After a busy summer, which included a 10-day trip Holland for the 2011 Eurovoetbal tournament, the Dynamo will put a cap on their 2010-2011 season when they kick off the Generation adidas U-17 Cup in Frisco tonight against the San Jose Earthquakes at 8 p.m.
Houston has had previous success in the annual tournament, falling one game short of the championship match the past two years. Last year, the Dynamo tied Real Salt Lake in the semifinals but lost 5-4 on penalty kicks.
“Every year we have been close,” Dynamo Director of Youth Development James Clarkson said. “Last year was the closest, and it serves as a big motivator for us. There are a couple guys from last year that are playing on this year’s squad. They have that experience and want to go one step further than last year.”
The Generation adidas U-17 Cup is an annual tournament for MLS academies. This year, 16 teams – excluding Portland and Vancouver – will compete in the week-long tournament to determine bragging rights at the U-17 level. The teams have been split into four groups, with the winner of each group advancing to the semifinals. The Dynamo have been drawn in a group that includes three of last year's four semifinals, with the Dynamo, two-time defending U-17 Cup champion D.C. United, and Columbus Crew joined by the San Jose Earthquakes.
“They are always well organized,” Clarkson said about other MLS academy squads. “They will all be very competitive games. Everyone plays the right way, which certainly brings out the best in our players.”
After tonight’s match against San Jose, the Dynamo will play D.C. United Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. and close the group stage Thursday at 6:30 p.m. against the Columbus Crew.
If the Dynamo plan to advance out of their group, they will need to get a strong performance from U.S. U-17 national team goalkeeper Fernando Piña. Piña recently completed his time at the U.S. Soccer Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla., and has spent time training with Dominic Kinnear and the Dynamo first team. Piña won the Golden Gloves award as the top goalkeeper in last year's tournament.
“This is his third time playing in the tournament,” Clarkson said. “His presence and distribution is top drawer. With his experience with the national team, it’s great to have him back with us. Overall, his attitude has been outstanding.”
Under the rules of the tournament, clubs are allowed to bring up to 10 players born in 1994. The rest of the roster must be made of players born in 1995 and later. The Dynamo’s roster does not lack for experience, as nine of the 18 players saw considerable minutes for the U-16 team that reached the USSF playoffs this past season. Seven of those players represented the club at the Eurovoetbal tournament in Holland last month. Clarkson is excited about the mix of players on his squad and believes they will gel nicely come tournament time.
“They have all been in the program for a number of years,” he said. “We are trying to integrate them more and make them more than just the 1994s and everyone else. They are all very talented, and once we get the ball and keep the ball, we can create a lot of chances.”
The tournament will be the culmination of a busy summer for Clarkson and his squad. After the trip to Holland in early June, the U-16s returned home for the USSF Development Academy playoffs, also held in Frisco. The Dynamo defeated Sporting Kansas City in the playoffs but fell to the IMG Academy and LA Galaxy and did not advance out of their group.
“I think we were disappointed with the results in the playoffs more than we were with the results during the Holland trip,” Clarkson said. “We played two MLS teams in the playoffs, and we feel as if we could have done better. This gives our club another opportunity to prove the level we believe we are at.”