The Houston Dynamo Academy opened the 2014-15 season in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy last weekend. As the Academy begins its sixth season after launching in 2009, Dynamo Director of Youth Development James Clarkson offered a preview of the season.
“We took the U-18s down to McAllen (Texas) for a preseason trip, to get some games and help with the team bonding, and they seem to be coming together,” said Clarkson.
With over a dozen Dynamo Academy Under-18 players from last season off to Division One programs and engrossed in their freshmen seasons, the local focus will shift to the new U-18 team, including U.S. U-18 national team midfielder Christian Lucatero and Juan “Charlie” Flores, who scored 26 goals in 30 games with the U-16s last season.
“Christian Lucatero is at a different level, and Charlie Flores scored 26 goals last season, so I hope he can continue to score goals like that. We have managed to keep seven players from last year’s U-18s to add that experience, and they look good.”
“There are seven guys back on the 18s this year. And we have a good group coming up from the 16s. It’s getting them to blend and gel and work together earlier than it happened last year. Last year, the U-18s were exceptional from January to June. Hopefully we can start quicker this year. If our top players perform we will be extremely difficult to beat. Their attitude has been good and hopefully that carries in to the league.”
For the new U-16 squad, it will be important for the group to adjust to the higher level after competing in the U-15 Texas Pre-Academy last season.
“Cam Walker and Giandemir Jaen are going to stay with the 16s after playing with them last year, but the majority of the team will be moving up from the 15s. The group has been together for a couple of years and there is some good individual talent in the group and they’ve got to come together. It is a step up from the (U-15) Pre-Academy, and they’ve got to learn to just compete, and fight a bit more.”
The U-16s opened the new season on Saturday with a 3-0 win over Andromeda FC at HSP. Jose Barragan, Gianluca Natera and Hector Ramirez each scored as the U-16s began the campaign with three points.
Clarkson expressed enthusiasm for the U-14 team as the group enters its first season in the U.S. Development Academy league.
“They are a very strong group,” said Clarkson. “We are really excited about them and we are sure they will do really well this year. The U-14s are now in the U.S. Development Academy and they played together as the U-12s last year. Jesse Ortiz was with the national team in August, which is good, and we feel there are some other really good players in that mix. In the ‘01s (13 years old), we feel we have another couple potential national team players coming through. That is one goal we’ve set, which is to get more players onto the national teams. I think we need to. Hopefully, that will be something we will achieve this year.”
The U-14s open the season on Saturday against Texans (Houston) SC.
“The U-13s, 12s and 11s, they continue to develop and they really are the future of the program. When we see those guys come through, when they are 18 in five or six years, I think the whole level of the Academy will go through the roof.”
While the players age 10 to 13 form the future of the program, Clarkson will monitor the progress of several dozen former Academy players currently competing in college soccer.
“Hopefully those guys come back next year and play for the Under-23s through the summer. We will see them in December for the Academy Alumni game. Hopefully we’ve had an impact on them with their training habits when they’re at college.”
Clarkson also offered optimism for the MLS academies across the league and their potential impact.
“From an MLS perspective, the level has gone through the roof. The financial commitment of the clubs, it is another level from what is was when it started. I get the feeling that every club is engaged in it and see this as a way to bring success to their club. It is exciting. We are all working together to try and raise the standard of the game and produce players that can play for the first team. Hopefully over the next years you will see more and more Homegrown players coming in and having an impact in the league."
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