In 1992, if Erik Imler is playing for the United States at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, the agonizing decision he made recently won't be cause for remorse.
Would he play for his club team, Bethesda Alliance, which is preparing for Friday's under-19 national semifinal match against San Francisco United? Or would he chase the amateur athlete's dream and accept an invitation to train with the U.S. Olympic squad?
Imler, a former all-American at Bowie High School, chose the Alliance. Now, as the U.S. National Youth Championships open today at Woodbridge High School, Imler wonders if he will get another chance.
"Just the opportunity to play for the Olympic team is exciting. I would have liked to stay," he said. "It was an opportunity I didn't want to pass up. I felt if I left I wouldn't come back. There wasn't much I could do."
Imler, who played on the NCAA co-champions at the University of Virginia, played for the East team at the U.S. Olympic Festival in Minneapolis. He made an impression on Olympic Coach Lothar Osiander and was one of 18 selections to the under-23 team.
"I was caught in the middle," Imler said. "I didn't want to miss my chance with the Olympic team, but we have come so far on this team. I couldn't leave now."
He wanted to work out with the under-23 team last week, play against the Canadian national team last night in Minneapolis and then return home for the youth championships. But the U.S. coaching staff wanted him to stay with the team the entire two weeks and play in Saturday's rematch against the Canadians in Winnipeg, forcing Imler to make a decision.
"Hopefully I will get another chance," he said. "They've expressed interest and I just hope they don't write me off. Hopefully, I'll have the chance to show them again and earn that right to go back."
There's another player involved in the national championships who was invited to the under-23 team: Manuel Lagos from the Minnesota Blackhawks, who play the Chapel Hill-Durham (N.C.) Strikers in Friday's second under-19 semifinal. He went with the national squad but is expected to play here.
"I feel bad for Erik," said Jerry May, one of the Alliance's coaches. "I don't know anyone who's better for a team. When he comes off the field, he has given it all. There's not many national players like that."
Imler is a combination of speed and composure on the back line as a sweeper for the Alliance.
With a year until the start of qualifying matches and two years until the Olympics, Imler probably will get another look.
"It was tough for me to leave, but the important thing to remember is nothing's permanent with the national teams," he said. "Players come and go. This is the highest level of youth soccer and this was the reason we brought this team together. For me, it's another chance at a national championship."