At age 22, Kip Germain -- one of Northern Virginia's best and brightest soccer players -- was drafted by the Washington Diplomats. He went to a soccer school in Britain and spent four months playing with semipro players whose skills were superior to his own.
Now, two years later, Kip Germain is finished as a soccer player.
"He improved a lot. The problem was at age 23 it was too little, too late," said his father, Everett Germain. "He came back, the team (the then-Diplomats) folded, he went to Atlanta and because of his education, Ted Turner gave him a job."
If Kip Germain, who played at Stuart High School, had not graduated from William and Mary, "They wouldn't have looked cross-eyed at him," his father said.
What's wrong with American soccer? Everett Germain, for one, says the coaching. American yourths reach adulthood without learning the fundamentals of the game, then struggle to compete with foreign players in the North American Soccer League. Kip Germain's experience is being bitterly replayed across the nation, the soccer experts contend.
Everett Germain has proposed a solution: the Annandale Soccer Aprenticeship Program.
In many U.S. high schools and colleges, soccer programs are run by untrained, inexperienced coaches, said Germain, who directs the Annandale Boys Club. Although a few youths reach the professional ranks, they still lack the competitive experience of their European counterparts; George Best of Northern Ireland, for example, was a pro at age 15 and Pele of Brazil was a World Cup star at 17.
Germain's program proposes to provide both quality soccer training and a junior college education to area athletes. His goal is to develop American athletes who can compete in the NASL and break the dominance of foreign players. Until this happens, he says, NASL attendances will remain poor.
Although NASL rules require more North American players on team rosters every year, often those players are little more than statistical additions. Teams now are required to have three North Americans, including Canadians, on the field. The figure may double in a decade.
Thus the task facing the NASL is to upgrade the caliber of its North American talent. Germain feels his program can help by cultivating the soccer talent in this area.
In South America and Europe, soccer players generally are drawn from the working class. Young players interested in becoming professionals sign on as apprentices with a club by their midteens, often attending trade schools when not receiving instruction fromtheir teams. Players of promise usually have graduated to the professional ranks by 18 or 19.
Germain said his study of the sport ha shown that American teams can compete with Europeans favorably through age 14. The Europeans pull away after that.
To become competitive with the Europeans, Americn soccer must evolve as as game of the working people, supporters of the sport feel. Professional training must begin at an earlier age, then continue.
A tentative outline of Everett Germain's program includes four hours of academic study and three hours of soccer instruction daily, plus a weekly scrimmage. Already, 32 (the goal is 40) games have been scheduled between the program's team and various schools this year. On Aug. 9, apprentices will attend a week-long coaches seminar at Bethany College.
Apprentices will study college courses leading to a two-year associate degree at Northern Virginia Community College. Community tutors have volunteered to coach the youths nightly and provide seminars on character development.
Total program costs are estimated at $384 a year for college tuition and $66 for the soccer program, including coaches, training, games, referees, uniforms and transportation, Germain said. He is seeking community sponsorship, but the Annandale Boys Club will bear the brunt of the expenses.
Peter Mehlert, soccer coach at American University, has reservations about the Annandale concept, although he acknowledges that the program could benefit "late bloomers" and produce capable players.
"However," Mehlert said, "until every city and town has such a program, it is not going to work because the best kids and soccer players are not in his program."
In Europe and South America, soccer is a recreational escape for the poor; in this country, it is an upperclass status symbol, Mehlert said. These upper-class players, he said, do not pursue the game as a career, but rather seek more prestigious, academic-oriented careers.
Germain's program pledges to supply the best of both worlds, to develop "the total" player athletically and academically.
Only high school graduates who are academically bright, or those who haven't found themselves, will qualify for the program, Germain said.
"The community college is perfect. Rather than have them go off to school and drop out, they can find themselves locally and then they can turn to the four-year colleges."
Training will simulate that offered by the British schools in Southampton or Liverpool -- "which are your Cadillac areas" -- and focus on fundamentals such as dribbling, playing the field, heading and passing.
"There are a lot of parents who are leery of the program because it's not a conventional education program," he admitted. "We realize in America we can't sacrifice the academics."
Critics of the program claim it does just that, misleading the apprentices into thinking they will automatically be able to transfer to a four-year school.
James Hipp, assistant admissions officer at Northern Virginia Community College, said none of the youths has been interviewed or tested to determine his academic capabilities.
"It does not sound feasible," said Ralph Chapman, soccer coach at Jefferson High School. "United States soccer will progress on its own. What's the big rush? We have enough elite now. . . I can't see encouraging kids and trying to build up their hops maybe for nothing."
In August, 10 youngsters selected froma field of 30 will begin the pilot project. Mark Krysinski, a 1980 graduate of Falls Church High School, is one of the chosen.
His mother Elaine said her son graduated from high school with honors but has few goals beyond playing soccer and learning auto mechanics.
"Soccer is his life," she said."He's a determined king of guy and he plays his heart out."
John Ellis, a staff coach with the English Football Association and former head coach of England's youth team, will head the program. He will be assisted by Scotty Bird, a former player in Scotland.
Peter Johnson, a NASL referee and coach of the Annandale Boys Club's Rovers team, the Virginia state 19-and-under club champions, says he supports the program for its diversity. Often, high school and college coaches are concerned more with winning games than developing players, said Johnson, also the coach at Ireton High School.
"This scheme is the best thing that has happened," said Coach Ken Furphy of the present Washington Diplomats. "We're going to look keenly at those players." And the Diplomat reserve team will play against them, he said.
Germain's dream is to see an all-American NASL team. Gordon Bradley, a former Diplomat coach and NASL player, has similar goals.
"Most countries have a rule that eight or nine players must be from the native country," Bradley said. "That is the goal the NASL should have."
Germain said he hopes his program will prove that "it will be economically viable for the NASL to start considering apprenticeship programs and the NASL will finance it."
But for now the cash-poor NASL is unable to finance such an effort, Johnson said. "They're tied down by the lack of moneyand league rules."
Youths who try out for a pro team more than two days lose their amateur status and are ineligible to play college soccer. Johnson explained. Amateur players can compete against professionals but not with them. "If they take a kid, work with him a year and he doesn't make it he can't play in college," Johnson said. "But if he washes out of our program he can."
Kep Sweeney, one of the participants in Germain's program, is glad for the chance. Sweeney, 17, a graduate of Washington-Lee High School, was accepted by Boston University before he learned about Germain's project. w
"I've given soccer my whole life during the past five years . . . my dream is to be a pro.You can get an education and play pro soccer and I intend to do that," Sweeney said.
"I could take a safer route . . . but I don't want to look back and say I wish I had, or what could have been."