We’ve been parroting for so long that the Development Academy is arriving, and not yet arrived, that it’s become something of a lengthy exercise in patience. It’s something like sitting in front of an oven with a pie inside it. If you don’t busy yourself with other matters, there’s always a tendency to pull it out of the heat too soon.
But the 2017 DA Finals over the weekend provided a glimpse into what’s baking in the oven. And it was a fairly impressive thing to behold on balance.
If you spent any time watching the UEFA Youth League this past season (and unless you’re a D&D-level soccer nerd, I don’t expect you did), you were inundated with the next wave of Europe’s best and brightest. One of the fanciest showcases was Benfica-Real Madrid in the semis. The match itself was basically a repository for future pros with large transfer sums painted in next to their names. The late stages of big youth tournaments should be like this. The deeper in you get, the heavier and more terrifying the arsenal. Depending on where you are, it’s just a matter of scale after that.
The Development Academy, founded just 10 years ago, hasn’t had that bedrock from which to launch. It basically had to create the culture it aspired to reach out of the loam, which means even a decade is too soon a window to begin establishing benchmarks. It’s easy enough to criticize the DA for things it has not yet done, but recognizing the immensity of its task and the short time it’s yet had to carry out any of those precepts, those criticisms become necessarily muffled.
In any case, the 2017 Finals – the final four in the U16 and U18 divisions – was a collection of the DA’s labors these last 10 years. This is where it landed us.
The LA Galaxy’s story on the U18 level was as improbable as it was impressive. The Galaxy qualified as the 32nd team out of 32 and employed a group of mostly underage players. But with the help of mega-prospects Uly Llanez and Efrain Alvarez, who you might well see in an El Tri first team uni in the next five years, the Galaxy ran all the way to the final before falling. Alvarez is verging on best-prospect-the-DA-ever-created territory (he destroyed the U18 division as a 2020), and Llanez isn’t all that far behind.
The Texans, the team that dropped the Galaxy in the final, were the first non-MLS team to capture the title in three years for a reason. Christian Cappis, a 2018 SMU commit, used this stage to prove to anyone who would listen that he’s probably among the five or 10 best non-MLS-tied prospects in the DA. The creative engine in the middle cracked open this competition like a crab claw, finally scoring his 18th goal of the year in the finale en route to a title. There’s more eye-raising talent on this roster besides, providing the most definitive proof in years that it isn’t just the MLS academies doing the developing. The lesson provided by the Texans might’ve been the most important of the lot.
The U16 final was perhaps even more stark in the talent on hand. There were no fewer than four professionals on the field for the finale between Atlanta United and FC Dallas. For Atlanta, Homegrowns Andrew Carleton and George Bello ran wild, and for FCD, Jesus Ferreira and Bryan Reynolds both made a heavy mark. Carleton and Reynolds in particular were on the U.S. U17 World Cup qualifying team earlier this year, and Carleton is a no-doubt starter once the tournament kicks up in India in October.
The match itself was an absolute joy to watch, the sort of spectacle one expects with this much talent on hand. Carleton was the show-stopper, scoring twice including on this lovely torpedo of a free kick.
— ATLUTD Academy (@AcademyATLUTD) July 16, 2017
And then this ridiculous banana shot.
— ATLUTD Academy (@AcademyATLUTD) July 17, 2017
Of course one expects Carleton to boss proceedings at this level, where he stands astride most of the competition like a man among so many boys. But remember, this was FC Dallas on the table, a side somehow in contention for its third consecutive DA U16 title in a matriculation format basically set up to pulverize those sorts of runs. Carleton deserved his adulation on this day.
This is the sort of thing the DA is capable of when given time to sink its banner deeper into the soil. These finals provided further proof that when given the benefit of development time, what we might see in another 10 years is left only to the imagination.