Prep Soccer

Clubs help prep high school soccer players

HS journalism: Athletes get a leg up on those who don't compete in offseason

Iowa City West’s Harry Zielinski (10), getting congratulated after scoring a goal earlier this month, believes club soccer gives players an advantage to making the varsity rosters at their high schools. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa City West’s Harry Zielinski (10), getting congratulated after scoring a goal earlier this month, believes club soccer gives players an advantage to making the varsity rosters at their high schools. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — A player rolls up for the first day of soccer tryouts. They haven’t played soccer in months, much less worked out.

Despite hopes of improving their fitness and fulfilling their potential of playing on the varsity team, they find their lack of preparation has hindered their opportunity to start the season off on the right foot.

“Spring break is more to get kids ready for tryouts who haven’t been playing at all because you can be out of shape or haven’t touched the ball for a while,” said Iowa City West senior Harry Zielinski, who also plays for Iowa Soccer Club (ISC). “That’s one of the good things about club: the facilities we’re able to play in in the winter.

“If you don’t play club, you can’t consistently practice over the winter.”

A majority of the West varsity soccer players are members of club teams. Although having additional practice time in the offseason may be an advantage, girls’ soccer coach Dave Rosenthal only takes into consideration what the athlete shows during tryouts, which take place the first couple days of the season.

“With the exception of your captains for varsity, those are returning players who we know are going to make varsity, everybody’s (spots) are up for grabs.” he said. “You can’t make the assumption that you’re on varsity until you’ve made that happen. You have to earn it.”

The rigorous tryout process can be made more comfortable for some athletes via year-round exposure to soccer through club.

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“After we won state (in 2017), there was about two weeks time before we started tryouts for club, which isn’t a lot of time,” Zielinksi said. “So the summer to (fall) season for club is really intense and it’s really important. The winter season for club is not that important, so right now (we’re) getting ready for (the) high school season.”

With many club players on its roster, it’s no surprise West soccer teams are among the best in the state. Many of the area club players are split between the area high schools, making varsity teams competitive. However, this is not always the case in other parts of Iowa.

“One of the things that makes West High such a good soccer team is (that) we have two serious high schools here in (Class) 3A, but, Cedar Rapids has (approximately) four, so their club kids get split up among four high schools,” Zielinski said. “It’s harder for them to put a roster of 20 people together that are really solid.”

Zielinski believes this makes it harder for students here or at City High to earn a spot on the varsity team, whereas it may be easier in Cedar Rapids.

Rosenthal has coached the girls’ team at West for 23 seasons, but also coaches club soccer — the past three years with ISC and 17 years before that with Alliance Soccer Club.

“I know most of the players through (ISC) but I will take the best players, the best athletes,” he said. “Just because you play club soccer doesn’t mean you make the varsity team. On the other hand, just because you don’t play club soccer doesn’t mean you can’t make the varsity team.”

Since he coaches with a club during the offseason, Rosenthal must follow various rules when considering which team to coach. For example, he is not allowed to coach any students in grades 9-12 who may play for West. He is, however, allowed to officiate any other matches without breaking the rules of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union.

Although his high school athletes do not play for him outside of the season, he does see the advantage of playing club soccer.

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“Number one, you’ve made soccer a focal point and you’re spending more time on that,” Rosenthal said. “Plus, they get very good club coaching. There are a lot of people who can coach the game, you’re talking about some of the best coaches in the state that work in some of the best clubs in the state.”

West senior Holly Paulsen believes another advantage of playing club soccer before high school is it calms some anxieties freshmen would have when joining a new team.

“Since we already knew each other, we already had good chemistry on the field,” Paulsen said. “It made it a lot easier going in as freshmen, it made it a lot less intimidating.”

Zielinski agrees, but added receiving coaching or having connection with a high school coach before starting high school may also boost a player’s chances of making the varsity team.

“I do think (the coach) having seen you when you (were) younger helps maybe get on the team because he knows to look out for you,” Zielinski said. “But I think once tryouts come it doesn’t matter what club you were a part of; if you’re playing better than a club kid, he’ll take you over a club kid.”

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