With the conclusion of high school play, club soccer players may now rejoin the teams they play with the rest of the year.
Soccer clubs offer kids higher level competition than regular recreation soccer and expose players to different types of tournaments and travel. The club teams are an extension of the Utah Youth Soccer Association.
Clubs usually have different competitive level teams within age groups from under-5 to under-18, with premier being the top level. Athletes are allowed to play with whichever team they make, without exceeding the age maximum.
Some players, like Mike Nielsen of Brighton High, play an age group higher to better hone their skills against more competitive players. Although Nielsen is just 15, he competes with InterFC's under-17 and under-18 teams and says the extra difficulty is, after all, what started him on club soccer in the first place.
"I like a challenge," Nielsen said.
Starting club play as a young age also lets players adapt to each other and find camaraderie over the many years they may spend together.
"In high school, you get a new team every year. You come together and you have to get playing together and you only have so long to do it," Ryan Ulanch said, "We have more time to get used to playing with each other (in clubs)."
Within UYSA, six northern Utah counties are split into seven geographic groups and more than 20 clubs. Because competition is age-based, rather than geography based like high school soccer is, teams are comprised of players regardless school boundaries.
That system allows clubs to gather the best they can find, said Ulanch, another Brighton and InterFC player. Ulanch says some of the players on his team travel from Logan and Orem to play with the Sandy-based group, taking his club to a "higher level".
The travel between cities seems minor when compared to the globe-trotting many of the premier soccer teams do. While most tournaments are in the United States, many teams have visited Europe and Central America on occasion to compete where the world's most popular sport thrives.
"It's just really opened me up," Ulanch said, "It gives you an idea of where you are and how well you play against other people out there."
While the travel is fun, probably the biggest advantage and lure for young players is the opportunities club soccer may present them. The Olympic Development Program, considered one of the elite development and competition programs in the nation, pulls most of its players from the UYSA clubs.
Between clubs and ODP, players have advanced to regional and national teams and even, on occasion, professional careers. Joey Worthen, a current Real Salt Lake player, honed his skills in the 1990's as a member of the Sparta United club.
"It funnels these kids who are really top-notch players who can get nationally ranked and play for the ODP and play at the national level," InterFC president Alan Mendel said, "That's what's really important, giving these kids an opportunity to play a high-level sport and allow these kids to progress to the level they can."
On the Ball
Club soccer offers different levels of competitive difficulty, with premier being the highest.
Many high school players compete on premier teams and can rejoin them when the high school season is done.