Four years ago, CASL Chelsea SC joined the Development Academy as one of the inaugural members in the elite nation-wide U.S. Soccer Federation league. Since that time, the Raleigh, North Carolina club has reached a level of distinction, both in terms of results and player development that is beyond reproach from even the staunchest critics.
CASL has remarkably placed seven of eight possible teams into the Development Academy Finals Week, which is the competition at the end of the season for the top eight teams in each age group.
“We have similar expectations every year,” CASL U16 head coach John Bradford told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “We expect to do well. It is the competitive standard for the club.”
Part of the reason for CASL’s success is the ability to attract players early in their development to the club, which helps them prepare the players for the Academy level years in advance.
For this year’s CASL U16 team, the expectations are no different.
Bradford’s squad started the season with two wins and two draws, a small sample of success. But last weekend CASL ran into a very good South Carolina United Battery, which leads the conference-sharing Southeast Division by 11 points, and suffered its first loss of the season in a 2-0 defeat on the road.
The North Carolina club has some ground to make up within its own division as well. Virginia Rush U16 currently tops the table with a 4-1-1 record to start the season. Mason Duke, who has seven goals in 15 games this year, leads the Rush in scoring.
Fellow Virginia club, McLean Youth Soccer, also started division play on the right foot with a 3-1-1 record. Michael Madigan’s club is led by the play of forward Matthew Ledder and defender Khalil Davis.
But the North Carolina teams are quickly surging back into the thick of things now that they have returned to Academy play after a brief winter retreat.
Charlotte SA collected two division wins last weekend to jump within seven points of Rush with four games in hand. Charlotte SA U16 won the division last season and finished with the top points per game mark in the nation.
Local rival, North Meck, also began division play over the weekend. North Meck only collected four points though with a draw against Virginia Rush and a win over Richmond Kickers. North Meck is fourth in the standings thanks to the hot start from striker Zhuvonte Wilson, who has four goals in his first six games.
Yet all the early season back patting comes with some trepidation, as every team looks over its shoulder for the omnipresent CASL club, which is always in the mix at the top of the table.
“This group has been around success,” said Bradford referring to the carry-overs from the team that finished eighth in the nation last year.
One of the players that returned for another season at the U16 level is Eric O’Brien, who has already verbally committed to the University of North Carolina for the 2013 class. Even though the season just started, O’Brien already claims four goals in the first six games.
“There are very high expectations for him,” said Bradford. “He has lived up to the billing.”
The coach added that there is a cohesion growing among this group in training, but he is “waiting to see it translate to the game.”
Bradford will have to wait a little longer. CASL has another weekend off before it returns to the field on February 11 for a showdown with current division leaders Virginia Rush.