Sky's the limit for young Barons

Barons youth system helping players climb the ladder

There are two schools of thought when it comes to youth development within the sport of soccer in the United States. Some believe success is measured by the wins and losses of the teams within the club. Others believe it is the club’s ability to help players develop their skills to move up to the next level. The South Jersey Barons organization, fronted by the Ocean City Barons Premier Development League team, has managed to achieve both.

When the Barons take the field this season, fans can witness the effectiveness of the club’s youth system before their own eyes. The roster for the 2007 edition of the PDL squad features a number of players who have worked their way up the ladder. Co-captains Joe Banks and Ryan Heins are anchoring the defense, along with Jim Davis, Billy Pinto and recent U-20 call-up Hollis Irvine. The roster also features Ocean City High School’s Kyle Evans and mid-season addition Drew Von Bargen as well as the club’s backup goalkeeper Kyle Crego.

Some players are able to climb even higher and now earn a living playing the sport that they love. Long-time Baron Matt Maher is now playing professionally for the Carolina RailHawks of the USL First Division, and has been drafted by the New Jersey Ironmen of the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL). Heins has been drafted by the Philadelphia Kixx of the MISL, and is on the brink of a professional career in the outdoor game as well.

All of those players are at different points in their playing careers but they have a lot in common. They have developed their soccer skills while playing in the Barons organization, and have used those skills to earn themselves college scholarships, and in Maher’s case, a paycheck.

Drew Von Bargen is just beginning his journey. Entering his fourth year in the Barons’ youth system, Drew made his greatest impact in the Barons’ PDL match against the Delaware Dynasty on July 18. After coming into the game in the second half, Von Bargen was in the right place at the right time in the 77th minute when he cleared a ball off the line on a Delaware corner kick. The ball was destined for the back of the net, but Von Bargen’s clearance helped Ocean City hold the lead, which led to the club clinching a playoff spot.

Von Bargen spent the 2007 season with the Barons’ Super-20 team, and was called up to the PDL side for the club’s road trip to Northern Virginia on June 9. Drew would make his debut in the 75th minute of the club’s 4-0 win over the Royals that helped the Barons qualify for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. He would later make his first start for the team on July 20 at Reading.

"I found out that I was going to be able to get a chance to play for the PDL team through an email," said Von Bargen about his first call-up to the senior side. "I knew it was a great opportunity to play with one of the best PDL teams, and against some of the top collegiate players."

Von Bargen eventually chose Monmouth University and will begin his college career this Fall. He is leaning toward majoring in business, but like many college freshman is officially "undecided."

"If it wasn’t for the Barons organization, I wouldn’t have been able to improve as much as I have," he explained. "Through [the Barons] I also came into contact with my top two college choices."

One of Drew’s new teammates is Ryan Heins, who is in his fifth year with the Barons PDL squad. Heins was in Von Bargen’s position at his age. The Medford, NJ native began playing in the Barons’ youth system at the Under-16 level, and eventually earned himself a scholarship at Temple University and a regular place on the PDL team.

"I thought the Super Y-League was one of my best experiences at the Barons," said Heins, who is ranked second all-time in minutes played (4,682) in Barons history. "I got the opportunity to play against top-notch teams up and down the east coast. I was also named to the team of the week twice, which meant a lot to me because of the great competition within the league."

Heins was a four-year starter for the Owls and came back to play for the Barons every summer to help develop his skills. After a stellar career on North Broad Street, Heins is optimistic that he will remain with the Kixx, the MISL team that drafted him, and signing with an outdoor professional team only seems like a matter of time. However, this past Spring, he put his outdoor professional career on hold so that he could finish his degree at Temple, a difficult decision for most, but to Heins was a "no-brainer." Deciding to stick around gave him one more summer of PDL soccer in Ocean City. With his fifth PDL season drawing to a close, the team’s captain is fifth in goals scored (11), third in assists (12), and fifth in points (34) in Barons history.

"The Barons have run a professional organization that has been a good environment that prepares you for your future encounters,” said Heins. "The training sessions . . . involve intense competition and having to win your spot day in and day out."

One of Heins’ teammates, not only with the Barons, but at Temple University, was Matt Maher. Maher began at the Barons’ U-14 level and eventually signed his first pro contract with the Carolina RailHawks of the USL First Division. Like Heins, Maher, who hails from Cape May, NJ, was a four-year starter at Temple, and also delayed his pro career to finish his degree. After being drafted by Miami FC of the USL First Division, he elected to miss out on pre-season training to stay in Philadelphia to finish his studies.

As a Barons youngster, Maher took part in numerous tournaments against some of the top talent in the country. Among the highlights, Matt and his teammates took part in a tournament in Florida where they faced a team led by current U.S. National Team member Eddie Johnson, who was just a teenager at the time.

"To take your game to the next level, you must find the right club with the right coaches that will push you to be your very best," said Maher. "The Barons’ youth system helps you travel that path to become a better player."

After a successful club career, he went to college at Temple and returned to play for the Barons’ PDL squad during the summer months from 2004 until 2006. He was a key player for Ocean City during their unbeaten season in 2004 (four goals in 11 matches) and led the team to a playoff appearance in 2005.

Maher is currently teammates (and housemates) with his brother Anthony in Carolina where he is working hard to establish himself at the professional level.

"I have seen Matty play at every level," said a very proud Anthony Maher. "In high school where he tied my scoring record, in college where I saw him lead as a captain, and the PDL where I saw him compete with a new tenacity. And now, as a young, respectful professional that would make any brother proud."

Von Bargen is just one of the many young Barons with aspirations of taking their game to the next level. To have players like Maher and Heins to model himself after, he could be on a similar path.

"After seeing many Barons players move on to play professional soccer, I know that with hard work, the aspiration of turning pro is one that can be accomplished."