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The soccer poaching season has begun anew

  • Player movement is allowed again for players aged 9-13.
    Player movement is allowed again for players aged 9-13.
    Photo credit: Gazette file

It’s back to the future for local soccer clubs.

Only months after laying down a non-movement rule for players between the ages of  9 to 13, the Lac St. Louis region has done an about-face for this season.

In soccer these days, you never know what’ll happen next.

Only months after soccer clubs sent out directives to their intercity  to coaches develop their « own talent » players 9-13 years, which falls during much of the so-called Golden Ages of Learning (8-12 years), the poaching season is back again.

Now that another free-for-all player derby has begun, there will be winners and loser, which is exactly what club reform was all about.

The best clubs with the best coaches  would naturally attract the best players to their teams.

Darwinism had finally come to the soccer pitch, and the survival of the fittest was supposed to change the face of soccer in Quebec, for better or worse, depending on your point of view.

Club reform also spelled the end of regional teams like the great Lac St.Louis Lakers, for decades the most succesful amateur soccer outfit in the Canada.   

Another side-effect of  club reform is that weaker clubs – not necessarily the smaller clubs – could seldom offer its membership AAA or even AA  soccer. 

It stood to reason then that those small clubs might eventually lose their top players to big clubs, like Lakeshore and Pierrefonds that did hold the promise of AAA.

Since Lakeshore already  held the distinction as the biggest and arguably the best club in the region, recruiting or « poaching » the top  players from weaker teams made for an uneasy relationship between clubs.

Those who support the « 4-2 » player transfer rule - which allows a team to  bring in a maximum  of four out-of-club players per season, but not more than two from any given  team – favoured its liberating feature of freedom of choice for your son or daughter to seek out the best coaching and soccer development.

They would argue if a child is dissatisfied  with their coach and wants to play  for another team, why can’t he or she be allowed to transfer to another club? 

Sounds like a reasonable request. After all, we all want the best for our kids, whether its the best education  available (or affordable), the best of life, etc.  

Detractors of the rule saw it as the unofficial transfer of the Lakers franchise to powerful Lakeshore, with Pierrefonds running a distant but decent second. Small clubs like Dorval and MRO managed to build their own clubs the old-fashioned way : from within.

But the reality in many cases is that a prime consideration for transfering is  to leave a losing team for a winning team that may eventually qualify for AAA which begins at age 14.

 I’ve seen entire team rosters overhauled in Lakeshore and Pierrefonds as they search for the Holy Grail of AAA. What does that tell us?

 In fact, some  Lakeshore AA and AAA teams  no longer possess a majority of local players. Lakeshore used to have 50 percent residency  requirement, but it nixed that a few years to bring in even more outsiders, and in some cases – out-of-region players.

Some Lakeshore coaches would openly brag about the number  out « out-of-club » players on their roster. If you didn’t get the maximum  four, you were seen as missing the chance to become A or AA club.

Years ago, John Limniatis, Lakeshore’s current technical director, told me he couldn’t  understand why so many families wanted to switch  clubs.  « If you have a good coach, stay where you are and develop, » he said.

In other words, don’t get caught up in the seduction of playing AAA soccer , which, frankly, has turned out to be a bit of a bust.

 The elite AAA circuit is a glorified  AA league and folks, that sobering opinion comes from almost every AAA coach I’ve spoken to in the past few years.

I’ll  share my the views on AAA soccer and the Lakehore Soccer Club for another day, but there’s a reason why Canada is lagging in soccer development on the men’s side.

Now that  poaching has begun anew, what’s your take?

jmeagher@montrealgazette.com

16 comments

  1. Lac St. Louis had to go with the QSF rules. The thing a lot of people don’t understand is why big clubs with 4,500 kids NEED to go outside to form AAA teams? Clubs with 1,000 members NEED to go outside of their club to be competitive. By the way, Limniatis’ view is exactly opposite to Phil Dos Santos. His view is send your best players to Lakeshore, so they can play AAA. This of course was said while he was the Lakeshore TD. I do agree with AAA – it is a watered down product. What waters it down even more is the FSQ’s “Promotion Cup”. Doesn’t even have to be a good team; they just have to be willing to lay down $190, and play. Not sure how this will help things any. My guess is that 2013 will be the last year of this fiasco.

    By the way, poaching is really not the way kids change clubs. More often than not, kids are either getting away from bad coaching, or heading to good coaching. There are cases of poaching (being offered an all-expenses paid season, or spots on the Quebec club), but they are few and far between.

  2. By the way, the caption for the photo used in this article is not correct. Dorval uses black shorts and socks – this must be St. Laurent.

  3. Totally agree with soccermom, especially the last paragraph. Instead of seeing this as poaching, one should remember that kids are also moving around because they’ve been alienated by the coaching staff, or because the training/playing experience in another club is simply better. It’s not always about aspiring to get to AAA.

    As far as I’m concerned, the sole purpose of the LSL restriction rule was to protect a club’s customer base. The problem with this, however, is that, by locking players down this way, a club tends to get complacent. A player wishing to leave should be seen as a wake-up call for that club, an indicator that it may not be doing something right. If I, as a paying customer, am not impressed with the level of service I’m getting, I should be free to shop around and support a better club.

    Even though the official word from LSL is that all its member clubs follow a uniform, consistent methodology for training/development, I can tell you that this is not what is happening from club to club.

    I saw this myself, when I was hoping to have my son train at another club during the off-season. This other club clearly has not only better coaching, but they were better organized overall (scheduling of practice sessions, etc.). Because of the rule, however, we were not allowed to do so; the idea being that, even though we’re only talking training, a club wouldn’t want to waste its time with a player that it knows it can’t have.

    I, for one, am relieved that they’ve opened things up again. Hopefully, they’ll stay that way.

    • Lac St. Louis will only enjoy player movement as we know it now for another year or two. The FSQ will be examining player movement, and will likely change things up – maybe to a 2-1 instead of 4-2 rule, or something else.
      I don’t think all clubs follow a consistent methodology, either. I think there’s a lot of lazy TD’s out there, making far too much money on the backs of their membership, and regurgitating the same stuff year after year. Just because things “look” organized – doesn’t mean it’s interesting or challenging. Conversely, there are good programs to be found – in some unlikely places. Remember, just because a club is bigger, doesn’t make it better. Small clubs offer good programs, with the added bonus of “closeness” and support. Not something we always see with medium and large clubs.

  4. By Small Club Coach

    Dorval and their TD are in large part responsible for this moratorium. Their reasons were not for the improvement of competition within our region, it was for self-preservation, as they rely heavily on transfers to keep some of their teams from folding. They are also known to register the minimum amount of players on a AA squad and register their best players on the A squad simply to allow their best players to help the weaker side. It’s within the rules, however I find it disingenuous, as it hides the blemishes of their program and maybe an actual merger may benefit them instead of blocking progress for the rest of us.

    I really wish people would stop bantering around words like “player development” was the reason players transfer clubs. There is a huge difference between player development and TEAM development, as all these egotistical coaches that accept transfers think that winning or losing is a reflection of their coaching ability. By having the best core players on 1 or 2 teams, you will never improve competition and it will only hamper player development with this lack of consistent competition. The proof: look at the regions AAA participation & results as a region in Division 1.

    I know this may seem harsh, but coaches need to start looking at themselves in the mirror, I returned a player trying out for our team last year back to their club. This player was evaluated in the top 5 on our team. why? So that he/she would not take a spot of a registered player in our club, who’s parents pay taxes for their children to enjoy the facilities our municipalities provides to the club. Also, because the coaches were not afraid of starting from a weaker position, as we had confidence in our ability to develop players for the long-term.

    Too bad we are in the minority within the region.

    • By Small Club Team Manager

      Dorval’s entire soccer club is at risk. Under the proposed rule, if the club folds, the players have no where to go unless they can fork up $300 in the hopes that LSL will allow the player to go elsewhere as, by LSL’s own admission, players are still subject to the fee even if there is no team in their city. I don’t see anything wrong with self-preservation. Shouldn’t every community have access to a soccer program? A merger would likely be the answer, but the larger clubs are not interested in merging with smaller clubs, possibly because of another LSL rule that comes into play at after a club merge, which prevents the merged club from entering a team into one of the higher divisions. The 4-2 rule forces smaller clubs to work harder to keep their talent, which is ultimately to our benefit; the LSL rule has the potential to destroy us.

  5. By TheSpecialOne

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a team at the triple-A level that represents the region that has no direct affiliation with any club? Let the kids try out for this squad from all over the LSL area, and if they don’t make it then they go back to their respective local clubs.

    Let the coaches with the best technical abilities and experience run this club. If there needs to be more than one of teams within a given age group/sex to meet the number of kids so be it. This would diminish the need to poach as there would not be the pressure for each individual club to make AAA. Instead there would be pressure on the coaches to show that they are great at developing players if they want to move up to AAA coaching.

    A league should be competitive in order to ensure that the kids learn from their experience playing against competition that challenges them. Destroying competition 10-0 does nothing to help either side develop. Poaching leads to unnecessary imbalance within the league.

    Insofar as technical training at a club, LSL should make it a point of making sure that a minimum standard is set and if necessary assisting the club to get to where they need to be. Otherwise, LSL players suffer (regardless of which club they are from), and great potential might be wasted.

    • Lac St. Louis did have a regional AAA team – Lac St. Louis Lakers. They consistantly won provincial and Canadian championships. Great program, which grouped the best elite players from the region. It was good soccer, and fun to watch. Lakers was disbanded, in favour of the new AAA structure which was implemented in 2009 (reforme de la competition). The reform was meant to allow ALL clubs access to AAA. Even small clubs, who built a good program, could potentially play AAA. I guess only time will tell if this was the way to go.

  6. I do agree that regional teams playing each other does provide better soccer to watch but if the province goes back to that formula, they will take a huge step in the wrong direction. Quebec was the last province to move away from purely regional teams playing at the elite level. The talk is now to reduce the number of teams down to ten for each age group which in my view will be a big mistake. We have to remember the elite soccer isn’t there to simply provide enjoyable soccer for mom and dad to watch but also to provide prospects to the Canadian training programs. The premise (which in Ontario seems to be working judging by the number of players they have in the National program) is to train as many players as possible at the elite level. This process began with the removal of the regional teams in favor of the club teams. The biggest issue right now is the coaching. The Province is not doing a very good job of producing elite level coaches. This can be seen by the style of play adopted by many of them. If a team is going to AAA, yes they will need to get players from the smaller clubs to ensure the players going to the elite league are the ones who want to be there and should be there. The whole idea of having the league set up this way is to have two or three teams from each region provide an opportunity to the players in the region to access elite soccer not just one. Once they figure out the coaching side of it things will start to pan out and we can have more players in the National program than Saskatchewan for once.

  7. What a big SCAM, cash grab. Teams committ to a group of kids during the winter months, only to find out after spending hundreds of dollars, that the club they had been with has gone off and poached an outsider leaving the parent/child off.
    Soccer can take a page from hockey. You play for the city you reside in. No “Poaching” … you want your regional team to make the AAA level, spend some time and money and develop the children within your regions. Point final!

    • By soccermom

      Don’t forget, some clubs have high operating costs, and many folks on the payroll. They have to make money for their winter programs. Nothing wrong with that – if the vast majority of users are happy with it. We need player movement for the reasons I talk about below. No player movement could mean the end of the road for a good number of kids in soccer. I would not keep my child in an enviornment which does not provide what he needs.

  8. I agree with Beckham. It happens all the time. Parents shell out hundreds for winter training and then in March someone is parachuted in to take a AA spot and the kid who financed the organization is left with no place to go. Happens in Pierrefonds. That is for sure.

    Also, some kids who transfer in are “exempted” from paying team fees as part of their recruitment.

    For these associations it is all about winning and the egos of the coaches. If they truly cared about developing their own they would not accept anyone from an outside organization.

    • By soccermom

      Players who are brought on to a team, and are “paid” to play, are poached. Kids who leave a club because thier coach yelled, or the program is subpar, leave for the right reasons.

      There is nothing wrong with player movement, in fact, it can be a very positive experience for some kids and families. Why would any organization keep people around who are unhappy? Would you stay in an enviornment that made you miserable? Kids don’t need to play soccer. They play because they enjoy it – and if moving means they continue to enjoy it, then that is the way to go.

  9. By soccermom

    It seems many folks are against player movement. What clubs rarely consider is the “plus / minus” of movement. The often complain about the kids they “lost” – but do not acknowlege the kids who are new to the club as a result of moving from another club. Many of the clubs who voted on the Lac St. Louis policy, are the clubs who sign the most players from out of club!

  10. By Minority Report

    To understand why AAA is weak and getting weaker is to look straight to the top. The CSA’ s new TD, Tony Fonseca, is on record as supporting the Academy system. MU17 National team coach , Sean Flemming, recently said he will favour players who have competed in Europe or in the Academy system. Enter the Impact Academy whose U16 and U18 teams play in the northern US in the USDA league. Whereas CNHP once had the monopoly on elite development in the winter and returned these players to AAA in the summer, now many are choosing the Impact Academy, playing in the USDA and thus diluting AAA.
    Mark my word, a team’s MU15 standings in 2013 will be inversely proportioned to its MU14 2012 standings based on how many players it lost to the U16 Impact Academy team.

    What is an elite player to do? Be part on the “brain drain” to the USDA because that’s what they favour higher up the food chain or stick with the more sound philosophy of pure player development at CNHP, but then be stuck playing in a much weaker AAA and possibly getting looked over in the NT scouting….

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