Riding a nine-game unbeaten streak in U-16 league play, the Houston Dynamo Academy will look to build on its recent momentum when it travels to the Netherlands this week for the 35th annual Eurovoetbal U-17 Tournament. The competition, which has previously featured Dutch international superstars such as Robin Van Persie, Dennis Bergkamp, and Arjen Robben, is one of the premier youth tournaments in the world and will be the toughest test for a squad made up mostly of players that have not lost since April 22.
“We have gained a lot of momentum over the past few months, and we hope to carry that with us into the tournament,” said James Clarkson, Dynamo Director of Youth Development. “We will be missing a few regulars from our U-16s, but we will add in Leo [Ayala], Bryan [Celis], Miguel [Zapata], Christian [Gonzalez], and Isaiah [Noreiga], who will certainly strengthen our squad.”
The Dynamo will arrive in Amsterdam on the morning of June 5 and will not waste any time, playing a friendly that afternoon against a regional select club. Houston will play two more friendlies, against Dutch clubs Vitesse and Groningen, to get acclimated to the competition in Holland and help adjust to the jetlag suffered from the trans-continental flight.
The tournament features two groups of six teams, who will play round-robin style, with the top two from each group advancing to the semifinals. The Dynamo begin group play on Saturday, June 11, against PSV Eindhoven. On Sunday, Houston will play three games against Feyenoord, Groningen, and Slavia Prague from the Czech Republic. The Dynamo will conclude group play on Monday with a match against Botafogo from Brazil.
“Over the past few months, we have really come together as a team,” said Bradley Bourgeois (Cy-Fair), centerback and captain of the U-16 squad. “The momentum is building, and it’s just a matter of time before we are all clicking together and scoring four, five goals a game. I really don’t think any team can stop us right now. When we go into Holland, I think it will be tough for another team to beat us because of how well we are playing.”
For the past few weeks, the Dynamo Academy has added an extra training session at Accelerated Bodies to help prepare for the rigorous schedule they will face in Holland. The sports performance specialists at Accelerated Bodies have not only worked with the players on their fitness, but have also provided treatment for players who have picked up injuries over the past few weeks. With eight games scheduled, and potentially one or two more based on the team's overall standing, fitness could be the decided factor between teams at the top and bottom of the table.
“It’s going to be important for us to take advantage of the recovery time we have,” Clarkson said. “Particularly on the day when we have three games, we will have to get as much rest as possible and make sure we use our squad properly. The only issue will come if people are not performing at the level they are capable of. At this level, we cannot afford to put players on the field who are not producing.”
Next week’s trip will be the second to Europe for the Dynamo Academy. In August 2009, the squad traveled to Scotland and Spain, playing top clubs from the respective countries and earning a landmark victory over the Real Madrid U-18s.
“That first trip was a tremendous experience for our kids,” Clarkson said. “We played some unbelievable clubs, and the win against Real Madrid validated our program as one of the top youth programs in the world. This is another opportunity for us to continue our program’s momentum and showcase not only our players, but the opportunities available to players who are in the Dynamo Academy. We have high expectations for this team, and we feel that if we play at the level we are capable of, we will be very successful next week."
Full coverage of the Dynamo Academy's trip and participation in the tournament will be available at HoustonDynamo.com.
Houston Dynamo Academy U-17 squad - Eurovoetbal Tournament
Goalkeepers (2): Adam Masa, Juan Navarrete
Defenders (5): Leo Ayala, Bradley Bourgeois, Christian Gonzalez, Luis Mendoza, Alex Ochoa
Midfielders (9): Alan Arellano, Bryan Celis, Christian Diaz, Raffi Gregorian, Christian Manisck, Raymundo Marquez, Gabriel Moreno, Bryan Salazar, Miguel Zapata
Forwards (2): Isaiah Noreiga, Lorenzo Salazar