Last year when Bowie High School soccer coach Lou Reck instituted an 11-man platoon system for his team, many area coaches were outraged. They charged that platooning wasn't "real soccer," that it was breaking with tradition. Others felt that it was merely an aberration that would quietly disappear by the end of the season. But when Bowie won the Class AA state championship, other coaches decided to give the controversial system a look.

In Reck's system, two squads of 11 players, including the goaltenders, were shuffled in at 10-minute intervals. Reck claimed it gave everyone a chance to play. Detractors said it tore at the very fiber of the game.

American University Coach Pete Mehlert calls the platoon system "rubbish," saying it doesn't work at the higher level and, more importantly, he doesn't believe it's part of the game.

"The {international} game allows a team to play 13 players with two substitutions," he said. "Once a starter leaves the game he cannot return. It is a very practical game. It is a game of endurance. The 11 who start are expected to finish."

Mehlert is also from the old school that believes scholastic soccer is the place to teach U.S. players the game so they can be prepared for international competition. If players aren't versed in international play early on, he wonders, how can the United States compete on World Cup level?

Reck counters that at the high school level, the "kids are still here for school and hopefully soccer is second." He strongly defends the platoon system, stating, "You get to play everybody on the team, which is important. Consequently, practices are better and there is more unity on the team."

Kennedy Coach Jeff Shultz was one of the biggest opponents to the platoon system. His team lost to Bowie in the state semifinals last year, 2-1. "It's not traditional soccer. And I've always been a traditionalist," Shultz said at the time.

But this year, Shultz employed a semiplatoon system. Instead of substituting an entire team, he changes five men every 10 minutes.

"I felt that when Bowie scored their second goal on us last year, the platoon system really was to their advantage because we were tired and they had a lot of energy left," he said.

"So far this year, it has worked. The bench players feel they have a role. They are more involved in the game and that makes for a much better team attitude and team cohesiveness."

The system still is working better for Bowie than Kennedy. The Cavaliers finished as runner-up for the Class AA Region II title. The champion, Bethesda-Chevy Chase, plays Bowie, the Region III winner, Monday at 5 in the AA state semifinals at Arundel.

"I've come to the conclusion being a realist as well as a traditionalist," said Schultz, "that I've got to do what the rules allow me to do to play effective soccer. And therefore I feel our game is traditional.

"But we are using the American rules to our advantage. If we want our kids to become World Cup competitors, we're doing our kids a great disservice by not allowing them to play 90-minute spurts. But if we want the sport to grow, we've got to make changes."

Some critics argued that 10 minutes wasn't enough time for a player to become involved in the game and develop a continuity. "If you're going to use that type of system," said Baltimore Blast Coach Kenny Cooper, "at least allow 20 minutes so a player can begin to feel a rhythm."

Aside from platooning, there are differences of opinion on other rules of soccer. "People are frustrated by soccer," said Cooper. "People want to see goals, they want to be entertained. "

Said Schultz: "Recently we played Walter Johnson to a 0-0 tie. And it was a great game but it was still 0-0. You want the tie to end, but not on penalty kicks because that isn't just. In Europe, they replay the game; that isn't realistic for high schools. There's a problem, but I don't know what to do about it."

There is widespread debate in coaching circles about how to improve the game. Last month, questionnaires were sent out by the NCAA men's soccer committee to college coaches concerning a number of issues including substitutions and widening the size of the goal. Their answers will be published in December.

At the collegiate level, two successful teams, top-ranked Indiana and 17th-ranked Connecticut, both employ a liberal substitution system, very similar to platooning. Like Schultz at Kennedy, those teams also send in four or five reserves at a time during the game. Indiana won back-to-back championships in the early 1980s utilizing the liberal substitution system.

Bill Coulthart, the coach at Jacksonville and president of the Intercollegiate Soccer Athletic Association, said the issue of platooning has been in discussion at the collegiate level for the past 7 to 10 years.

"Most coaches now are pushing for limited substitutions," he said. "Part of the reason is the growth of the national teams, which only allows two substitutions. We have got to teach our players to be able to develop some type of tempo through 90 minutes of play.

"It seems we are trying to artificially make a game that is already exciting to those who understand it, exciting to those who don't."