The Houston Dynamo Academy Under-18s will host the Chicago Fire Academy in the Academy Championships on July 7 at Houston Sports Park after winning its group at the 2015 U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Indiana this week. The U-18s won all three of its games, capped by a 2-1 comeback win over Crossfire (Washington) Premier on Friday morning.
Charly Flores scored both goals to lift his playoff total to seven goals in three games, the most for a player at the 32-team Academy Playoffs. After the scoring binge, Flores is tied with Christian Lucatero for the team lead with 24 goals this season. Flores, born in 1997, will be a high school senior next fall and eligible to return to the U-18s next season.
It is the second trip to the Academy Championships in three seasons for this group of players born in 1996 or later. Many on this squad comprised the Academy U-16s in 2013 that advanced to the final eight, at that time known as Academy Finals Week.
“It was a fantastic team effort,” Dynamo Academy U-18 head coach and director of youth development James Clarkson said. “The commitment the boys have shown over the years in the program is the reason we are playing at this level. “Hard work is paying off for all the players and we were the hardest working team again. This is a special group of young men and there are some outstanding talents for the future. We are all very excited to be playing at home on July 7 vs. the Chicago Fire. It provides everyone in Houston a chance to come and watch this great team one last time.”
It will be an Academy sendoff of sorts on July 7. If the Dynamo beat the Fire, they will advance to the Final Four, held at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Carson, California on July 16 and 18.
“In the first half Crossfire played with intensity and put us under pressure with long throws and balls into our box, and they had 12 corners,” Clarkson said.
Still, Crossfire took a 1-0 lead and the Academy had to come from behind, similar to a 3-2 comeback win against Vardar Academy in the opening game on Tuesday.
“The response from the team was typical and very swift,” said Clarkson. “Charly Flores struck a 20-yard half volley from a cleared corner and it flew into the top corner. From that point on we took control of the game.”
At halftime, the U-18s made adjustments to the formation and brought on midfielder Kevin Rodriguez, who helped spark Tuesday’s rally with two assists as a halftime substitute.
“We dominated the second half and played some outstanding soccer. Charly scored the second goal with a very composed finish in the box. Luca (Christian Lucatero) continues to play with maturity and controlled the game in midfield.”
The U-18s outscored its opponents 9-4 in the three playoff games and are now 22-5-3 on the season. They carry a six-game win streak into the July 7 winner-take-all quarterfinal against Chicago. The Dynamo and Fire did not play in the Academy season.
USSDA U-18 Academy Championships matchups (home teams listed first):
(1) Montreal Impact vs. Real So Cal
Real Salt Lake-Arizona vs. Shattuck St. Mary's (Minn.)
Houston Dynamo vs. Chicago Fire -- July 7 at Houston Sports Park
San Jose Earthquakes vs. PDA (N.J.)
Shortly after the U-18 triumph, the Dynamo Academy U-16s played their final playoff game needing a two-goal win against the Philadelphia Union. But the U-16 season ended with a 2-0 defeat as Philadelphia won the group with three wins.
“The U-16s played really well in the first half and created some excellent opportunities but just couldn't score,” Clarkson said. “They gave a goal away early in the second and then there was a rain delay. When we finally restarted we gave away an early goal and that ended the game. It was very disappointing because we felt like we had chances to win and progress. I'm very proud of the boys – their progress this year individually and collectively has been outstanding. With the guys returning on the 18s and this group coming up we will have another very strong 18s again next season.”
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. Midfielder Christian Molina led the squad with 13 goals while Alejandro Saez added 11.