The FC Dallas U16/17 and U18/19 teams will begin their respective quests for their third Development Academy titles today and Tuesday at the SoCal Sports Complex in Oceanside, CA. Each won the Frontier Division again this year which has been the norm, and both enter as seeded teams (16/17s 4th overall and 18/19s 1st overall) in the eight group, 32 team playoff. The game schedule for both teams can be found here, and I’ll try to provide links to live streams in the comments as the week goes on as those have yet to be announced.
Both of the teams are favorites to advance out of their group. If they do so, they will play a knockout match with one of the other group winners two days after their final games. If either wins that match, they’ll have a couple of weeks to prepare for the finals at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, CA starting on July 8th. Here’s the scoop on some challenges each team will face and a couple of key players to watch.
U18/19 (First game today 5:30pm PT vs Pateadores) Players to Watch:
Beni Redzic- A 2002, Beni’s an attacking mid/wing who’s played up a group for basically the entire year, chipping in 11 goals and several assists for the #1 overall seeds. He’s a candidate for a pro contract in the near future and has seen time with a few different age groups for the US Youth National Team.
Michael Collodi- The future Ivy Leaguer (Columbia) with the safe hands has spent at least one year as the #1 keeper for each of the teams since the U14 level. He was subbed out in the last game for the final 10 minutes, but I think he’s good to go.
Joel Bustamante- Ok, this one might be more for me than anyone else. I vaguely remember him playing wing in Dallas Cup, but I don’t know much about him beyond the fact that he’s scored seven goals for the U18/19’s and is tied for the team lead in games played this year with 23. I’ll be curious what kind of a stamp he puts on these games with the team as it is currently constructed (more on that in a second).
U16/17 (First game Tuesday 5:00pm PT vs Atlanta United FC) Players to Watch:
Diego Letayf- The U16/17 answer to Pirlo. Yeah, that might be a little much, but Mexico certainly is impressed. He’s already been called into Mexico’s U17 team a few times. He’ll be key to this group advancing.
Michael Sosa- With Ricardo Pepi and David Rodriguez full time in North Texas, Sosa has helped replace their scoring. He’s the third leading scorer behind those guys with nine goals in 22 matches. He’s also played up an age group with the U19s a few times.
Nico Carrera- At 6’2 with good feet, he’s probably the top center back prospect in the academy at the moment, and actually played at the Pachuca academy before coming to Dallas. He received his pro debut in Toronto last week, and that brings me to the challenges each team will face next week.
Obviously, there will be a step up in competition from divisional play. Yes, a combine total of six teams made it from the Frontier Division for the playoffs, but there will be no let off over the three games- have a bad game and you’re toast. Neither age group will be happy with how their Dallas Cup and Generation Adidas Cup finishes, so perhaps a bad taste in their mouth will motivate them a little bit.
Perhaps the biggest challenge each team will face is the sheer number of age eligible players they will not have available for the playoffs though. Between FC Dallas and North Texas, a total of 16 academy age players have earned minutes with the big clubs. The eight of those already on professional contracts (Ferreira, Cerrillo, Roberts, Reynolds, Servania, Sealy, Pepi, and David Rodriguez) will not take part in this tournament even though the club takes this tournament very seriously. They’ve developed beyond this level, and the injuries and tournament absences necessitate them staying with FCD and NTX because they’ve got a total of five matches between now and next Wednesday.
The question is who of the remaining eight can be spared? This will be mainly a North Texas management issue although you could see Thomas Roberts spend a couple of games with them to keep sharp. 4th-6th on the North Texas minutes played chart are all U19 guys. I have no insight on who traveled, but it would be surprising if Bonilla, Tessman, and Almaguer traveled with the team; Quill might be able to spare two of them. Having Johan Gomez back would be nice to have back for the playoffs. He’s the U19s leading scorer, and Quill has some cover there. His brother Jonathan has been quite good for North Texas starting the last three games and playing all 90 minutes. I won’t be shocked where he ends up either way. Rayo and Hinojosa for the U19s will probably do the playoffs as will the aforementioned Carrera for the U17s, but that still only amounts to the academy teams’ ranks being bolstered by 5-6 of a possible 16.
North Texas SC is creating the problems it was designed to cause. The youth ranks are developing faster and taking their opportunities beyond what seems reasonable. It’s enough for me to revise what I mentioned earlier about both teams being among the favorites; actually, they probably aren’t because their peers are already playing a ton of pro minutes. It will be fun to see this week if each team plays with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, and the kids who might otherwise be relegated to the bench can carry their teams all the way to Irvine.