Ricardo Pepi - North Texas SC - Close up

Generation adidas Cup kicks off on Saturday. Teams from Europe, South America, and Asia will join clubs from MLS and Liga MX in Frisco, Texas for the continent’s top Under-17 event.

It is the main event on the MLS academy schedule and features the toughest competition the teams face all year. The international clubs, including Flamengo, River Plate, Dinamo Zagreb, and Lyon, have been picked for the quality of their academies and their ability to build world-class players. The tournament will be both a test and a lesson for all involved.

I will be down in Frisco watching the games first-hand and have already made my checklist of the three things I’m going to be watching closely from the teams.

How do the players deal with the emotions of getting (metaphorically) punched in the gut?

You know when you’re watching a game and the TV cuts to the head coach of the losing team, and he or she looks aghast. He’s not hunched forward pointing and yelling...he’s standing with his head tilted to the side, his hand on this chin, and his mouth slightly open. That’s the look of a coach whose players have forgotten everything they discussed over the previous week or month or year.

It happens. Sometimes the emotions of the game make players’ brains shut down. The players get uncomfortable or tense or scared and forget what they were supposed to do. Some players are naturally predisposed to it. Sometimes, though, the more you’ve experienced those types of matches, the more likely you are to stay collected through them. The irregular feels normal to you.

And that’s why games as a youth player at events like GA Cup matter so much. The more players get those experiences as younger players, the more prepared they will be as professionals. And GA Cup offers new experiences for the young players:

  • The playing style of the international teams (Brazilian and Argentine teams, for example, play much more pragmatic and physical than any of the MLS academies).
  • The language shouted on the field. (Try working at your office with a Croatian podcast in your ear one day.)
  • The general quality of the opponents. (Future Luka Modrics [Dinamo Zagreb], Vinicius Juniors [Flamengo], Karim Benzemas [Lyon] will be on the field.)

These games will make the MLS teams feel uncomfortable in all sorts of new ways. They will feel new types of shock factors. They’ll be invaluable experiences for the kids.

It’s often dealing with those uncomfortable feelings, as much as technical or tactical quality, that determines the results.

How do the players make adjustments on the fly?

I should have added that dealing with the emotional waves is only the first part. There’s a second part.

  • Step 1: Gather your wits.
  • Step 2: Use your wits to fix the problem.

The other team is throwing something at you that is making you uneasy. What is it, specifically, that they are doing? Are they pressuring in a certain way? Is the attacker dribbling in a specific manner?

Then, once you identify the problem, you need to find the solution. You need to fix it or else they are going to keep troubling you! Can you play direct into the striker to avoid the pressure? Should you get tighter to attacker, or should you give him a few extra yards of cushion?

One comment that I’ve heard over and over in my preparation for GA Cup is that the international teams do a better job of managing the games. Their players react quicker to the demands of the specific match. I’ll be watching to see which young MLS hopefuls will be the ones to read the game and adjust accordingly.

Which star players will step up?

A lot of the facets will look the same as professional matches. The kids try to do most of the same actions as the professionals. There’s one difference, though: There’s more of a capacity for a single individual to dominate a youth match. Most teams have someone who can dominate like Lionel Messi on any given day.

With that said, not every star player steps up every game. If you haven’t watched youth soccer, it’s frustrating how often star players don’t step up. Inconsistency is a natural aspect of youth, but it doesn’t mean the kids shouldn’t be held to the standard beyond it.

I might be a little old school on this, but I want to see star players step up. I want to see them get pissed off and take over a game. It’s a delicate balance for the player to balance his role in the team and tactics, but I find the ability to take over a game to be an important trait. Show me the personality to dominate a bunch of other 16 year olds, and we will talk about the tactics of it later.

There’s a list of elite players who will be at GA Cup this year: Seattle’sDanny Leyva, Sporting’sTyler Freeman, LA’s Kobe Hernandez-Foster, Dallas’ Ricardo Pepi, and Toronto’s Jayden Nelson, to name a few. I will hold them to a higher standard, and expect them to stand out, if not take over, every game.