Cameron Lindley is one of the most talented youth soccer players in America.
That truth has presented him with some wonderful opportunities, but also some tough choices for a 15-year old. His process of decision-making provides some insight on the very practical ramifications of the current elite youth soccer landscape, particularly as it pertains to the young men whose lives are most affected.
Lindley is a two-way midfielder from the Indianapolis area. At age 14 (he turned 15 in June) he was the youngest call-in to the U17 Men’s National Team residency program in Bradenton, FL last January, leaving home in the middle of his eighth grade year in school and quickly became a starting holding midfielder with Richie Williams’ team.
After the standout performance in the spring, he enjoyed a relatively brief summer break, interspersed with additional international travel with both the U17 and U15 national squads. He suffered a concussion on one of the trips and was also battling lower body injuries around the same time.
When August came and it was time to return to Bradenton for the fall semester, Lindley surprised his coaches and parents with some news.
He didn’t want to go back.
For a soccer fanatic, the idea may seem quite foreign, but in listening to his explanation, it seems much more understandable.
“I missed my friends. I missed my family. I felt like I wasn’t mature enough to be there,” he said. “I felt like I was missing the high school experience.”
The news was surprising in soccer circles, but Cameron and his parents, Gene and Tara Lindley, all said U17 head coach Richie Williams and U.S. Soccer Development Academy Director of Scouting Tony Lepore were both very understanding in their response when Cameron told them. Williams, speaking to TopDrawerSoccer.com last month, reiterated that he understood the complexity of the decision for a young man, and left open the possibility of a return for him in the future.
Tara Lindley said her son’s thought process over the past few months has had something to do with not wanting to miss out on experiences common to most of us.
“He was pretty homesick and he was enjoying being back with his friends in the summer,” she said. “From a school standpoint, remember he was an eighth grader when he got the invitation to residency. We got the call I think it was December 17, and he had to report January 3. He didn’t look too much to the future as to how school would be affected or not. There were a lot of unknowns about the high school, academically.
“Then you have to remember that they play soccer down there six days a week,” she continued. “That’s good for his development as a player, but on the mental side there’s no release from that as far as other activities go. I think he was a little burned out.”
After about two months of his freshman year in high school, Lindley has gotten a taste of the experience at Carmel High School, and that has helped him realize he does indeed want to go back to Bradenton if the opportunity presents itself.
“I know what it is like now. I know what to expect academically and socially,” he said. “I also know the soccer is so good there. I know I need to be there to be the best player I can be. We’re always together as a team. I like the coaches and coordinators. The coaches are really good at pulling you aside in practice and showing you things, pointing things out that will make you better. They make sure you have time to do your school work. We do video work 3 times a week and that is also very helpful.”
Tara Lindley has also seen her son’s thought process develop during his time back at home.
“It was never about the soccer. He always knew going forward that if he had the chance to go back, it would be the best thing for him with soccer,” she said. “He just wasn’t able to put out of his mind that he would be missing out on his freshman year of high school, missing out on friends and family. He couldn’t put that out of his mind and focus just on the soccer.
“For a while, he didn’t want to talk about it,” she continued, “but he knew he definitely needed to go back as far as soccer goes. He realizes Carmel High School is a tough school with a lot of demands, so he would know what to expect academically if he can go back and then come back after that. And some of those unknowns are gone now, like what Friday nights in high school are like. He knows that time with his friends during school isn’t like summer break where he can just hang out. His friends have schedules of their own to keep. He realizes it’s a tough sacrifice to go back to Bradenton, but in terms of soccer, it’s a good sacrifice.”
While his conflicted feeling over the decision not to return to Bradenton may have been a figurative pain in the butt, Lindley was also suffering from a literal one. Over the summer he began struggling with injuries related to Piriformis Syndrome, a condition akin to a pinched sciatic nerve which causes severe pain in the rear end and legs. After the condition hindered his performance at both U17 and U15 National Team camps, doctors advised Lindley to simply sit out for a few weeks.
He has just returned to playing with the Indiana Fire Academy U18 team in October. Last Saturday, playing 90 minutes in a 1-0 victory over St. Louis Scott Gallagher Metro, Lindley appeared to be back in fine form, serving as a hub in midfield with excellent technique. In the second half he was even more involved in the attack and showed some excellent ability to run with the ball and sustain possession despite heavy challenges. These attacking abilities may not have been on display as much given his holding role with the national team, but they provided a glimpse of just how complete a midfield player he can be (he also scored the winning goal on a penalty for good measure).
And it’s not just national and academy coaches who have noticed. In the summer of 2011, Lindley spent two weeks in Germany training with professional club SC Freiburg and has an open invitation to return. Lindley said he loved the training environment there and would like to become a professional player in Germany, although he’s also interested in attending college and playing soccer there.
For now, Lindley will keep working on returning to full fitness and form, as well as enjoying live in his community and with his family (his sister Cassidy is a very promising U13 player).
And if the call comes to return to the fold with the U17s, he’ll know what he’s missing and what he’s gaining.