The Houston Dynamo Academy U-23s continued a busy summer schedule when it hosted Brazilian powerhouse Cruzeiro Esporte Clube on July 4 at Houston Sports Park. Cruzeiro took a 3-0 lead but the Dynamo U-23s took control of the game in the last 25 minutes, with Elo Ozumba and Bryan Moya each netting a goal. In the end, the Brazilians held on for the win.
“It was a great opportunity for the guys to play Cruzeiro,” said Dynamo director of youth development James Clarkson. “It was an amazing experience for the players to play against top level professionals, some who have played at the highest levels in Europe or the Brazil national team and to experience that as a learning environment for the U-23s was incredible.”
Cruzeiro won the 2013 Brazilian Serie A championship and its rich history includes two Copa Libertadores titles, the most prestigious club competition in South America.
The Brazilians featured Julio Baptista, who made 47 appearances for the Brazil national team and played with Real Madrid, Arsenal and Roma.
“The game itself was very competitive," Clarkson added. "We went down 3-0, but for the last 25 minutes we gained control of the game and scored two goals and missed an absolute sitter with the last kick of the game. These are the kind of experiences that we wanted to provide the Under-23s.”
In addition to Ozumba and Moya, midfielders Memo Rodriguez and Irvin Ramirez, goalkeeper Fernando Piña and center back Miguel Zapata all stood out for their performances.
The Dynamo Academy U-23s then played Mexican giant C.F. Monterrey on July 8 at Houston Sports Park and fell 4-3 in a penalty shootout after a scoreless draw.
“We have a fantastic relationship with Monterrey and they are an outstanding club" Clarkson continued. "Our Academy plays them every summer when they come through Houston.”
"It was another great test and a really intense and competitive game. The last 30 minutes, we really stepped it up and took control of the game. I was disappointed we didn’t win it in regular time. We hit the post and created many other good chances.”
Moya, Rodriguez, Zapata, Piña, and Ramirez were standout performers in the defeat.
“That group of players, who have trained with the Dynamo First Team (this summer), are really at the top end of that Under-23 group," added Clarkson. “It’s good to see that we’re closing the gap, but in order for us to continue our development, we can’t be satisfied with a draw.”
The Academy U-23’s completed its season with a 8-0 win over the Galveston Pirates on July 12. Gregory Ingbebion led the way with two goals each while Antonio Valdez, CJ Odenigwe, Patrick Toh, Moya, Zapata and Ozumba also scored.
“The whole experience has been a huge success," added Clarkson. "The players’ commitment and determination in training every day has been outstanding. I believe this program will continue to grow and we’ll begin to attract some outside players because of the quality of the competition we’ve played against.”
The U-23 team is the latest addition to the Dynamo development system. The squad launched its inaugural season in May and is comprised of former and current Dynamo Academy players as well as players identified through Dynamo Trials.