will have any sports competition, so they may have to play other independent charters or play Southern Section teams.

The other obstacle is dealing with school, county and state guidelines about mixing players from different teams. The state recommends limiting to a single team but the CIF says that is not a mandate.

Choi said he and his players will be getting tested weekly and will voluntarily tell each other test results.

"We decided it's the best interest of safety," he said.

Coaches say communication and cooperation will be key to making club soccer and high school soccer co-exist in this one-time situation of playing simultaneously. Normally athletes have to decide one or the other. High school soccer is about playing with friends and representing a community. Club soccer costs money and is more about trying to impress college recruiters and fulfill dreams.

"I've spoken to different clubs my players play for and worked out compromises," said Birmingham boys' coach E.B. Madha. "We agreed to cooperate on days off and training days. Hopefully it will work out."

Two years ago, Birmingham won the City championship and Madha said this year's team "is my best team in a long time." The question is who will Birmingham play against if LAUSD doesn't have a sports season? El Camino Real, its fellow independent charter school and one of the best soccer teams in the City, could be a frequent opponent this year.

"That will be for the City title," Madha said. "We'll play six or seven times."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.