Sports Desk: Philosophies, personalities play into Mattituck soccer dispute

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | An unidentified Mattituck player (in blue uniform) chasing the ball during a game against Huntington in Laurel on Saturday.

I have to admit, part of me cringed when I first heard that there was a youth soccer battle going on in Mattituck. Youth sports, you see, can get nasty sometimes. Real nasty.

Sports in general provokes a great deal of passion. But when you include youngsters in the mix, that means parents are involved, and parents don’t always look at things in a cool, detached manner. When their children are involved, their emotions may get the better of them. Sometimes things get ugly.

I fear that is where things stand now in an ongoing feud between the Mattituck Soccer Club’s leadership and a group of nine dissident teams (including 140 players and 13 coaches) that have left the club in what amounts to a division over philosophical differences.

So, why can’t they play nice?

To simplify things, the dispute has been portrayed as a disagreement over the direction the club is headed, and how the decision was made to follow that course. The Mattituck Soccer Club has set up a system — similar to those employed by other clubs — which it believes will help players reach their full potential and play at the highest level possible.

That sounds commendable.

Not to the club’s critics, though, who claim that the club is catering to the elite players at the expense of the majority. For them, the club’s goal should be to make soccer a fun, enjoyable experience for all.

That also sounds commendable.

But the club’s decision to stage tryouts last spring (“player assessments” is another phrase that has been used), and enter into an arrangement with the Riverhead Soccer Club whereby the two clubs would share players, did not sit well with everyone. It meant that some Mattituck players would practice and play “home” games in Riverhead, and vice-versa.

So, nine teams pulled out of the club, leaving the Mattituck Soccer Club without a single girls travel team this spring for the first time in club history. Those nine teams ended up playing under the Sag Harbor Soccer Club’s banner. That means players from the North Fork have to take two ferry rides to East Hampton for “home” games.

It’s an unusual situation, to say the least.

All of this has been complicated by the growth of other sports on the North Fork. What was once soccer country may still be soccer country, but it has had to make room for other sports, such as baseball, softball, basketball and lacrosse. The Mattituck Soccer Club is feeling the pressure of finding players for various age groups, thus the cooperative relationship with Riverhead.

Both sides in this issue make good points. Interestingly, they both say their aim is to maximize the playing opportunities for players. Neither approach is in itself wrong.

Rob DiGregorio, a coach of the under-10 boys Storm and the under-11 girls Whitecaps who is among the dissident group, was right on the mark, I think, by the way he outlined the situation. “It’s not like their philosophy is wrong,” he said. “If your goal is to develop the best soccer players you can, that may be the best direction, but if you’re interested in another option, which is serve the community, generate the interest in soccer, mass participation, they’re going in the wrong direction.”

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between.

If nothing else, I think this situation shows that it is difficult for a small soccer club to be all things to all people. Decisions have to be made somewhere along the line, and when decisions are made, some people will inevitably be unhappy.

Personality clashes have complicated things, and perhaps stand as the biggest obstacle to any sort of accommodation. It sounds like the two sides don’t trust each other. We hear things have gotten nasty, which is too bad because there really shouldn’t be any need for nastiness or personal attacks. This should really just be a debate about philosophies. Reasonable people can disagree reasonably.

Angry disagreements and feuds of this sort are hardly unique to the Mattituck Soccer Club. These sort of splits occur in other organizations, in other sports.

Let’s hope that philosophical differences don’t mean irreconcilable differences. One would like to see an understanding reached by the two sides, but that may be a long shot right now. Rather than being the end of the story, what we are hearing now may just be the beginning. At least one other person agrees.

“Trust me, this is going to get nasty,” DiGregorio said. “It’s very inflammatory.”

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