When he reflects on the first month of his season, Aidan Bean sees enough positives to believe his team is on the right track even though it lost its first three games.
In addition to having the opportunity to practice at one of the top soccer training facilities in the Midwest, his team beat the U17 national team 2-1 in an exhibition game Sept. 10 at Ohio State.
The Olentangy Liberty High School junior has made it to most of the Patriots' home games this fall, but he's only been a spectator for a squad that was ranked second in the Division I state poll last week and was 11-0 before playing Dublin Coffman on Oct. 2.
Last season, Bean played forward and center back for Liberty as it won its first district and regional championships and earned a state runner-up finish.
But rather than playing for the Patriots this fall, Bean is among 13 central Ohio athletes competing for the Crew Soccer Academy's U17-18 team in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.
Because of the Development Academy's new 10-month schedule, athletes like Bean must pick between playing for Crew Academy or their high school team during the fall.
"For me personally, it was a tough decision," said Bean, who is in his third season with Crew Academy. "My high school team is undefeated, and all of those guys were my teammates when I played with the Classics Eagles, but I feel like (playing for Crew Academy) is the best decision I could make."
Crew Academy also has 20 players from central Ohio on its U15-16 team and, beginning next year, it will field a U13-14 team.
Liberty junior Michael McCloskey is competing for the U15-16 team and likely would have been a key contributor for the Patriots, but there are 20 other central Ohio high school programs that have at least one player competing for a Crew Academy team.
The U17-18 team has five area players who have verbally committed to Division I colleges in Hilliard Davidson's Alex Bumpus (Kentucky), Gahanna's Alex Crognale (Maryland), Pickerington North's Tommy Harr (Dayton), Dublin Jerome's Tyler Kidwell (Ohio State) and Worthington Kilbourne's Charlie Reymann (Kentucky).
"You've got all of the best kids in Columbus playing the highest level of soccer (for Crew Academy)," Bean said. "It's more physical and really intense, and everyone tries really hard, which is different from high school. It really gets you prepared."
According to U.S. Soccer's website, the decision announced Feb. 10 to go to a 10-month season was designed to create "a format that is similar to those followed by the elite soccer playing nations around the world as the Development Academy and U.S. Soccer continue their goal of closing the performance gap with the top soccer nations."
Including the 33 central Ohio boys playing for one of Crew Academy's two teams, there are about 3,000 athletes spread over 80 clubs nationwide in the Development Academy.
The U17-18 team lost its first three games in the Mid-America Division of the Central Conference, including 3-2 to the Indiana Fire in its opener Sept. 15 at the Crew's Obetz training facility.
The U15-16 team went 1-1-1 over its first three games.
Both Crew Academy teams train and play games at the Obetz facility, where "you never get a bad bounce," according to Reymann.
Billy Thompson, who went to UCLA and then played for the Crew from 1996-2000, is coaching both the U15-16 and U17-18 teams. He coached the Wellington girls team to a 111-56-17 record in 10 seasons before stepping down in the summer of 2011 and also previously led the Worthington United club program.
Crew Academy's teams each play 12 games from September through November and 12 more from March through June. The previous schedule didn't include games during the high school season.
The Crew Academy already has played two games in Illinois and has two games in November in Minnesota, but all fees for players are covered by the Columbus Crew.
According to Thompson, although the Crew Academy teams "are not for everybody," a daily routine that he believes more closely mirrors European teams can do nothing but help the nation's future soccer stars.
"Everything we do is designed to create an environment where these players can succeed at the professional level," Thompson said. "We're able to get out there five or six days a week and we can train year-round and train at a professional environment.
"Last year (the Crew Academy) had 16 Division I players on scholarship. For the kids, it's not that many more games, but it's just a more competitive platform. For us to get these guys for 25 percent longer is fantastic. We're making a huge impact on the future (of U.S. Soccer)."
A SEASON OF TRANSITION
After winning the 2009 Division I state championship and earning a regional runner-up finish in 2010, Gahanna was 10th in last week's state poll and could earn its ninth consecutive league title this season.
Although it isn't easy to measure the impact a player like Crognale would have made on this year's team, the Lions have just three senior returnees, including one who was injured at the start of the season.
Gahanna adjusted to a new lineup under first-year coach Todd Keenan, but senior Andrew Schwall acknowledges the situation hasn't been easy.
"Everyone is still close (to Crognale) and he's been completely supportive of us," Schwall said. "I understand what (U.S. Soccer) is doing and the Crew Academy does a good job of sending out guys to college, but I don't really know exactly how I feel about it."
Upper Arlington coach Carlos Bonilla is among those who oppose the Development Academy having 10-month teams.
Coming off a 13-win season a year ago, the Golden Bears were 3-6-3 before playing Westland on Oct. 2. UA junior John Schuman is playing for the U17-18 Crew Academy team.
"Central Ohio boys coaches are very upset about it and I personally believe it's not right," Bonilla said. "I believe high school soccer and Crew Academy can benefit from each other. You can play eight to nine months a year and play (in high school) for two to three months. I don't see the rationale for making these kids decide. To me, high school sports is an extension of the classroom."
Worthington Christian coach Dan Roads understands the motivation of U.S. Soccer as well as those who decide to forego playing in high school.
Still, he recognizes it hasn't made for an easy situation for high school teams or for the athletes forced to choose.
"I think it's a fine opportunity for those kids that want to do it," Roads said. "If that's their goal, to play at the highest level, then we shouldn't stand in the way of it. It's a soccer culture kind of change that was almost inevitable. If we're going to compete with international soccer teams, then it's a move we've got to go to, but there's a lot of value in high school soccer.
"My biggest thing is that some of the kids might play a season on the Academy team and sit the bench, and if they do that, then kids are going to quit."
ACCEPTING THE NEW LANDSCAPE
It took months for Quinn Miller to decide whether he'd play for the Crew Academy U17-18 team or for Worthington Christian for his senior season.
The goal of adding to the Warriors' three Division III state titles over the past six seasons ultimately won out.
"I thought we had another chance to win a state championship and it would be great to reach that," Miller said. "I'm a senior now and it was my turn to lead and I didn't want to let people down. (Playing for a year-round club team) is what all of the European teams do so I think it'll help, but it's just hard to make kids choose. Obviously, there's a little bit of a gap between some of those great players and some of the other guys who are playing high school soccer, but there's still a bunch of really good players (in high school)."
In girls soccer, the Ohio Premier club program has had a fall team for the last few years, and a handful of players have elected to compete in club instead of for their high school team.
Michela Paradiso, a 2012 Upper Arlington graduate who was the ThisWeek Super 12 captain each year from 2008-10, played for OP in fall 2011.
Electing to compete in club over high school is something athletes in sports like hockey and gymnastics have been doing for years.
Despite Liberty's strong season, Patriots coach Rick Collins believes the central Ohio playing field has been leveled by the switch of the 33 area players to Crew Academy.
"I think it's a big deal right now because it's new," he said. "If you talk to a lot of coaches, you'll get a few people with strong opinions and those who completely blame the Crew. I'm not ecstatic about the whole deal, but it's a U.S. Soccer decision. I don't think it's the end of high school soccer, but it balances the playing field. Like with Worthington Kilbourne, they lost Charlie Reymann who probably scored 50 percent of their goals last year. They'd be such a different team if they had him."
Electing to play for Crew Academy wasn't something Reymann anticipated until he saw more plusses than minuses.
"My brother (James) is a sophomore and my mom (Lynn) is the secretary for (Kilbourne's boys team)," he said. "I still have a lot of friends (on the team) and I feel bad because they're not doing as well as they did last year. They want me to play, but they understand it from my point of view. It's kind of selfish ... but it's a privilege to play for (Crew Academy) every day."