After a roller coaster season that included a seven-game unbeaten streak and a six-game winless streak, the Houston Dynamo Academy U-18 squad fell one point shy of advancing to the United States Soccer Federation Development Academy Playoffs Finals Week in Carson, Calif. Although the Dynamo are graduating key players to top NCAA Division I programs, the cupboard is far from bare, as five members of the Academy are currently playing with their respective U-17 national teams.
Fernando Piña (United States), Bryan Celis (United States), Isaiah Noreiga (Trinidad & Tobago), Erick Sanchez (Mexico), and Raffi Gregorian (Armenia) are currently in the training camps of the U-17 national teams of their respective countries.
"This is a great achievement for all of the players, and I hope they all make their respective teams for the U-17 World Cup qualifying later this year,” said Dynamo Director of Youth Development James Clarkson. “It shows the diversity in our Academy and the high level of players we have in the program. We will continue to strive to develop players of a national-team standard that will be capable of making the step to the next level."
Piña (Challenge Early College H.S.) joined the U.S. residency program in September 2009 and made a much-anticipated return to Robertson Stadium on May 22 of this year when the U.S. U-17 national team played the Dynamo Academy to a scoreless draw. Piña made two key saves on the evening to keep the Dynamo off the board. He and Celis (Katy Mayde Creek H.S.), home in Houston for part of the summer, are likely to play for the Dynamo in the SUM U-17 Cup in Friendswood later this month.
Gregorian (Stratford H.S.) has been in Armenia training with the team since June 5 in preparation for the U-17 European Championships in September. He said the team trained twice a day, six days a week, but that working with Clarkson and the Dynamo Academy prepared him for the type of professional environment he would face.
Noreiga (Humble Kingwood Park H.S.) made a trip to Trinidad in March - he also found time to lead the Dynamo U-16s in scoring as they won the Dallas Cup - and showed well enough to be invited back for further rounds of tryouts this summer. Sanchez (Cy Springs H.S.) is currently training with the Mexican U-17 national team in hopes of being included in the roster for the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, where he could face Dynamo Academy teammates.
Next week, at the upcoming Dynamo Elite Camp, Houston will host its second official tryout for next season's academy squads. The camp, which runs July 19-22, offers boys born between 1992 and 1995 the opportunity to impress Clarkson and the other Academy coaches and take the initial steps toward a professional soccer career.
“The Elite camp is a fantastic opportunity for any player to make it into the Academy,” said Clarkson. “It’s a very competitive camp and a great learning environment. We are able to put every player into situations where they are challenged, and we can evaluate them properly. Every player will leave better and with a much clearer understanding of what it takes to succeed with the Dynamo.”
To register for the camp, visit www.HoustonDynamo.com/elitecamp or call (713) 276-7524.