Forgive Mountain View High soccer coach Chris Rogers if he is less than devastated that the junior who would have been his top returning player for 2012, Logan Riemhofer, is not going to be in a Cougar uniform this fall.
Riemhofer, an all-Intermountain Conference first-team selection last season, is one of three Central Oregon boys soccer players selected to join the Portland Timbers Youth Academy. Riemhofer, Bend High’s Eli Kilmer and Redmond High’s Miguel Martin — three of the best players in the area — will play a 10-month, 35-game schedule for the Timbers’ under-16 team this season instead of suiting up for their respective high schools.
“For me it’s a no-brainer,” Rogers says about Riemhofer’s decision to give up his last two years of high school soccer to train and compete in a developmental program that is part of Portland’s Major League Soccer franchise.
“As bad as you want him to stay and play for you, (the academy) is so much more important a place to go for his development. I told him if I had that chance (in high school) I would have jumped at the opportunity,” he added.
In its first year, the Portland Timbers Youth Academy is set to have two teams — U16 and U18 — made up of the best players in the state. The Timbers’ youth squads will compete against other MLS academy teams in a season modeled on the top professional leagues in the world.
“This is the absolutely best thing for American soccer,” Rogers says. “We’re finally doing what the rest of the world has done for the past 50 years.”
The decision to join the Timbers program was an easy one for Riemhofer, even if it meant giving up a chance to help the Cougars win their third consecutive IMC title.
“It’s a big step up from some of the soccer I’ve played, and I want to be part of that,” says Riemhofer, who will be one of approximately 40 players on the two elite academy teams. “It’s always hard to lose the high school part (of playing soccer), but this is a really big opportunity. It was never really too hard of a decision.”
Popular with the players chosen for the program, the academy has drawn mixed reviews from high school coaches and athletic directors. A vocal group of coaches in the Portland area have decried the Timbers Academy as the end of high school soccer as we know it — “With the Timbers Academy, we’re seeing the birth of the zero-sport athlete,” Jesuit High athletic director Mike Hughes told the Portland Tribune — and even those who support the academy concept question what kind of toll traveling to Portland four days a week will have on young athletes, and the families of those young athletes, who don’t live nearby.
“There’s always a concern when you’re uprooting a kid,” says Bend High coach Nils Eriksson. “Eventually these (Central Oregon) kids are going to need to live in Portland. ... That happens in elite sports. The bottom line is it’s got to be great for the kid. It depends on each situation, but most of these (high-level soccer) kids are so into (the academy) it’ll be a great thing for them.”
Rogers acknowledges that his Mountain View team’s quest for another league title will undoubtably be tougher without its star midfielder. But he says a bigger picture must be taken into consideration.
“I want him to play for that team (the Timbers’ MLS club),” Rogers says. “I want to watch him play professionally and know I did everything I could to help him along the way.”