The Houston Dynamo Academy Under-18 and Under-16 teams opened the 2015 U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs on Tuesday at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Indiana. The U-18s rallied with two late goals for a 3-2 win in their opening game while the U-16s suffered the opposite fate, conceding twice in second-half stoppage time for a 2-1 defeat. Dynamo general manager Matt Jordan and assistant GM Nick Kowba were in attendance for both matches.
The Dynamo Academy U-18s fell behind as Vardar (Michigan) Academy took a 1-0 lead a minute into the second half. Later, Giovanni Pacheco drew a foul inside the penalty area and the Dynamo U-18s were awarded a penalty kick. Left back David Brown, an Oregon State University commit, converted the penalty to even the score.
Vardar regained the lead from a counterattack midway through the second half before the Academy U-18s rallied with two late goals, both scored by Charly Flores and assisted by substitute Kevin Rodriguez, for a 3-2 victory.
“We didn’t play our best, by a long way, but our spirit got us through the regular season and it came through again,” Dynamo Academy U-18 head coach and director of youth development James Clarkson said. “This group has been together a long time. The reached Finals Week two years ago, and the playoffs last year, and lost it in the third game. Most of these guys have been to playoffs three times, and the experience helped out today.”
The U-18 squad, comprised mostly of players born in 1996 and 1997, reached the Academy Finals Week at the U-16 level in 2013. With Finals Week held at Houston Sports Park, the team was positioned to advance to the championship game, held at BBVA Compass Stadium, with a win in their final group game. But a 2-0 loss to Albertson SC opened the door for Real Salt Lake AZ, who went on to defeat Solar Chelsea in the final at the home of the Dynamo.
Last year, with some of the same group of players, the U-18s suffered a heartbreaking end to the season. With a virtual lock on advancement to Finals Week after opening the playoffs with two wins, the 18s fell to Chivas USA 4-0 in the final game to end their season in shocking fashion, when even a narrow defeat would have been enough to advance.
The 18s won on Tuesday without dynamic midfielder Christian Lucatero, who was suspended for the playoff opener after receiving his fifth yellow card in the season finale, a 3-2 win over FC Dallas. Lucatero was part of the most recent U.S. U-18 national team camp and is set to play on Wednesday against Orlando City SC, who lost 1-0 to Crossfire (Washington) Premier on Tuesday.
“Christian will be fresh tomorrow and he wants to play and he will be a great addition to the group,” Clarkson added. “The 18s are a special group – they’ve been outstanding all year – with determination and focus and commitment to everything they do every day, and it’s a joy to be around them. If we perform to your level we will give everyone we play a game.”
The U-18s won the first Central Conference championship in program history this season with a 19-5-3 record (60 points) and continued their fine form Tuesday afternoon. They led the league in goals scored (76) and goals conceded (33) and held their position at the top of the table since October. Lucatero finished top 10 nationally in the USSDA in both goals and goals per game, scoring 23 times in 24 contests.
Dynamo Academy U-18s vs. Vardar Academy: Andy Rios; Juan Martinez, Quayyum Murana*, Sterling Noriega, David Brown, Josue Palomino, David Koloko, Mason Schuster, Juan David Agredo; Charly Flores, Giovanni Pacheco (*Playing up from U-16s)
The Dynamo U-16s are also making their third straight playoff appearance after finishing in third place in the Central Conference Frontier Division with a 14-7-6 record (48 points). The Academy U-16s took a 1-0 lead when Christian Molina scored after a nice combination play with Vieri Joya. But Weston (Florida) FC scored twice in second-half stoppage time for an unlikely win.
“We didn’t retain possession late in the game and gave up two late goals and it cost us a victory," Clarkson said. "Now we need to lift the spirits and come back and win tomorrow. Molina was fantastic, the best player on the field.
The U-16s face Everton FC Westchester (New York) on Wednesday and the Philadelphia Union on Friday. After a tough start to the season, the U-16s recovered to go 10-2-2 in their final 14 matches to secure a playoff spot.
Dynamo Academy U-16s vs. Weston FC: Charles Filby; Cameron Walker, Jon Diaz, Robert Frusina, Giandamire Jaen; Ryan Guajrado, Alejandro Saez, Gabriel Ruiz, Vieri Joya; Christian Molina, Gianluca Natera
The winners from all eight playoff groups per age group then advance to the Academy Championships, with higher seeded teams hosting lower seeds in a knockout match on July 7 (for U-18) and July 8 (U-16). The four winners from each age group then travel to the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Carson, California for the final knockout and placement matches on July 16 and 18.
Before the Academy Playoffs began, the Dynamo Academy U-14s played in the U-13/14 showcase in front of national team coaches in Indiana. The U-14s opened with a 2-1 win over Diablo (California) FC on Friday behind goals from Derick Broche and Juan Rubio. On Saturday a late rally fell just short in a 6-5 loss to Pateadores Academy. The Dynamo trailed 6-1 with 20 minutes left and scored four late goals but fell a goal shot as Marcelo Palomino recorded a hat trick and Julio Arzarte and Domingo Mba Ayecaba tallied goals. The U-16s beat the Colorado Rapids, 4-1, on Monday in its last game through goals from Arzarte, Broche, Mba Ayecaba and Palomino.