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Fullerton Rangers’ Jimmy Obleda calls out poaching: “Big academy clubs fish by net”

Shortly before his Under-15 season with Southern California youth powerhouse Fullerton Rangers, Adrian Vera told coach and club director Jimmy Obleda that he was leaving for the LA Galaxy Academy.

“At that point, the Galaxy had already taken three or four of those kids from that [’96] team,” Obleda told SoccerWire. “So [Vera’s father] just says, ‘Hey, we’re leaving.’ And he says, ‘Thank you and we’re going to go.’ At that point, what do you do? It’s kind of like you’re out of luck with that.”

Obleda had little recourse but to let Vera walk. For nothing.

+READ: Solidarity payments: The missing piece in U.S. youth soccer’s development puzzle?

Late last month, the LA Galaxy signed Vera and goalkeeper Bennett Sneddon to its third-division farm team, LA Galaxy II.

“These signings are another testament to the quality of players that the LA Galaxy Academy consistently produces,” said Galaxy technical director Jovan Kirovski in a club statement.

But in the case of a player like Vera, who was recruited away from Rangers after joining the club at the U-12 level, the question of who is actually responsible for his professional development now lies at the heart of the conflict over training compensation that Redmond, Washington youth club Crossfire Premier has taken all the way to FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber.

“Just because you have them one year in your academy does not mean that you developed them.”

In its dispute with U.S. Soccer over the current system and the issue of training compensation, Crossfire is not alone.

“I can tell you, our club, for the number of players that have gone on to play at the professional level, with the money we would make from those players getting compensated back, we would be able to fund some other programs we want to make,” explained Obleda.

“We would be able to throw it back straight into our program and investment more in the development of our younger kids.”

This is a problem that plagues every youth club in America – from MLS academies with massive financial backing to volunteer recreational clubs – and one that the U.S. Soccer Federation has done little to remedy.

Last year, young Mexican-American defender Edwin Lara transferred first from Bay Area club DeAnza Force to the San Jose Earthquakes before leaving the country entirely for Liga MX club Pachuca. Neither the Force nor the Earthquakes received compensation for the money they invested in Lara’s development.

“Just because you have them one year in your academy does not mean that you developed them,” said Obleda. “We’ve had players from U-9 to U-17 in our academy, in our program, you take them for one year and now you’re getting all the money for their development by selling them to England or France or Germany. That’s not right.”

Obleda believes that this player poaching, which has become so persistent both in the U.S. and in Mexico, will only stop when it becomes financially untenable for most clubs to do so.

“These big academy clubs fish by net,” noted Obleda. “They just put a big net out there and they take every and any kid. So if he’s ready or not ready, they’re taking him.

“Now, if [the system] changes, they’re going to be more selective … they’ll say: is this kid worth that investment? Is he ready? Are we going to invest?”

Critics of changing the status quo, in which youth clubs do not receive training compensation or solidarity payments after the transfer of one of their players, often point to the existence of pay-to-play to explain why the U.S. does not follow by FIFA’s rules.

+READ: Will U.S. Soccer find opportunity in Yedlin training compensation crisis?

“American youth clubs are right to feel short-changed because they’re not compensated for players who end up generating cash for the pro club,” wrote SoccerAmerica’s Mike Woitalla. “But they only have a legitimate beef if those players weren’t paying to play at their clubs.”

Not so, argues Obleda.

“To say that, ‘Well, they’ve already been compensated,’ well no, we haven’t,” he said. “Because although they may have paid the club fees to play the season, they haven’t paid the light fees and the field fees and even the effort [from the coaches]. There has to be something for the time and effort that you put into it.”

What’s more, Obleda believes that the much-maligned pay-to-play model in fact offers a major incentive to the average player: sacrifice.

“What motivates players in [other parts of the world] is their hunger to survive. Their hunger to get out of their poverty. Their social economic shortcomings, right? That’s their motivation. That is their drive. That is what keeps them having to survive and play soccer to make enough money to save the family. In this country, who has to suffer? Who suffers? Who says, ‘I have to train because I have to make it. I have to make it for my family. And if I don’t make it, my family’s not going to eat?’”

Fullerton Rangers logo“Listen, in this country [pay-to-play] serves a place because that’s where you get the true sacrifices of parents who say, ‘Look, I’m paying a lot of money for this, you better make it happen.’”

In the last ten years, Obleda’s predominantly Latino Fullerton Rangers teams have won multiple national championships, sent nearly 100 percent of their players on to the college and professional level, and sent the first American player to the prestigious Nike Academy in England.

“Obviously, we did something right, the Rangers, in developing [Vera] into what he is right now and what he is today, that his parents have brought his younger brother to play for us.”

Actions, as they say, speak louder than words.

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