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Five days of action at the MLS NEXT Flex competition came to a close this past Tuesday, with the top youth players duking it out in front of college, professional and national team scouts.

Four age groups competed in three group games, with the first-place finishers advancing to the MLS NEXT Cup playoffs set to begin on June 25 at Toyota Soccer Center in Frisco, Texas.

Dramatics on the final day

Tuesday’s final day of group games featured plenty of tense drama, with first place at stake in a variety of Under-17 games.

FC Dallas and New York City FC produced a compelling, backs-to-the-wall defensive effort from the latter. Finishing the game off down to nine men, the NYCFC backline held on to a 1-0 win, as Gianluca Armellino’s winner provided the difference.

There was similar drama between St. Louis CITY SC and Real Salt Lake U-17 teams. With RSL needing just a draw to secure first place in Group D, a late set-piece winner from Michael Lay proved to be the difference in a 2-1 win for St. Louis. This came after playing down a man for a big portion of the second half, as Braydon Sellers and RSL’s Axel Kei exchanged goals.

Group N was also decided in the final moments on the final day. With LA Galaxy only needing a draw to stay in front of the Portland Timbers in the table, it was Portland that found a way to score late. Cole Aman’s goal from a corner kick secured the points for the Timbers and a first-place finish.

Final day heroics weren’t limited to Monday. In the older age groups, Eyifehn Forfor scored a second-half goal as Minnesota United FC held on to defeat De Anza Force by a 1-0 score to top Group B in the Under-19 age group.

MLS Academies that impressed

Even though LAFC came up short at the most recent Generation adidas Cup, the Under-15 and Under-17 teams were in compelling form in Maryland. Both age groups sauntered through their groups, as the U-15s produced a 2-0 win against Seattle Sounders FC in a quality game of high intensity. The two LAFC teams won all six games, finishing with a combined 12 goals for and one against.

Thanks in part to that dramatic win against Dallas, NYCFC's academy squads won both groups at the U-15 and U-17 age levels. Orlando City SC and Austin FC also finished in first place in two groups.

FC Cincinnati, which fields a team at the Under-19 age group as well, saw three teams land in first place, as the U-15, U-17 and U-19 squads showed well in Maryland.

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Highlights from teams around the country

One of the most storied clubs in youth soccer, Players Development Academy (PDA) continued to find results on the field across a couple of age groups. The New Jersey club team featured sides that won its group in the Under-17 and Under-19 age groups; a 4-2 win on the final day over Toronto FC secured first place by virtue of goal difference. The U-19 team features several players set to begin college careers at top programs in the fall.

Other New Jersey teams came away with successful results. TSF Academy, a club from Wayne, New Jersey, had three sides finish in first place. Cedar Stars Academy-Bergen accomplished the same feat as well.

Storied club Sockers FC continues to impress from the Chicagoland area. The Under-19 team topped an extremely competitive group, including a 2-0 win against Bethesda SC on the first day of group play. The Under-16 team continued to dominate, scoring 13 goals and winning all three games.

Given the caliber and depth of talent in Southern California, it was no surprise to see Strikers FC send two teams through. The Under-16 and Under-17 teams combined to go unbeaten, with five wins and a draw between the two of them. The club’s Under-15 team was also good, coming up just short against Real Salt Lake on the final group game.

The Breakers FC Under-15 side showed extremely well, wrapping up with a wild 4-3 win against the Philadelphia Union. US Under-15 BNT defender Scott Chavira was one of several intriguing performers from the California club team to make an impression.

Speaking of locations around the country with plenty of talent, Weston FC was another club side to send multiple teams through. The South Florida squad progressed as first-place finishers in the U-16 and U-17 age groups, with the U-19 team thwarted on the final day with a close, 1-0 defeat against PA Classics.

Homegrowns in action

A small contingent of age-eligible Homegrown signings competed in Maryland. Kei enjoyed a solid showing for RSL Under-17s, scoring a hat trick in a 4-0 win against Sporting Kansas City. The youngster finished with five goals in three games. Midfielder Jude Wellings provided thrust in midfield.

Christian McFarlane was part of the NYCFC Under-17 squad that secured progress, while Felipe Valencia (Inter Miami CF) and Bento Estrela (New York Red Bulls) also played for their respective teams at that age group.

Group Winners

U-15 group winners

  • Real Salt Lake
  • Cedar Stars Academy-Bergen
  • Austin FC
  • New York City FC
  • New York Red Bulls
  • FC United
  • LA Galaxy
  • Solar SC
  • FC Cincinnati
  • BW Gottschee
  • LAFC
  • Sporting KC
  • New England Revolution
  • Orlando City SC
  • Breakers FC
  • Inter Miami CF

U-16 group winners

  • Ventura County Fusion
  • Ballistic United
  • FC United
  • DC United
  • TSF Academy
  • Orlando City Youth Soccer
  • Indiana Fire Academy
  • Weston FC
  • De Anza Force
  • Baltimore Armour
  • Cedar Stars Academy-Bergen
  • Sockers FC
  • Met Oval
  • Murrieta Soccer Academy
  • Total Futbol Academy
  • Strikers FC

U-17 group winners

  • Orlando City SC
  • Chicago Fire
  • San Jose Earthquakes
  • St. Louis City SC
  • FC Cincinnati
  • Philadelphia Union
  • LAFC
  • Weston FC
  • Strikers FC
  • Atlanta United FC
  • New York City FC
  • PDA
  • TSF Academy
  • Portland Timbers
  • Cedar Stars Academy-Monmouth
  • Austin FC

U-19 group winners

  • Orlando City Youth Soccer
  • Minnesota United FC
  • Met Oval
  • Tampa Bay United
  • PA Classics
  • Sockers FC
  • Nomads SC
  • FC Cincinnati
  • PDA
  • FC Dallas
  • TSF Academy
  • Wake FC
  • Seacoast United
  • Miami Kendall Rush SC
  • Cedar Stars Academy-Bergen