After years of conflict, Oak Park and River Forest’s youth soccer leagues have decided they will no longer compete against one another.
According to River Forest Youth Soccer league assistant commissioner, Gregor Martin, there has been a growing tension between the two leagues and its participants due to the competitive imbalance that Oak Park and River Forest have seen in the last few years.
“[Having the leagues play each other] was a good, healthy thing, and if I could have kept it going, I absolutely would have,” said Martin. “They are a neighboring town and a lot of the kids know each other and formed a friendly rivalry. However, this got to the point where the leagues have gotten too different and a change was needed.”
After concerns about not fielding enough players due to losing Oak Park’s pool of players, River Forest has paired with Elmwood Park and Elmhurst for this upcoming fall season for the 12U and 14U boys and girls leagues.
In recent years, River Forest has seen an increase in players that play on travel and club teams (leagues that are considered more competitive than AYSO—a recreational soccer organization). According to Martin, around 15 of the 60 12U River Forest boys soccer players that played last year were a part of a travel or club team which is why Oak Park wanted to limit the amount of travel players per team to lessen the competitive imbalance that has existed.
River Forest pushed back on that idea due to the players wanting to play on teams that consisted of their classmates and friends.
“For example, for my kids that are 12 to sign up in the OP-AYSO, and maybe won’t be on a team with any River Forest kids, they wouldn’t sign up,” said Martin. “Some might [sign up], but I am sure we wouldn’t get the same numbers.”
It doesn’t appear that the leagues will go back to the arrangement they have had for years any time soon. When asked if he sees the leagues resolving their differences in the future, Martin said, “No, it’s over.”
However, Martin maintains that soccer players from Oak Park are allowed to compete in the River Forest league and that they are welcoming those kids to participate.
“We are opening this up to anyone who wants to play competitive soccer,” said Martin. “From our standpoint, the league isn’t going to change at all other than Elmhurst will be playing instead of Oak Park.”
Oak Park AYSO Regional Commissioner Mattie Langenburg did not return Wednesday Journal’s multiple attempts to reach out for an interview on this matter. However, he did send this response via email after Wednesday Journal’s first attempt at contacting him.
“This was a decision to centralize management and team roster creation within Oak Park AYSO for teams that participate in our Fall league. We expect we’ll continue to have participants from RF and EP along with Galewood, Austin, Berwyn, Riverside, etc. as we have in years past.
“Players who have previously participated in the Fall season with teams from River Forest Youth Soccer or Elmwood Park AYSO are welcome to register with us, but we’ve made the decision that managing the league through a single entity and software platform is the best for us to ensure a consistent experience for all of our participants.”