Local soccer coach Troy Dayak is taking a new direction in the development of young athletes as they aim for the top levels of the sport, but his plans to showcase teams and players locally have hit a snag because of COVID-19.
Dayak has aligned West Coast Soccer, the club he founded in 2011 to promote competitive play and prepare players for college recruitment, with the new Girls Academy, which started up in the spring across the U.S.
He organized a tournament in Tracy for the end of September, but continued restrictions on youth sports gatherings in San Joaquin County will likely force cancellation of those plans and force Dayak to opt for a backup plan of holding the tournament in Utah.
The U.S. Soccer Development Academy and Elite Clubs National League had been among the organizations active in developing college-bound players, but did not appear to be the best options for West Coast Soccer after U.S. Soccer dropped its Development Academy back in April.
It was time to take a step forward on the national scene, Dayak said, noting that West Coast Soccer teams already have a strong presence Nor Cal Premiere Soccer leagues and tournaments.
“We were No. 1 through Nor Cal for players going off to college on scholarships, we’re No. 1 in the past six years in putting players in college, and we’ve dominated against ECNL and DA teams,” Dayak said.
With the loss of U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy, Dayak noted that Girls Academy quickly emerged to create a new nationwide venue for the sport. Officials from the new organization recently contacted him.
“It was quite an honor for us, because the foundation of what we built the club on was at that moment recognized not by an application that we put in, but by our peers,” he said.
He soon took a position as a director for the 12-team Northwest Conference, including teams in Northern California and Washington. Two of his players, Taryn Richey of Brentwood and Anaya Shelton of Merced, were also selected as club representatives.
In his role as a director, Dayak was also tapped to organize tournaments, especially the showcase tournament where college-bound players can show their skills to scouts and recruiters. He set out to create Girls Academy’s first Northern California college showcase tournament on Sept. 26 and 27, with Legacy Fields as the host site.
“I felt like a good spot for me to help and give back was to be a part of the showcase format, since we have established a really good rapport with college coaches, and helping players from our club get to the next level. I felt a showcase position is what I would be best suited for to grow the sport,” Dayak said.
He said he had about 50 teams lined up to participate in a socially distanced format, with no spectators allowed on the field — though Legacy Fields is set up so that people can watch the action on the fields from their cars. Dayak also arranged for a video producer to livestream and record all the games.
That preparation might not be enough. County guidelines that prohibit youth sporting events while San Joaquin County is still in the “widespread” tier, the most extreme restriction under the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan, show no signs of lifting.
Tracy Parks and Recreation Director Brian MacDonald confirmed last week that city parks, including Legacy Fields, will remain closed to youth sports tournaments until the state and county relax their COVID-19 restrictions.
“There’s a lot that has to change. I don’t have the authority to authorize something like this,” MacDonald said. “I can’t do anything unless the county health department gives the direct OK to do it.”
Dayak said he is still trying to convince county and state officials that youth sports — with sanitation of equipment, health checks for players and social distancing requirements for spectators — would not be a hotspot for COVID-19 transmission.
To that end, Girls Academy surveyed its 12 teams in the Northwest Conference, where 6,263 girls engaged in 10,660 practice sessions over a 10-week period. The group’s report notes that six of those players tested positive for the coronavirus, and they were found to have contracted the virus somewhere other than their practices.
“Nothing was spread to the team or club in any of those practices,” Dayak said. “We’re going to keep doing our part and leading the charge to get back to playing. We wanted to do a tournament here that was going to be a perfect environment for safety.”
His backup plan was to reserve 10 fields at the Regional Athletic Complex in Salt Lake City, Utah. He’s already arranged for that contingency, and as of Thursday morning, Dayak confirmed that the September tournament at Legacy Fields had been postponed until the end of October and Girls Academy would opt for the Utah tournament, to be held Oct. 10 and 11.
“When they keep pushing it back and not giving us real hardline answers on when we can start playing, we have to do something,” he said. “Somebody’s got to be an advocate for getting back to play. That’s where I’m at right now.
“We’re not asking to be irresponsible and have parents on the sideline running up and down the field shouting. We’re looking at doing an event for the kids where they can come and they can go without massive amounts of gathering and contact. There hasn’t been anything that shows that kids are spreading this disease through activities.”