WASHINGTON – In the U.S. Soccer Development Academy League, winning a division over a long, ten-month season is no easy feat.
It’s even more impressive to win the division in both age groups, as D.C. United’s Academy teams did over the weekend,
With Sunday’s results – DC’s U-16s defeated PA Classics 3-0, and the U-18s won 3-1 – both teams clinched first place in the Mid-Atlantic Division of the East Conference.
“To have both teams win the Mid-Atlantic Division is a great honor. It’s a very strong division with clubs that have great histories,” U-18 coach Judah Cooks told MLSsoccer.com. “It says a lot about the work we put in throughout the year that both teams finished first.”
One month ago, it seemed like a bit of a long shot for both teams to capture the division, especially for the U-16s. Losers of three straight division games, and with only a mediocre points-per-game average (used to calculate playoff spots), it looked bleak to even make the Development Academy playoffs.
However, DC’s U-16s responded to adversity, rattling off seven straight wins and outscoring their opponents 26-3.
“We had bad moments, struggled a month ago, losing crucial games,” U-16 coach Roberto da Silva said. “In the last seven games, we had to win six to be safe as a wild card team, but winning seven gave us the (division).”
There were several factors leading to the drastic change for the U-16s. The midfield of the 4-3-3 consisting of Collin Martin, Christian Rodriguez and Ian Harkes (son of former U.S. national teamer John) hit another level. Patrick Foss returned from Bradenton Residency, and scored seven goals in the last five games of the season.
Most notably, the defense improved and limited the opposition to three goals in seven games – and Martin grew into his role as attacking midfielder, leading the team with 12 goals.
A massive turnaround wasn’t needed for the U-18s, who were closer to a playoff berth thanks to a fairly strong points-per-game average. But Cooks said that he’s seen a dramatic improvement in the ten months of the Academy season.
“I’ve seen a huge jump in their mentalities,” he said. “I think all over the shop tactically, technically, even with greater confidence and professionalism, these boys have gotten better.”
Offensively, forward Marcus Salandy-Defour and midfielder Mikias Eticha paced the attack, finishing as the top two leading scorers.
Both have gotten a chance to play in the reserve league, as have defenders Bradley Vorv and Tyler Rudy, who were immense at the back all season long.
“We’ve really hit a good run of games these last two months, no matter the score, we’ve been playing the way we’ve wanted to play and that’s really been the best thing for me this year,” Cooks said.
By virtue of winning the division title, each squad qualifies for the playoffs, held starting June 24 in Frisco, Texas. The field there will be reduced to 32 teams at each age level, aiming for the top eight and a spot in Finals Week.
For DC’s teams, they’ll be looking for more of the same in Texas.
“We don’t want to change our mentality,” da Silva said. “I keep telling our kids we just need to go down and play.”
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark