Let's consider another axiom of how American soccer player development is "supposed to work."
If a kid is getting an education instead of playing soccer, it's a bad thing.
I'm sure some of you will reply, "That's not what I said."
Well, a lot of people know what you meant. (And in case you forgot, your tweets are public, and visible to anyone smart enough to find them.)
You aren't entirely wrong. You might not be entirely right, but you aren't entirely wrong. Plenty of eyebrows get raised these days when a MLS club's potential homegrown player signs a college commitment instead.
It happened just last week when Union academy forward Justin McMaster announced that he'll join Union academy defender Mark McKenzie at Wake Forest this coming fall.
The natural conclusion is that the kids aren't good enough to go pro as soon as they're done with high school - not even with Bethlehem Steel.
But if you step back for a moment, you might find a few ideas to consider.
One is that many top college programs now allow a player to leave for the pros early, then come back at any time in the future to finish a degree. Or they can finish it online.
Another is that Auston Trusty backed out of a commitment to the University of North Carolina to sign with the Union, and Derrick Jones did the same with the University of Rhode Island to join Bethlehem Steel.
The last one comes from scrolling through this meticulously-compiled list on BrotherlyGame.com of every college commitment made by a Union academy player on National Signing Day.
There are kids going from YSC Academy to Penn and Dartmouth.
Wait, what? Kids from the Union's high school are getting into Ivy League schools? Isn't this supposed to be a soccer factory whose sole focus is developing national team-caliber players who will finally win a MLS Cup for the Union after all these years of empty promises that were never fulfilled? It's supposed to be about high-level soccer, not high-level education. What are they trying to -
Okay, calm down. I get that you're frustrated, but here's no need to go crazy about MLS minutiae in February.
(At least not for you. I might be a different story, judging by how much I'm writing this week.)
What is fair is asking for a precise definition of the Union's high school mission.
Officially, it's to find the truly elite players who will make it as pros. But there's also a clear sense of responsibility for those who don't.
"We have to create every pathway," Union academy chief Richie Graham said. "If we have healthy, vibrant competition and training platforms, kids can come in and develop in their own way, and we increase the total size of the pool of players that are getting developed, and in the end, that increases, in my view, our probability of producing top level players out of this country."
Even those who dislike college soccer would probably agree with Graham's goal of increasing the size of the player pool.
Consider this, too: Every once in a while, the kid who has to make the decision is yours, not someone else's. For as much as Jurgen Klinsmann bashed college soccer during his time with the U.S. national team, he encouraged his son Jonathan to go to the University of California-Berkeley instead of turning pro after high school.
Graham is convinced that the system can sustain multiple tracks.
"Pursuing the profession of soccer [at high school age] is a career choice," he said. "There will be others that I think will come into the pro game through a college route, and I think both pathways need to exist."
The person tasked with charting the high school's course is head of school Dr. Nooha Ahmed-Lee. She took the job when the school launched and has been there every step of the way to date.
Before coming to YSC, Ahmed-Lee was the head of the Shipley School's lower and middle schools. Previous stops include the Philadelphia School, Chestnut Hill Academy. and Penn Charter.
Her résumé does not, however, include any exposure to soccer. At all.
This made for quite the change of pace in her new job.
"My lens when I first got here was to create a high-college-prep, rigorous academic program for students," Ahmed-Lee said. "I was confident, I was comfortable, I knew that piece of it. I didn't realize how much soccer needed to be part of that, and should be part of that, and was an asset to be part of that."
So she dove into learning about the game. Not just the cultural connections and tactical analysis that the public focuses on, but how soccer players are wired psychologically. That was the part of soccer she knew she needed to understand in order for the education side of things to be effective.
Along the way, Ahmed-Lee found something that seemed familiar.
"Soccer at the highest level for elite kids is all about decision-making and creativity and synthesis and analysis, and that's what the highest-level teaching is - it's not about recall and listening to the coach and the teacher and getting the basic information," she said. "It's higher-level thinking. So to be able to intersect those two pieces is a really cool, amazing thing to do, which I hadn't been challenged to do in the past."
Now consider this from the other side of the equation. While Ahmed-Lee comes to soccer from academics, most of the rest of us come to academics from soccer. And on this path, there's something that I suspect would seem familiar to the soccer crowd:
The high school trusts the kids.
Of course, it helps that the classes are small - the school has just 73 students from grades 8 through 12 - and there's every technological bell and whistle you could imagine. But the school's trust in the kids to be able to take control of their lives and destinies is a central premise of the place.
As it is in much of global soccer.
Here's how Ahmed-Lee put it:
It is kids who already have a passion for what they're doing, so they have drive. They have the ability to be able to have and set a goal.
Transferring that to academics - where we trust the kids that they have a brain that is operational, that they have teachers that are giving them the time, they have resources available, they have a small class size - you can't have somebody who is not going to transfer those skills. You can't have somebody who is going to play down. And when kids are faced with those kinds of environmental conditions, they really go higher up.
I would say we're developing individuals. We are developing individuals who are elite soccer players and will graduate and will, in the future, have an elite ability to be able to learn. Because when you have an elite ability to be able to learn, you know how you learn, and you can leverage how you learn, and you can advocate.
There is also an insistence that school learning doesn't just take place in classrooms. Online-based education is a key part of the curriculum, and it has to be. Not just because it helps kids learn in different ways, but because there's a practical need for it when top academy prospects train with the Union, Bethlehem Steel, or the national team.
"They need to be able to be self-reliant, self-directed learners," Ahmed-Lee said. "These kids are getting, in my mind, a better education that is preparing them for lifelong learning than the structures that I've been faced with in schools. … You have to be able to know as an educator when you leverage face-to-face and when you leverage a computer."
For as much as Ahmed-Lee deals in high-end educational theory, that part of it can be explained in plain English.
In the end, Ahmed-Lee admitted, the Union's high school is "a college prep place." But it is so much more than that, as it has to be. And for someone who knew nothing about the sport before coming to YSC, Ahmed-Lee certainly seems to get it now.
"It's been a privilege to make those connections [between soccer thinking and classroom thinking]," she said. "It would be a mistake to not connect and leverage these. … I spend time at the stadium, I see our kids training down there. And I always say that I'll never stand in the way of our students to have an opportunity to play at their highest level, just like academics."
The Twitter handle above is for my general news reporting. My soccer handle is @thegoalkeeper. Contact me there for any questions about this post.