IRVINE, Calif. – Alex Rando likes to think of himself as Petr Cech when he's facing down a foe at the penalty spot, and he's had some success on these shots that, in his words, “you're not really supposed to save.”
Rando came up big when tested from the spot 10 minutes into Wednesday afternoon's Under-18/19 boys final at the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Championships, diving to his right to knock aside Johan Gomez's blast.
It breathed life into a New York City FC side that had started on the back foot. Veljko Petkovic provided an advantage five minutes later, and the Cityzens held off FC Dallas at the end for a 2-1 triumph at Championship Stadium at Great Park to win their second successive title in the Development Academy's top division.
Jonathan Jimenez added a second-half goal for NYCFC (19-6-3), who persevered during a difficult campaign, found their best soccer this week in Southern California and knocked off the No. 1 seed, ending Dallas' 17-game winning and 22-game unbeaten streaks.
“It's very rewarding,” Jimenez said afterward, a gold medal hanging over his chest. “A lot of hard work throughout the season. ... It shows a lot about the city and about our club.”
The last step wasn't a simple one. Dallas (25-4-1) pushed the game early and had plenty of opportunities – on 20 shots, a dozen of them on frame – but found little space to turn chances into something more. NYCFC kept things tight at the back behind center backs Kai Lammers and Joao Victor Souza, blocked seven of the Texans' attempts, and kept them off the board until deep in second-half stoppage.
“It's difficult,” FCD head coach Chris Hayden said. “We have a number of kids on this team that have been at the club a long time – eight, 10 years – so they wanted to go out on a high.
“So that's disappointing, but I think when we get a little bit of a chance to digest what has happened this year, in terms of the number of players we've promoted to our second team and our first team and then continued to perform at a very high level, then fell a little bit short today against a good New York City team.”
Six age-eligible FC Dallas players have signed pro deals, and several more stood out this season. Gomez, who netted 28 goals in 28 games, was a handful all afternoon, especially in tandem with winger Joel Bustamante, and central midfielder Tanner Tessman – the Golden Ball winner as tournament MVP – was critical in denying New York City too many looks at goal.
Gomez won the penalty kick, taken down by Lammers after Tessman pumped the ball into the NYCFC box following a free kick, and his shot toward the lower-left corner had pace. Rondo, who won the top-goalkeeper honor, did well to knock it aside. He called it his “golden moment,” and the Blues were a different team after that.
“I think we started slow,” NYCFC head coach Matt Pilkington said. “FC Dallas had a lot of the ball early on, and we were trying to find our way into the game. Alex came up with a big-time save early on, and I thought that gave us a bit of belief to move on from there.
“The boys reacted in the right way and deserved it at the end.”
Petkovic, a force behind the frontline, provided the lead in the 15th minute with his 15th goals of the year moments after Luis Hernandez cleared a shot off the line taken by Will Sands, younger brother of Homegrown James Sands and one of three players – along with Andres Jasson and Dante Polvara – who started both years' finals for NYCFC.
Jasson took a ball on the left from fellow US U-17 national-teamer Tayvon Gray, and his deflected shot ended up in front of Petkovic, who volleyed home from close range.
“I hope [the PK save] sparked some life into them,” Rando said. “Maybe it did. I'm not sure, but I think they got a little hungrier when that happened.”