Academy Soccer: A Tough Choice

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By WSIL Sports

MT. VERNON -- Watching Mt. Vernon soccer games from the sideline is something Joel Duncan is still getting used to.

The senior passed on playing for the Rams this season, opting to suit up for St. Louis Scott Gallagher instead, a United States Developmental Academy team out of Collinsville.

"I can't even explain how much I miss playing with the guys," Duncan said.

Instead of spending time on a bus with his high school team, Duncan is riding with his parents to the Metro East three days a week to practice. His team plays games every other weekend, traveling across the midwest to places such as Kansas City, Detroit, and Chicago.

"I'm in the car more than I am at home, I feel like," he said. "It's made me grow up a lot, given me a lot more responsibility in my life."

Duncan was recruited to try out for the Academy this summer. He found out he made the team just a few days before Mt. Vernon's tryouts. Telling the Rams he wasn't going to be there was tough.

"I looked up and saw their faces and I burst into tears," the 17-year old said. "I couldn't hold it anymore. It was very emotional."

His teammates took the news hard.

"Stunned," Mt. Vernon senior defender Braydon Riley said. "Really stunned at first but then I started to feel happy for him."

The Rams have certainly missed Duncan. Last season, Joel broke Mt. Vernon's single season record for goals with 32. This year, the team has struggled to find a new identity.

"It's hurt us in scoring opportunities," Mt. Vernon senior forward Zachary Swinnen said. "He was definitely our main scorer last year and it was easy to give him the ball and let him do the rest of the work."

But leaving the Rams has its advantages. St. Louis Scott Gallagher has a 100 percent scholarship rate. Every player in the team's history has moved on to play at the next level. It's something that attracted the Duncan's from the start.

"It was a hard decision but it was the right decision to come and play academy soccer," Joel's father, Jim said. "Since he's been here with the academy, the exposure he's had to college coaches has gone up."

Joel has full support from his parents, who have made considerable sacrifices both financially and with their time. But they say it's all worth it.

"This level of soccer here is providing him opportunities, opening doors for him," added Jim.

"I never thought I'd play at this kind of level as a senior in high school," said Joel. "I feel like I'm playing a bunch of college guys."

Duncan has received interest from more than 50 schools. He's in the process of narrowing that list down to 20 and hopes to make a decision on where to play in college in the next few months.
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