With a five-game winning streak and 13 goals scored in their last four games, the Houston Dynamo Academy U-16 squad has vaulted itself toward the top of the USSF Development Academy League’s Texas Division. With only three conference matches remaining and a non-conference home match against Indiana United, the squad has put itself in prime position to advance to the USSF Development Academy playoffs to be played in Frisco, June 24-28.
“They are a very talented group,” Dynamo Director of Youth Development James Clarkson said. “There are a lot of very good players on the squad, and a lot of the credit has to be given to [former U-16 head coach] Mario Sanchez for the work he has done with these players.”
After losing three straight games in December, including two at the Winter Showcase in Phoenix, Ariz., the Dynamo rebounded with a strong showing at last month’s Dallas Cup. The squad went undefeated in group play before losing to eventual winner Estudiantes Tecos 4-2 in the quarterfinals. Forward Lorenzo Salazar, who joined the Dynamo after trying out last year for Sueño MLS, has provided a scoring presence off the bench. Salazar tallied four goals in last month's Dallas Cup and scored two in only 20 minutes of action last Saturday against Andromeda.
“I think the atmosphere and camaraderie has been excellent,” Clarkson said. “There is a real desire to do it together, and they want to win. They get the ball down and pass the ball around, which creates a lot of chances. We were creating these chances at the early part of the season, but we weren’t finishing. Now we are finishing, and the goals are being spread around.”
The squad’s recent success has coincided with a scoring surge by midfielder Alan Arellano (Cy Creek). Arellano, who plays one of the three central midfield positions in Clarkson’s 4-5-1 system, has scored a goal in five straight games, with four of those serving as game-winners. Along with Raymundo Marquez (Katy Cinco Ranch) and Jorge Andrade (Cy Ridge), the trio of central midfielders control the pitch and have shown a strong work ethic on both sides of the ball to lead the squad.
“It comes down to hard work,” Clarkson said of the team’s recent success. “In training, they are really applying themselves and are beginning to see what they can do with hard work on both sides of the ball. As a group, we are striving to become the hardest working team in the country. I think if we can combine that with our technical ability and continue to push on, the future looks very promising.”
With 24 points through 13 games, the U-16s sit atop their division in total points but are second to Solar SC in points per game. The two teams who finish with the highest points per game automatically qualify for the playoffs, with the rest having to fight for one of the 12 nationwide wildcard spots. With road games this weekend against Solar and Dallas Texans, the Dynamo have an opportunity to inch closer to Solar in the points per game race and distance themselves from the rest of the field.
The success of the U-16s bodes well for the future of the older squad. This year's U-18s have struggled to find consistent form and have been on the losing end of four straight one-goal decisions. Next year's squad will feature many of the current U-16s in addition to Bryan Celis (Katy Mayde Creek) and Isaiah Noreiga (Humble Kingwood Park) - 1994s who are currently playing in the older age group - and Christian Gonzalez (Spring Woods), a product of a Dynamo Elite Camp that has shown good form at the right back position for the U-18s this season. Celis and Gonzalez have been part of a group of Academy players who have earned call-ups to the Dynamo first team to play in reserve matches.
“The depth of the group is very exciting,” Clarkson said. “When they are all available, selections are going to be difficult. We are fortunate to play in the USSF Academy league because of the quality of opponents we play week in and week out, and we need as much talent as we can get to have a successful program.”
After road games against Solar and Dallas Texans, the Dynamo Academy returns home for a non-conference match against Indiana United on May 22 and closes the season with local foe Texas Rush on May 28. The Rush are currently tied for second place in the U-16 bracket in total points, but are third in points per game, .06 of a point behind Houston.