Tuesday, July 24, 2012

School's out

For the first time in history two MLS academies stand atop the American youth soccer pile. Sunday night FC Dallas Under-18s came back to beat the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-2 and last night the New York Red Bulls U-16s outlasted St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri 1-0.

Going into Monday night's championship the Red Bulls were undefeated in 12 straight games. Form is fleeting, and after all, SLSG Missouri had been on an eight-match unbeaten run of its own. Better still, no team had held the Frontier Division champions scoreless since a June 5th visit to Real Colorado.

SLSG Missouri started the game in better form than New York, even looking like the quicker of the two teams as Austin Panchot and Mark Segbers comfortably ran at the Red Bulls' defense. But in the 16th minute Adam Najem picked out Alex Muyl in a blush-worthy amount of space before he bee-lined his way to the six-yard box. From there, he calmly placed the ball past Jake Leeker at hip-height.

Shell-shocked by the early goal, St. Louis would wait until the 29th minute to truly threaten the New York goal when Tommy Barlow's close-range header bounced just wide of Evan Louro's goal.

The second half showed the effects of playing four matches in seven days. Though SLSG Missouri rested many of its regulars in the final group match against D.C. United, New York owned the early stages of the second period. Throughout the final forty minutes, the best chances came from tired distant shots and set pieces. SLSG Missouri came no closer than a near own-goal off a corner kick. By the end of the match the field looked too long for the game to be chased and the Red Bulls ran out deserving champions.

With 700 fans in attendance FC Dallas gave an admirable demonstration of how the academy system should work. Synchronized and dynamic, the de facto hosts played the more attractive soccer throughout the game. Yet Vancouver's more direct - but still quite technically competent, mind you - style of play put the Canadians ahead in the 24th minute.

To the surprise of no one who's followed this tournament it was Ben Fisk ruthlessly first-timing home from eight yards out. It was a true striker's goal, and a deserved one too as Fisk started the play, carrying the ball through midfield before spraying it wide to Clarke and cutting in for his seventh goal of Finals Week. 

Seven minutes later FC Dallas's Danny Garcia lay on the ground with Robert Sibiga's whistle ringing in his ears. Garcia had earned a penalty after a one-on-one with Vancouver keeper Callum Irving. Breaking the rule of don't-take-a-PK-if-you-just-got-fouled Garcia took the spot kick and Irving batted his shot away only for Garcia to finish off the rebound.

Moments ahead of the break Clarke rounded Nicholas Rochowski as the FC Dallas man attempted to shield the ball out for a throw. Clarke slid a tempting ball into the six-yard box. No Whitecaps attacked the cross, but Flavio Guzman's attempted clearance instead skipped past his own keeper for the 2-1.

Nine out of the 14 players used by FC Dallas coach Chris Hayden in the final against Vancouver also unsuccessfully contested the championship match against Pateadores last season. But none of those players can claim as direct of an effect on this year's final as Jose de la Tejera. Though he was the team's leading scorer through the academy season with 14 goals in 26 games he played just the second half against Vancouver. Just over 20 minutes into his night he equalized.

Capitalizing on a defensive error de la Tejera swung in from the left flank and curled his shot past Irving. Dallas continued to pin the Whitecaps to their defensive third with poised possession play and near-constant movement. Vancouver already looked dead when Garcia received a short corner - yeah, yeah - on the right side. He cut onto his left foot and swung in a dipping cross to an open de la Tejera on top of the six for a well-earned game-winner.

2011-12 USSDA Finals Week Rankings U-16: 1. New York Red Bulls 2. St. Louis Scott Gallagher 3. Crew Soccer Academy Wolves 4. Chicago Fire 5. Pateadores 6. PA Classics 7. D.C. United 8. Charlotte Soccer Academy

U-18: 1. FC Dallas 2. Vancouver Whitecaps 3. North Carolina Fusion 4. Solar Chelsea FC 5. Baltimore Bays Chelsea 6. Colorado Rapids 7. De Anza Force 8. Chivas USA

- Jacob Klinger

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