Finals Week, as U.S. Soccer so cutely calls it, is well underway in Houston as the best Under-16 and -18 squads in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy system face off. Eight squads divided into two groups of four play round-robin style with the winners of each group contesting the national title they've played the last 10 months for. Runners-up play for third and so on.
I'll be checking in here and there with some tidbits on the clubs, players and coaches, but for now I'd like to catch you all up with the action so far.
In Group 1 action the two MLS teams did not hesitate.
Twenty-eight and nineteen, respectively, are the number of seconds it took for the New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire to bury their first goals of the Finals. So Cal's Pateadores were the Red Bulls' unfortunate victims and Charlotte Soccer Academy played the same role against the Fire. Fittingly, both games ended 3-1, making tonight's match-up between the two MLS teams crucial in determining who will play for the national crown. Keep in mind that New York's squad is stocked with Bradenton kids and Chicago calls a large slice of the country home when it comes to recruiting top youth prospects. This should be good.
With only one team from each group truly moving on, surrendering a late equalizer is a real punch in the gut, especially when the other match finished 3-0. Such was D.C. United's fate as Nigel Robinson's 26th-minute goal did not stand up. A last-gasp goal split the points for Crew Soccer Academy Wolves (Michigan) as Ollie Harris' 18-yard strike kept his team very much alive.
In the other Group 2 match it was St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri beating up on PA Classics. SLSG had the better of play in the first half, but came out for the second still scoreless. A 55th-minute PK opened the floodgates and 25 minutes and two more goals later it was over. The mouthful of a club now sits firmly in the driver seat. A win over Wolves and anything less than a win for DC ends this thing before the third match.
Just a smidgen of research yields the fact that SLSG is named after Scott Gallagher Inc., a sheet metal company that started sponsoring the team in 1976. Sure, it doesn't roll off the tongue like Bayer Leverkusen, but it's blue-collar enough, no?
You could never hear Ben Fisk's name again. Yet he'll always have the hat trick he pulled for the Vancouver Whitecaps against North Carolina Fusion in the opening game of the Academy Finals. His 25th-minute finish of a Bryce Alderson through ball was just the beginning. Clean-up work on a Yassin Essa breakaway gave him and Vancouver their second in the 63rd minute and just minutes from time he rounded the Fusion keeper for the 3-0. The match finished 4-1 and had the Whitecaps sitting very prettily atop Group 1.
Group 1's other opener was more in doubt. Josue Chavez opened the scoring for the Rapids with a neatly curled finish in the 19th minute. But Travis Pillon blew the game open for De Anza Force when he punished a poor clearance just minutes into the second half. Ben Braman would put Colorado ahead again, nodding home at the back post with 25 minutes remaining. Isaac Martinez unfortunately chested into his own goal with 10 minutes left to even the score for good as the match finished 2-2.
Wednesday night another Fisk hat trick carried Vancouver past De Anza, 4-2. It's easy to get excited about early developers at this stage. Yet Fisk gets himself into dangerous space too regularly to be written off as another premature bloomer. He's not about to lead Canada to World Cup glory - Santa Claus couldn't make that happen - but you'll probably hear his name again.
Vancouver's wins, combined with a 4-2 victory for the Fusion over the Rapids Wednesday all but assures the Whitecaps of a spot in the championship.
Both Colorado and North Carolina stared down elimination in the 77th minute, tied 2-2. It was in that same minute that Tyler Adler came on. Five minutes later he'd fired the Fusion ahead. And in the 90th, 65th-minute sub Marco Sunol iced the game at 4-2. Some days players just make managers look brilliant. The pair of goals from his subs will no doubt ease any anxiety Fusion coach Marc Nicholls might have had about turning 40 Wednesday.
Another MLS derby of sorts saw FC Dallas and Chivas USA play out a 1-1 draw in the Group 2 opener. Both teams gunned for three points, and with better finishing someone would have them. FC Dallas got the lead from a Nicholas Rochowski header in the 15th. The second half was kinder to Chivas though. Marky Delgado's 40-yard free kick evaded everyone and leveled proceedings in the 55th minute. Then it got loose. Ben Spencer headed over from close range for Chivas. Marco Ortiz came close for FC Dallas, too, but it was not to be as no more goals were scored.
Baltimore Bays Chelsea's Oshick Shams made three saves against Solar Chelsea SC. They were all first-half saves. His counterpart made two saves, but Shams' teammates put two past Andrew Harris in just five minutes. Stay with me. Sam Hayward began the scoring half an hour in and Zach Mathers closed it with a well-placed free kick from just outside the box five minutes later.
Solar Chelsea followed that performance with another 2-0 win over Chivas USA. If not for a 90+5' winner from Home Grown Jonathan Top in the FC Dallas-Baltimore Bays match, Solar would be through. As is the two Dallas clubs play Friday night for a place in the championship. Of course, Solar Chelsea on six points can play for the draw, but I would bet on there being a winner in the group-deciding Dallas Derby.
Tonight brings us back to U-16 play with Pateadores vs.Charlotte Soccer Academy and Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls in Group 1 plus DC vs. PA Classics and SLSG Missouri vs. CSA Wolves in Group 2. Full standings and fixtures here.
Video Wednesday runneth over. All the goals from Monday and Tuesday:
- Jacob Klinger