Kasey Rakauskas struggled with a decision she never wanted to make.
Forced to choose between exclusively playing club soccer or suiting up for her high-school team at Lake Brantley, Rakauskas was conflicted. Ultimately she thought her club team presented the best opportunity to earn a college scholarship.
“I felt bad because I had to let my high-school team down,” said Rakauskas, a junior. “I love playing high school, but I had to pick, and club was more important to me.
“For high school, you get to play for your school. I play for people I see every day. I get to play with my classmates.”
Thanks to the youth affiliate of the Orlando City Soccer Club, the issue became moot for area girls such as Rakauskas. Last offseason, Orlando City Youth Soccer told players ages 14-18 participating for teams in the Elite Clubs National League that they could not play for their high-school team.
That decision was reversed before a match was played late last summer after OCYS received criticism from high-school coaches and many seniors chose to finish their high-school careers. That allowed players such as Rakauskas and up to 70 other girls to compete for their high schools and play club soccer, too.
Less drama is expected this upcoming season. OCYS is working with area coaches to implement a manageable schedule for the club, high schools and players. The ECNL’s season peaks from September through December, while the high-school season starts in October and ends in February.
“Historically, all the high-school coaches have worked really well with the club coaches on balancing the club season leading into the high-school season,” said Oviedo coach Scott Waisanen, who had six players split time between his team and the ECNL squad.
“That’s where the problem came in: the drawing of a line in the sand, saying, ‘You can’t do this.'”
The OCYS boys teams that are affiliated with the U.S. Soccer Development Academy still do not allow their players to participate in high-school matches, per academy rules.
Alan Hough joined OCYS as the girls academy director in May.
“We didn’t communicate effectively and that created some confusion, and obviously some animosity between the programs and the high schools,” Hough said.
“A part of this process was trying to find ways that we could get high-school soccer to coincide with the ECNL calendar, to try and make sure we had the platform for the girls to play in the best league, but also to get the experience of playing high-school soccer.”
OCYS junior boys/girls academy director Craig Melton met with Seminole County coaches this offseason to plan a schedule. OCYS will not schedule practices during high-school tryout dates in October and will not require players to practice in January.
“It’s a very good schedule,” Waisanen said. “There’s no contention at all now.”
Rakauskas said OCYS players were told about the lightened schedule before tryouts in May. It was welcomed news after juggling high-school practice and daily club practice on OCYS’s under-16 team last season.
“I think it’s going to work out,” Hagerty coach Rodney Kenney said. “Now how it works out when we get into [the season], I have no idea.
“It’s encouraging so far, and I feel much better going into it this year than I did last year.”