Anytime a Development Academy Showcase comes around, it also means opportunity for the players.
From November 30 through December 4, all 160 Development Academy teams will descend on Florida, presenting chances for thousands of players to show what they can do in front of members of the U.S. Soccer Technical staff, college coaches, and perhaps even for the odd European scout here and there at the Premier Sports Complex in Lakewood Ranch.
With those sorts of stakes, it’s no wonder the players are looking forward to it – even on the teams that are making their first appearance at a DA Showcase.
“We’re very, very excited to be taking part of this Showcase,” Portland Timbers Academy Director Mike Smith told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “I know that the players are excited because they’re going to be getting to play some of the teams we would not usually get to play, and the fact that there will be an abundance of college coaches there to see them.”
This experience will be the first chance for teams from the Timbers, Montreal Impact and San Juan SC to see what these events are all about, as they are all teams currently in the middle of their first season in the Academy.
Being inexperienced doesn’t deter the Timbers organization, of course, as they’ve already navigated their way through tricky opposition during the beginning stretch of the schedule.
“We know we’re playing three very, very talented teams down there,” Smith said. “We don’t know too much about our upcoming opponents, but in our preparation at the start of the season here in the Academy, we’ve already played established MLS Academy teams such as Chivas, Galaxy, Sounders and San Jose…We’ve got a good idea of how a lot of the Academy teams play, so our approach is we want to play an attacking, possession-style of soccer and we will try and keep the ball.”
Even for other clubs with prior experience, there is still plenty to learn aside from giving players the opportunity to play in front of coaches and scouts. Several U16 players will be making their debut at Showcase events, and players without college commitments can make an impression on not just their Academy coaches.
Such is the case for D.C. United’s U16 squad, as they only have two players from last year still on the roster that are getting ready for the trip south. That gives the coaching staff of D.C. plenty of criteria to evaluate.
“We only have two returning players from last year’s group the rest of them are all with the 18s,” head coach Tom Torres said. “The challenge is how do they travel, will they get to the airport on time, will the flights take care of themselves. Will they get to the hotel at a good time, will they get some rest. Will they play a game and recover well, will they train on Friday. All those things are what we’re judging.”
Then of course, the players face the physical challenge of all playing three games in four days, a format that at times doesn’t yield the greatest soccer. That doesn’t mean clubs are going to head there with built-in excuses.
“We’re not going down there to just rotate the squad, we feel like we’ve got a very good squad, and a very, very talented group of players,” Smith said. “Everyone’s going to get playing time, as the three games in four days will take a physical toll, as will the travel days as well. We won’t change much what we do, but put more good players in different positions.”