Clubs' Aces Are Kings, Queens; Many of the Area's Top Soccer Players Honed Their Skills on the Club Level

By Johnson, David | The Florida Times Union, November 16, 2004 | Go to article overview

Clubs' Aces Are Kings, Queens; Many of the Area's Top Soccer Players Honed Their Skills on the Club Level


Johnson, David, The Florida Times Union


Byline: DAVID JOHNSON, The Times-Union

For younger kids, they're the high school soccer minor leagues.

As they grow older, club soccer becomes a lot more than that.

Jacksonville's club soccer teams -- intentionally or not -- are a mine for developing the area's youth into the high school standouts of tomorrow.

Mandarin girls soccer coach Jason Cooley looks with pride on his now all-grown-up under-9 team that he coached with the Jacksonville Youth Soccer Club until they were an under-14 squad.

Kevin Keitzer, Chris Merritt and Max Parrish play major roles for Mandarin. Playmakers Chase Decker and Georges Bahri are at Bolles. Anthony Inyang and Tony Taylor play for Bishop Kenny. Greg Rousis is at Stanton.

That's the short list from just one talented club team that has helped shape the area's current high school soccer landscape. And that's without mentioning Colleen Minta, the only girl on that team, who scored 21 goals for Kenny last season as a sophomore.

Cooley watched a recent scrimmage when he saw a few of his old JYS players in action, though on opposing sides of the ball.

"Tony Taylor scored a great goal against those guys [on Mandarin]," Cooley said. "In the second half, Anthony [Inyang] got the ball and played this great back heel [pass] to Tony [who scored], and Chris [Merritt] and the rest of them just had to tip their hat.

"The goal that was scored was somewhat indefensible."

Players from the First Coast Soccer Club have also played major roles on area teams. In fact, several who played under coach Mike Levine, now the Fletcher boys coach, are trying to make their marks on the college game.

Former Fletcher forward Jay Mainville is at the University of West Florida, while former Nease standout Nathan Sturgis has moved on to Clemson. Nease's Andy Bryant and Orange Park's Simon Enright are playing at the University of North Florida, while Orange Park's Brian Cocciolo is at Jacksonville University. The talent extends so far that Kyle Jackson also played for Levine's club team. That's the same Jackson who intercepted two passes Saturday while playing that other kind of football as a defensive back for the University of Florida.

Current area stars Gary Lewis of Orange Park and Ryan Billings of Kenny, played with that group the year after Levine left.

While JYS, First Coast Soccer and Clay County Soccer Club -- each with more than 1,200 players -- are often the first ones mentioned among the city's elite, JYS director of scouting John Duguid stressed that the area's soccer success stretches to all the club teams in the area.

"There's no one club that can say they have the market on the best players across the board. Clay County has an under-15 boys team that is very, very good -- good compared with the rest of the state," said the former Jacksonville Cyclones player. "The same could be said of our under-16 girls team. I hear that team is the talk of the state at that age level. There's some teams at the Kyx, the U13 boys, rumored to be strong squads. Jacksonville Jaguars' U18 boys are arguably the strongest in their age group in Northeast Florida."

Duguid said other teams also contribute significantly to the sport's local growth, including Ponte Vedra Athletic Association, Greater Arlington Soccer Club, Westside Soccer Club, Creek Athletic Association, Mayport Soccer Club and Genesis Soccer Club. …

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