Dubbed the “surprise of the tournament” by Eurovoetbal executives, the Houston Dynamo Academy entered the June tournament a relative unknown on the international youth soccer scene. Although the Dynamo Academy has had four players from its ranks sign first-team contracts, they entered as clear underdogs in a tournament that featured European powerhouses PSV Eindhoven, a club founded in 1913, and Sporting Lisbon, a club who has developed such talents as Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“We fully expected a high level of competition,” Dynamo Director of Youth Development James Clarkson said. “When you see the names of the teams involved in the tournament, the level of play we saw did not surprise us.”
During the Dynamo Academy’s 10-day trip to the Netherlands, the squad played nine games, including three pre-tournament friendlies. The club started off the trip with a 5-0 win over a regional select squad from North Groningen and followed that up with a 2-0 win over the Vitesse U-17s. Clarkson admited that the underdog status of the Dynamo helped fuel the team to perform at a high level.
“I don’t think people expected anything from us, because we were a team from America,” Clarkson said. “The standard of youth soccer here is much higher than many of the European clubs would like to give us credit for. There are certainly areas we need to improve on, but the gaps between us and them are not that wide.”
This trip to Europe was the Dynamo Academy’s second in the past three years. In August 2009, Clarkson took a U-18 squad to Spain and Scotland, a trip that included a stunning 3-2 victory over Real Madrid. Although the Madridistas were not a part of this year’s tournament, with clubs such as Valencia, PSV, and Galatasaray, the tournament was not short on quality competition.
“It’s exciting to see the Dynamo competing against these top clubs,” Clarkson said. “We knew this would be a learning experience for our kids, because they do not see this level of play on a daily basis. After 10 days we hoped that, win or lose, the boys came away stronger and smarter soccer players.”
After finishing 2-1 in their three pre-tournament friendlies, the Dynamo kicked off Eurovoetbal with a 0-0 draw against PSV. Houston followed that up with a scoreless draw against Feyenoord, before losing their first match of the tournament, 1-0 against FC Groningen. The effects of the loss did not linger long, though, as the team rebounded later that day to defeat Slavia Prague 1-0.
“For a trip such as this, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives,” Clarkson added. “If we looked only at wins and losses, we would never take trips like this. We were extremely competitive in every game, we got a win in the tournament and a couple more during the whole trip. One of the goals was to be competitive, and we were, although I’m sure everyone will be disappointed we didn’t do better.”
Although the Dynamo ended the trip with back-to-back losses, to Botafogo and Galatasaray, Clarkson said the team never lost focus of the goal of the trip. The Academy playoffs are set to kick off this weekend in Frisco, Texas, and with a 1.91 points per game average, Houston clinched one of the 12 wildcard spots. The Dynamo will face the LA Galaxy, IMG Soccer Academy, and Sporting Kansas City in a four-team group this weekend, with only the top team advancing to Finals Week in Milwaukee in July.
“All season, we talk about making the playoffs and improving our status as a top club in America,” Clarkson said. “This tournament allowed us to prepare for the playoffs while showcasing our skills against some of the top academies in Europe.”