After a two-year hiatus, the Generation adidas Cup returns from April 9-17 in Frisco, Texas.
The 2022 edition of this global youth tournament will shine a spotlight on MLS academy programs, which are home to the future stars of tomorrow, as well as international participants from some of the world’s biggest clubs.
As group play gets underway, as followed by the knockout round, here are some MLS academies that could prove a handful at the U-17 level. This isn’t all-encompassing, though does highlight squads entering with equal parts anticipation and competitive edge.
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The Fire could make some noise at GA Cup, leaning upon their collective spirit and comeback drive to really hit their stride. Simply, they find ways to win games.
A key factor is forward Michael Nesci, who has scored 22 goals in 19 matches. Carlos Nevarez is their best all-around midfielder, while United States U-15 international defender Nick Nobles will be playing up at the GA Cup. Two other youth internationals are defender Aaron Deppe (US U-17s) and midfielder Celestino Vasquez (Mexico U-17s).
They’ll be without age-eligible and homegrown midfielder Sergio Oregel, but there’s plenty of quality remaining to meet the occasion.
The Black & Gold encounter one of the toughest GA Cup groups, coming up against Flamengo (Brazil) and the Philadelphia Union (MLS), as well as Florida-based replacement side Weston FC.
But there’s enough quality in the roster to make a deep run, spearheaded by forward Alixson Soukup and the likes of Diego Rosales and Tyler Bindon in defense. LAFC also have US U-17 international defender Christian Diaz as one to watch.
A recent 4-3 league win over the San Jose Earthquakes showed just how much potential there is in this LAFC group, giving them plenty of momentum.
The defending MLS Cup champions are sending a quality U-17 group to Frisco, looking to control possession and combine in the final third. That approach helped them win all three of their GA Cup qualifiers and not lose at home since last May.
One of their leaders is Mateo Ponce-Ocampo, an attacking midfielder who’s been a constant in first-team preseason camp and enters with 9g/14a as the maestro in their attack. Right back Diego Rossi (not that one) is a Puerto Rico U-20 international who made his professional debut last weekend for NYCFC II in MLS NEXT Pro, while Albanian U-17 international center back Klevis Haxhari did as well. Rossi’s an attack-minded player, while Haxhari is strong in the air and in 1-v-1 situations.
The Red Bulls enter GA Cup with a talent-rich group, including US U-15 national team midfielder Nathan Worth playing up, another New Jersey native in their development conveyor belt. A second USYNT prospect of note is left back Curtis Ofori, who is the youngest signing in New York Red Bulls II history and part of their 2005s making the trip.
In midfield, also watch out for Sam Williams in the No. 6 role after he’s proven consistent and reliable at the USL Championship level. The same goes for Portuguese youth international Bento Estrela, who’s signed a homegrown deal and awaits his MLS debut.
Two others with RBNY II experience, forward Illia Tyrkus and midfielder Ezra Widman, have high potential and will travel to GA Cup. Forward Serge Ngoma, who signed a homegrown deal in February, won’t be traveling.
The Union have one of the league’s strongest academies, and their U-17s are expected to provide a serious challenge down at GA Cup. One of their leading threats is US youth international forward Bajung Darboe, while forward Nelson Pierre signed an MLS NEXT Pro contract with Union II in early March.
Another key piece is midfielder CJ Olney, who won a U-17 MLS NEXT Cup Golden Ball last year while with New Jersey-based club PDA. Francis Westfield is also key in midfield, while goalkeeper Andrew Rick, Marcos Zambrano and Devon Decorte are other important players.
Last summer, Philadelphia’s U-15s were a finalist at the inaugural MLS NEXT Cup.
Youth development is a huge part of RSL’s identity, and they have a strong U-17 group in the pipeline. They won an inaugural MLS NEXT Cup title last year, and now they’re hoping for similar success at the GA Cup.
Several players have already signed homegrown deals, including goalkeeper Gavin Beavers, center mid Jude Wellings and striker Axel Kei. For a short while, Kei was the youngest-ever signing in MLS history last January (14 years, 15 days) before that record got broken shortly thereafter.
Other standouts include Marcus Vazquez at left back, Terron Williams at striker, and Angel Morales and Izzy Amparo in the midfield engine room. Boosting their outlook, several RSL players have experience with Real Monarchs in MLS NEXT Pro and the USL Championship.
Considered by many in MLS NEXT circles to be a top-end squad, San Jose have blended the 2005 and 2006 age groups to great success under coach Dan DeGeer, who also works with the US U-17 national team.
Their defensive core starts with Mexican youth international goalkeeper Emmanuel Ochoa, who signed a homegrown deal with the Quakes at age 14. Center backs Nate Rodrigues, Drew Murray and Ethan Kohler are strong in both directions, while center mid Alex Chow has taken great strides.
This Bay Area group also has four players from a recent US U-17 camp: defender Oscar Verhoeven, midfielders Cruz Medina and Edwyn Mendoza, and forward Fidel Barajas. Medina is especially highly-regarded, having won the U-15 Golden Ball at the inaugural MLS NEXT Cup.
Others on radar: Inter Miami CF, LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders FC