Playing for Republic FC in an offseason exhibition against the USL rival LA Galaxy II in Bakersfield last November was an eye opener for high school senior David Burns.
The match, which Republic FC lost 5-1, was part of a doubleheader with Mexican Liga MX teams Toluca and Queretara and produced a crowd of nearly 12,000 at Bakersfield College.
“It definitely ensured my thoughts of wanting to go pro,” said Burns, an 18-year-old defender from El Dorado Hills. “The atmosphere was amazing. I’ve never played in front of that many people. The atmosphere in the locker room was completely different than anything I’ve experienced.”
Burns has been on course for professional soccer since his early teens. He chose to be homeschooled and attend a small El Dorado County charter school so he could focus more on training.
He has played five years in the United States Soccer Federation’s academy system – the nation’s highest youth level – and is one of the leaders of Republic FC’s inaugural 17-18 academy team.
Burns aspires to play in Major League Soccer, preferably in Sacramento if and when it moves to the top league in North America.
Last month, the 6-foot-2 central defender participated in the U.S. national men’s team under-20 training camp in Florida that included six MLS players.
“To play for the national team is the ultimate goal as a player,” Burns said. “There’s nothing like playing for your county.”
But on national signing day Wednesday, Burns won’t be signing a pro contract. Instead, he will sign a scholarship offer from Cal. Burns is one of seven Republic FC academy players expected to sign Wednesday.
For all the potential options, Burns feels college may be his best avenue to develop his game and achieve his goal while protecting his future.
“It’s the safer road,” Burns said. “With a college education, there’s always a backup plan. If you go pro straight from here and you get a career-ending injury, you never know what happens. It’s a risk I don’t think is worth it right now. With college, you can still get better, and you can still go pro afterwards.”
Burns knows all about injuries. He has suffered several, including breaking his feet. His right foot is currently in a walking boot after he tore an ankle ligament while training with the U-20 national team.
Cal is offering a pretty good deal. Burns said he is getting a full ride, huge because four years at Cal costs more than $112,000 for an in-state resident.
He will play for coach Kevin Grimes, who has built a reputation for sending center backs to MLS, and compete in the Pacific-12 Conference, led by reigning national champion Stanford.
Among Burns’ teammates at Cal will be Jonathan Klinsmann, a freshman goalkeeper. The son of U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann also is in the U-20 national team pool with Burns.
Still, Burns might play professionally sooner rather than later.
Republic FC could make him an offer before he enrolls at Cal. Or he could play a season or two at Cal and then depart as an MLS adidas Generation or Homegrown Player.
Wake Forest freshman midfielder Jack Harrison was taken No. 1 in this year’s MLS draft by the Chicago Fire, which traded him to New York City FC. Two years ago, former Granite Bay High School star Tommy Thompson signed with the San Jose Earthquakes as a Homegrown Player after one season at Indiana.
While Republic FC’s long-term goal is to develop academy players for its USL club, academy director Rod Underwood said there is no timetable for signing players to pro contracts directly from the academy, which will expand from three to six teams next season.
“Right now we’re sticking to the plan of providing top-level training, developing good people, having our players seen by national team coaches and helping them get into college,” Underwood said. “The pinnacle for us eventually will be getting players signed from within our system so they can have a long-term impact in the club, both on and off the field.”
- Republic FC academy players expected to sign soccer scholarships Wednesday:
- David Burns, Charter University Prep-El Dorado, Cal
- Sam Dadzie, Las Flores-Elk Grove, Cal State Northridge
- Mackenzie Harrington, Rio Americano, Sacramento State
- Nabilai Kibunguchy, Cosumnes Oaks, UC Davis
- Will DuBay, Vista del Lago, Loyola Marymount
- Jeff Dukes, Vacaville, San Jose State
- Joe Restani, Pleasant Grove, Saint Mary’s