As MLS academies continue to grow in both size and stature, more and more US-based programs are getting the chance to head overseas to test themselves at different youth tournaments.
This weekend, the Houston Dynamo’s U-16 squad will head to the Netherlands, one of the hotspots of youth soccer development, to compete in the Eurovoetbal Tournament. It’s an opportunity that came up after the U-16s triumphed at the Dallas Cup two years ago, and a challenge to which they are eagerly looking forward.
“I think it’s going to be a great tournament, a great experience,” Dynamo director of youth development James Clarkson told MLSsoccer.com.
The Dynamo U-16s will leave on June 5 for Amsterdam before traveling to Groningen, which is located two hours northeast of the Dutch capital. Houston will then play a string of friendlies while waiting for the tournament to start.
The trip will serve as a litmus test for the Dynamo's academy.
“We want to use it to really gauge individually and collectively, where we are,” Clarkson said. “It’s a different test, a different style of soccer — coping with those demands, the travel, the whole experience.”
The tournament runs from June 11-13 and consists of shortened matches against PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord and Slavia Prague. Though youth tournaments typically compact several games over a few days, Clarkson said the abbreviated games they’ll play won’t overstretch the team’s depth.
Houston’s academy players — such as Alan Arellano, Raymundo Marquez and Bradley Bourgeois — will not only get the chance to travel overseas, but also to step up against the quality opposition they’ll face.
In light of the tournament, Houston’s U-16s wrapped up their USSF Development Academy League schedule over Memorial Day weekend. They hope to use this experience in the playoffs at the end of June, as well as in the SUM U-17 Cup later this summer.
“We want to continue on the momentum we’ve built from the second half of the academy season [and] use it as a real experience to prepare us for the playoffs,” Clarkson said. “Hopefully we’ll be successful in the playoffs when we get back.”
Sounders FC academy heads back in action
After taking the last three months off from Development Academy action so players could participate in their high school seasons, Sounders FC U-16s and U-18s head back into action this weekend.
The Sounders teams last played the weekend of Feb. 19, and each has five games left in the USSF Dev. Academy schedule. Action resumes with games on Saturday, June 4, and Sunday June 5, as the Santa Cruz Breakers and the De Anza Force visit Seattle.
Both Sounders sides are favorites to qualify for the June playoffs, either by means of a top-two finish in the Northwest Division, or a Wild Card spot.
Seattle’s U-18s boasts a number of top prospects, including Aaron Kovar, Sean Okoli and DeAndre Yedlin.
Georgia United to join Dev. Academy League
New teams hoping to join the USSF Development Academy League must meet a strict set of standards and be willing to bear the brunt of travel costs in the nation’s top youth league.
Last week, US Soccer announced that Georgia United, a combination of four clubs in the Atlanta area, would join the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency as one of two new entrants in the league this coming fall.
The two teams will be a blend of coaches and players from North Atlanta SA, Norcross SA, United Futbol Academy and AFC Lightning at the U-16 and U-18 age groups.
“It was all about figuring out the best model,” said Georgia United executive director Dave Smith. “I got together with three other club directors who I knew had similar philosophies and we talked it over.
“We talked about how we could all continue to build our current clubs while joining forces to form our Development Academy teams," Smith said. "We will actually be able to filter the philosophies of the program into all levels of our clubs.”
Georgia United will begin playing in September, competing in the Southeast Division of the South Conference.
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, college and youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark
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