As the Houston Dynamo’s player combine kicked off Wednesday morning, three Dynamo Academy players were among the group, hoping to catch the eye of head coach Dominic Kinnear and his coaching staff. Although the players train four days per week and play competitive games on weekend, none felt completely prepared for the level of soccer they encountered.
“There is a big change of pace from academy training sessions to these training sessions,” Dynamo Academy forward Jade George said. “The speed of play here is much quicker than what we are accustomed to.”
George is one of three players on the Dynamo U-18 squad not currently in high school, which allowed them to participate in the four-day player combine. George and forward Diego Velazquez currently attend Lone Star College, while Chance Bergen is taking the year off while considering options. Although Bergen missed the second day of training due to a 24-hour stomach bug, he is ecstatic to get the opportunity to play in front of Kinnear.
“I wasn’t too nervous coming in here on Wednesday,” Bergen said. “But I was definitely a bit jittery on Friday with Dominic [Kinnear] watching us. I feel like I played pretty well, but I definitely realize I need to get bigger if I want to be able to compete on this level.”
Bergen has been a bit of a revelation for the Academy squad this year. After tinkering with him in different positions, Dynamo Director of Youth Development James Clarkson moved Bergen to the forward position this year. With three goals and an assist in five games – and two goals in the combine scrimmage on Friday – Bergen has blossomed in the striker position, and he has college coaches knocking on the door.
“I love playing forward,” Bergen said. “It’s a different mentality. It’s not so much about dribbling and doing fancy things with the ball, but more about holding the ball and keeping possession for the team.”
After the scrimmage on Friday, Dynamo goalkeepers coach Tim Hanley pulled Bergen aside and offered some words of wisdom.
“He told me that I need to hold the ball up and not always immediately look to pass,” Bergen said. “It helps the team more if I can keep possession and help the team score a goal, as supposed to giving it away, which could lead to a counterattack for the other team.”
Although Velazquez felt the Academy squad, as a unit, could compete against the group of players at the combine, he acknowledged that the level of play from the individual players was stronger than what he was used to.
“They don’t rush things here,” he said. “They take their time and don’t force things as much as we do. Obviously we have some room for improvement, but we are just out here to work hard and get better every day.”
In the past two seasons, the Dynamo have signed two players – Tyler Deric and Francisco Navas Cobo – from the Academy, so there is certainly hope for the trio of youngsters that Kinnear is watching.
“They did alright,” Kinnear said. “They worked hard, which was nice to see. It’s nice to see our Academy is getting better individually and as a group. These guys have been out here for three days now and have done OK, and hopefully they will take the advice we give them and grow as soccer players.”