Academy Notes: Playoff race down to the wire
Just two weekends remain in the U.S. Soccer Federation Development Academy League season, and the stakes are high for MLS programs across the country looking to secure a playoff spot.
Scheduled for June 24-28 in Frisco, Texas, the playoffs will feature 32 teams from each age level, with the team eight teams advancing to finals week, held in Milwaukee in early July.
Playoffs are determined by taken the top two teams from each of the 10 divisions, spread throughout the country, followed by the top 12 teams according to the points per game in all competitions.
Several MLS programs are in the running to qualify for the postseason at both age levels. D.C. United, Chicago Fire, Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas and Seattle Sounders FC are among those who could send both their U-16 and U-18 sides to the postseason.
Both Seattle and D.C. United had a dominating weekend – Seattle’s U-18s won 5-0 and 6-1 against visiting opposition, with Darwin Jones scoring four goals in two games, Jamael Cox and Sean Okoli each scoring two.
Meanwhile, D.C.’s U-18s and U-16s blew out Potomac, 6-1 and 4-0, respectively, and both of D.C.’s teams are currently in the top two in the Mid-Atlantic Division with two games left this weekend.
Those two games are big, however, pitting United against FC Delco. While United are in the top two, FC Delco – an affiliate of the Philadelphia Union – could have a shot at a top-two finish of their own if both their U-16s and U-18s can find a way to top D.C.’s academy this coming weekend.
While no MLS academy team has yet to officially lock up a playoff spot, many are all but in. The New York Red Bulls and Chivas USA all have U-18s in pole position to make it.
On Wednesday night, the FC Dallas U-18s missed a chance to clinch the Texas Division, one of the best in the Academy League. The team could muster only a 0-0 draw against Andromeda when a win would have clinched the division. FCD have a chance to clinch it this Saturday with a win in a rematch against Andromeda.
At the U-16 level, New England Revolution, Sporting KC and Crew Soccer Academy all have to navigate and wait throughout the final couple of weekends of action before knowing if they are through to the playoffs.
Houston's Salazar stands out in Holland
One Academy side that has already wrapped up their schedule are the Houston Dynamo U-17s. And they’re preparing for the playoffs in a special way: The club is participating in the Eurovoetbal Tournament in the Netherlands.
Since arriving, forward Lorenzo Salazar has enjoyed a strong start to the team’s trip, scoring in all three exhibition games ahead of the tournament proper, which starts on Saturday.
The MLS Academy side managed to win two of those three matches. On Sunday, they defeated a regional team in Groningen by a 5-0 score, with Salazar scoring first. On Tuesday, they won topped Vitesse 2-0, before losing to FC Gronigen’s U-17s on Wednesday by a 3-1 score.
Tournament play commences on Saturday, with a matchup against Dutch club PSV Eindhoven’s U-17s.
Horton debuts for Crew
The Columbus Crew have joined the ranks of clubs to utilize an Academy product in full-squad action. In Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake, recent Home Grown signing Aaron Horton made his professional debut in the 89th minute in front of his home crowd.
“It was a dream come true,” he told reporters after the match. “Just getting on the field at Crew Stadium and getting my first few minutes, there’s nothing better for me. I was thinking I wanted to get a goal but the most important thing was to preserve the win.”
Horton signed a professional contract with the Crew in May after his freshman year at the University of Louisville.
Rowe trains with D.C.
UCLA midfielder and U.S. youth international Kelyn Rowe is training with D.C. United this week, aiming to stay sharp ahead of the college season starting in August.
After taking part in the failed U.S. U-20 qualification bid down in Guatemala back in April, Rowe recently had trials with clubs in France and Germany, but as of now is on course to return to UCLA for his sophomore year.
Rowe, a native of Federal Way, Wash., also spent some time training with the Seattle Sounders this summer.
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark